Did you ever tease somebody who was freaking out with the sarcastic line, “Don’t have a heart attack!” Chances are, you have, and chances are you were more or less a teenager. The person on the other end of the conversation was probably not amused, huh? Anyway, for purposes of your health, it’s useful literally to try not to have a heart attack!
This post was born from several influences — some old, some new. I have to back up a bit. The title of the post is one I thought of after my mother (may she rest in peace) had a heart attack in about 2000 or so, and I had endured some serious health concerns of my own — a hernia operation when I was about 32 and thyroid cancer when I was 35. My mother survived her heart attack but died about 9 years later primarily due to kidney disease and other complications. However, since her father and her brother died of heart attacks, I have quite the family medical history to worry about.
The positive direction I took as a result of my own situation was that I learned that it is wise to be very proactive when it comes to managing one’s health. As an adult, unless one is (both blessed and?) cursed with a “helicopter” mom or someone close like that, the only person who will really look after you is yourself. I have good doctors; I hope you do, too. My doctors are experienced, intelligent, dedicated professionals who, I think, give me good advice when I see them. The key words there are when I see them. The doctors are so busy and have so many patients; they do not have the time to worry about each individual patient. That is not a knock or excuse; it’s just realistic.
If I didn’t drag my ass away from home or work and go see the doctor, I might be dead by now. My father, bless his soul, learned he had terminal cancer when he was 67, and about 2 months later he was gone. Obviously I cannot say for sure, but my strong suspicion is that he had not been having regular check-ups over the years.
Most of us have read all about heart disease / pre-heart attack symptoms and know about risk factors like high cholesterol and the dangers of fatty foods, etc. In this day in age, more information is available on the internet and so forth than we can possibly process. Information is great, but follow-up action is even better.
It’s a simple message, but one worth taking to heart (pun intended) and worth repeating: go see your doctor regularly! Be annoying and err on the side of hypochondria if you have to. Try not to have a heart attack!
I wanted to write about this years ago, well before I started a blog, but didn’t. A couple of recent influences and events led me to do it. First, I would like to thank and commend my friend Lori not only for maintaining a great blog about health and fitness (outwardly about pole dancing, but it’s so much more than that) but also for inspiring me to start my own blog, which is much more random and not nearly so well focused and organized as Lori’s — she sets the bar, or pole, very high :-). Everybody’s body and health situation is different, but everybody would do well to be as in tune with their own bodies. Lori does great at that, and I try to do it too.
More directly, though, I’m writing this because I thought I might be having a heart attack last night.
I mean, deep down I knew I wasn’t, but I get these very weird symptoms. I have chronic numbness and aches on my left side, especially in the brachial plexus, which is the nerve bundle that runs through the front, fleshy part of the armpit, (so proud of myself that I remembered what that is called) and the left pectoral region. I felt like I might have a blocked artery somewhere. It’s nearly always worst at night, lying down (which can characteristic of heart attacks), and it often prevents me from sleeping well. In the middle of the night, the anxiety level about these symptoms can snowball! Last night the numbness extended down my left leg and foot as well, although not acutely. Still scary. I decided, as I struggled to fall asleep, that I was probably having an anxiety attack, which I attributed primarily to my two teenage children. (That is an entirely different topic, but one I will probably not blog about out of respect for their privacy.)
There are reasons why I feel I am not having a heart attack. I go on long, strenuous bike rides regularly and invariably feel great during and afterwards. I feel energetic and healthy most all the time.
Nevertheless, the first thing I did this morning was to call in sick, and then I drove to my doctor’s office without an appointment. Proactive. Luckily they saw me right away, which was comforting.
My blood pressure was slightly high for me but not so high as to be of concern. Pulse and temperature normal, blah blah blah. I do not have high LDL (bad) cholesterol, whereas the doctor said I do have a normal to high HDL (good) cholesterol. They took an EKG, which came back normal. He said I should do a treadmill stress test just to make sure, but we agreed it was probably not even necessary. I did a stress test a few years ago and passed with flying colors, and I am even stronger now than I was then.
So, what’s the problem? Ah. It’s probably the bike riding itself. The many hours and miles I log on my bike seem to cause chronic nerve problems. Come to think of it, I would have to admit that these chronic problems do seem to have started around the time I began stepping up my cycling workouts in 2006 or so. My doctor referred to it as a “structural” issue. Pressure points on my body become irritated to the point where I get all these weird sensations for which I believe he used the general term “paresthesia”. He is confident that it is not a problem with my heart, which is the good news. The not-so-helpful news is that he did not really suggest any treatment other than — and you may laugh, as it’s so classic — taking aspirin! He did not tell me to “call him in the morning”.
It’s somewhat relieving simply having seen the doctor and having been told that I am basically fine. That’s certainly an upside of being proactive: knowing what is not wrong. Certainly there can and will be times when something is actually going wrong. It is the fear of bad news that prevents many people from wanting to see the doctor in the first place.
I am not under a Kaiser health plan, but I like their motto: “Live Well, Be Well”.
Don’t be afraid! Take matters into your own hands and keep your finger on your pulse (another pun, sorry)! In the event you get some bad news, then at some point you really do have to trust the medical professionals to do their jobs and fix you. I know, because I have had a number of things fixed, and I am stronger for it. My plan is be healthy and keep it that way!