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: