It started with her carotids; no, it started with her eyes. Ellen (not her real name) had been complaining of seeing spots or floaters in her vision so she made an eye appointment. The eye doctor examined her then referred her to a vascular doctor, go figure. It seems something in the eyes’ blood vessels signaled vascular problems. The tests ordered by a vascular surgeon revealed 90 percent plus clogged carotids( the main arteries to the brain) . In the case you don’t know, that’s not good, it means the brain wasn’t receiving adequate nourishment and could precede a transient ischemic attack (TIA, mini stroke) or full blown stroke. After the studies she was kept in an observation unit till she was fully recovered from the sedatives she’d been given for the tests. When she called me to come pick her up she was scared and refusing to go home. It seemed her blood pressure was too high for her liking and she feared a crippling brain infarction. When I got in to see her, I agreed, her blood pressure needed to be evaluated. The doctor that had ordered the tests informed us that her high blood pressure was a good thing at this point since it was keeping her brain perfused (oxygenated), sending vital blood flow past the clogged passageways.
The next step was scheduling surgery to get her carotids cleaned out. One at a time is the safest approach, leaving one artery alone to work while the other healed. So one side was repaired and six weeks latter the opposite side was fixed. She was off work for two weeks each time, and since we carpooled that gave me a wonderful break even though I checked up on her regularly. Now, I’m no doctor, I’m just a "dumb" Registered Nurse, but I suggested to my friend, Ellen, that if her carotids were so bad maybe she needed to have her coronary arteries (arteries in the heart itself) investigated, they were after all smaller than the carotids. Ever hear the word stubborn? In the dictionary, my friend’s picture is on the same page. She insisted that wasn’t necessary. Well, okay, it was her life so I let it go…until…
A year later, Ellen, now in her early 60’s, started complaining of an ache, not a pain, in her left arm that went up her neck and through her left shoulder blade, she blamed the problem on her trip to Houston and the high humidity. I begged her to go to the emergency room for days. She argued; “I can’t just walk in there without seeing my primary physician!” She was right, she could barely walk from work to our car in the parking garage without getting short of breath. With the shortness of breath came anxiety. Something was wrong and yet she refused to get medical help till she contacted her primary physician who was out of town, she wouldn't see his backup, it was her primary or no one! She saw our insurance rules in black and white. Some people feel like insurance companies get the final say.
“Yes you can! Call his office and the answering machine will say ‘if it’s a medical emergency go to the emergency room!’ ” She wouldn’t do it because it wasn’t a medical emergency! Denial in progress. She was smarter than me. (interpretation, more obstinate )
Did I mention, we’re both nurses, and we both work in surgery? That gave me lots of resources. I got three doctors to try to persuade Ellen to go to the emergency room. No good. Then I got the director of surgery to talk to her, still no good. She finally decided to go after her favorite anesthesiologist persuaded her. I accompanied her and waited till she was assigned an examining room,(after an hour wait in triage, women's symptons aren't always taken seriously!) then told her to call me to come pick her up.
After three hours I called the E.R to check on her only to find out that no one knew who she was. Now I was furious, she must have called a taxi after I left and went home! I called and left several messages on her machine. She didn’t have the nerve to call me back. Then an idea came to me. I called our department conveniently located right above the E.R and had someone go down. There was Ellen still waiting for all her tests results. The emergency room personal didn’t know what the right hand was doing!! At least I was no longer mad at my dear friend. It had been loving anger, but it was anger just the same. She was admitted to the hospital that night. I didn’t feel any better about being right when the next day my supervisor popped into my room at work and informed me Ellen had three severely blocked coronary arteries and was scheduled for emergency bypass surgery later in the day. If she had ignored me and her symptoms much longer she‘d being sitting with Jesus now. Not a bad thing, but why rush it, obviously he still has work for her to do down here. Though her physical heart was damaged her spiritual heart keeps me going, she is the most generous person I’ve ever met and this world would not be the same without her.
That has been several years now, and she is still working and praising the person who saved her life. Me?
Of course not, I was the nagger. One of the doctors I convinced to talk to her had become her hero! I may have been the one who pleaded and begged with her, and then got the doctors and director involved but she credits her favorite doctor for saving her life!!
This whole story is to illustrate how important it is to watch out for ourselves. Women, we have different symptoms than men and need to take charge of our health. Our greatest deterrent to self care is denial. We don’t have time to be sick, we care for our husbands, kids, pets ect. The world can’t go on without us so we put our care last. Stop it. The world won’t come to a screeching halt if you step back and look after yourselves but it just might stop if you drop dead in your tracts before your appointed time. And so many things can be done to postpone sudden death. Not all risk factors can be changed, (like age, heritary, sex) but following a regular exercise and diet regimen, and of course giving up smoking, can certainly add years and quality to your lives!
Heart Attack Symptoms in Women
Heart attack symptoms are different for men and women. some warning signs for women. Very few pre-menopausal women have heart attacks, unless they smoke, have diabetes, or are on birth control pills for a long period of time. Smoking seems to be the biggest risk factor:
• Nausea and vomiting that won’t stop
• Breathlessness (but not sighing) with exertion or especially if it wakes you up at night
• Chest discomfort that starts behind the breast bone and radiates to either shoulder or arm, neck, or to the lower (but not upper) jaw
• Discomfort in the lower jaw especially if it occurs only with exertion or will not go away
• Discomfort in the upper back especially if it occurs only with exertion or will not go away
• Discomfort in the chest or back that occurs when doing usual chores after a large meal
• Sudden onset of weakness that won’t go away
• Sudden racing heart sensation with a very fast pulse
• Sudden loss of consciousness
• Physical inability to perform usual household chores
Who is most at risk with these symptoms? The more of these factors that apply to you, the greater your risk:
• Menstruation has stopped
• Family history of arteriosclerotic heart disease before age 60
• High blood pressure (even treated)
• Diabetes (even mild, even treated)
• High cholesterol (even treated)