Friday, August 31, 2007

A heartfelt weigh-in

Normally, I’m the kind of gal who takes a light-hearted approach to diet and exercise.

For example, in The Fat City Mysteries, one of my characters likes to brag about how she trades in her Weight Watcher points for Frequent Fryer Miles at In-N-Out.

But earlier this week, I received a sobering reality check. As we used to say in the evangelical south, I had a real “Come to Jesus” meeting.

This particular meet up with Himself began with an impromptu visit to an urgent care clinic. It ended with my staring at an echocardiogram image, wondering if the beating muscle inside my chest was about to flame out.

I started out that particular morning feeling not so great. Then it dawned on me—I’d been feeling not-so-great for more than a week.

It’s probably just stress, I thought, this sense of being run down, accompanied by shortness of breath and a little pressure in the chest area. But just to be sure, I traipsed down to an urgent care facility. Heck, I thought, I might even be able to get a little something to take the edge off, like a prescription for beta-blockers.

As the technician hooked me up to an EKG machine, I could tell by the doctor’s expression that he was already warming up his lecture to “relax, get more regular exercise, and lay off the recreational beverages, young lady.”

But minutes later, he came hard-charging back into the patient room, brandishing my EKG read-out.

“Abnormal,” was the verdict. This might mean, he explained, that I’d had a heart attack in the past. Or it might mean that I could have a heart attack in the future. Or it might mean…gulp…that I was having a heart attack—right then. Or, it might mean nothing at all.

“In an abundance of caution, I’ve written a prescription for nitroglycerin and booked an immediate appointment with a cardiologist," the doctor said. "Take the nitroglycerin if the symptoms get worse before you get there.”

That got my attention. Nitroglycerin is the pharmaceutical equivalent of TNT. It’s what they use to depth charge your ticker back into keeping time. The other striking words were “abundance of caution.” Abundance, my ass. That’s what NASA says when they send their astronauts out on a risky spacewalk to make sure the shuttle won’t burn into a cinder upon reentry.

Next thing I knew, I was at the cardiologist’s office, getting bumped ahead of all the seventy-and-eighty-year olds who were waiting for their pacemaker appointments.

After doing a stress cardiogram, I lay on the technician’s table, watching the images of my heart beating on the screen. The pictures looked like an entry into Jupiter’s atmosphere in a Stanley Kubrick film. All misty, swirling grays, illuminated by electric storms of neon red and blue. It was an amazing display. It was my heart.

That’s the thing that keeps me going, was all I could think.

In reply, my heart beat back, And what have you done for me lately?

The answer was, not much.

Eventually, the cardiologist came back with a new verdict: everything was normal. I was perfectly okay, and could go home. I didn’t even get any beta-blockers out of the ordeal.

But this week’s false alarm has really changed my attitude about heart health.

As I’m probably the last person on earth to discover, heart disease is the Number One killer of women in the United States. Number One! More women die of heart disease than the next six causes combined. And, as I learned from Oprah Winfrey and Doctor Oz: one out of every two women will die from cardiovascular disease (which impacts your body beyond just the heart).

Yet, we women don’t seem to have the same level of awareness about our hearts and cardiovascular disease that we do about, say, breast cancer.

I, for one, am getting religion on this subject. I have resolved not to take matters of the heart lightly anymore.

There’s a free program sponsored by the American Heart Association, targeted at raising women’s physical activity and levels of heart health:

For ongoing updates about women and heart disease, see The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease:

And if you haven’t seen the Oprah Winfrey shows about heart health, take a look at her web site, which contains some awesome information and advice:

I’m not forgetting the men: you count, too!

So I’m interested to know, what do you do on a daily basis to improve the health of your heart?

Signing off now, to take a brisk, aerobic walk!


Deb Baker said...

What a scaring time for you! Happy to hear it came out all right and you're ready to go to work. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure six months ago, so I work out at Curves, where I've met the greatest group of women. I also walk, walk, walk. The added benefit is that walking kick-starts my creativity. Try it. You'll find that ideas pour forth and the writing comes easier.

Joe Moore said...

Kathryn, that’s great news that you won your encounter with that EKG machine. Having survived a heart attack in 2001, I can sympathize with you and the myriad of emotions you must have gone through waiting for the cardiologist to reach a verdict. Certainly, diet and exercise play a major role in preventing heart disease. And the new generation of cholesterol-lowering drugs are important, too. Keep a sharp eye on what you eat and take that daily brisk walk. And if your doctor prescribes “shots”, don’t do what I did and buy a bottle of Jack Daniels. :-)

Kathryn Lilley said...

Joe, in my case it would be a bottle of Merlot, but that wouldn't be a good idea, either. (Although I read there are some health benefits to drinking red wine--but they probably mean in moderation, lol!)

Linda O. Johnston said...

Oh, my, Kathryn. I'm so glad things worked out, but I can only imagine how you must have felt while dashing from doctor to doctor.

And, Deb, I joined Curves, too. I figure it can't hurt to move all those muscles a few times a week!


Kathryn Lilley said...

I used to belong to Curves. It really made me feel great. I think I will rejoin. In fact, I put on my Curves t-shirt this morning as I set off for my morning walk!

Camille Minichino said...

I'm glad there's a happy ending to this, Kathryn ... we take it all for granted, but "seeing" that hearbeat must have been incredibly scary.
Take care!

Leann Sweeney said...

Life is that thing that happens to you when you had other plans. Don't who said that, but boy are they right. My issues aren't with my heart but they are connected to stress. Why does heart disease kill more women than anything else? I believe it's because we are trained to ignore pain, stuff down our frustration and go-go-go all the time. Thanks for this post. It's another reminder that matters of the heart are not to be ignored.

Kathryn Lilley said...

I think you're right, Leann. We women tend to ignore our own symptoms while tending to others. We need to pick up the cudgels on behalf of our own health!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Kathryn, sweetheart, I'm so sorry you had such a scare, but I'm so glad you're okay. Next time we meet, let's drink to your health. Thanks for all the good information.

Kathryn Lilley said...

Thank you, Joanna! The whole thing did make me appreciate the phrase "as long as you've got your health" a bit more! I will toast to that with a nice glass of merlot!