It was 2 p.m. on March 24, 2023 when it started. Licensed Practical Nurse Nadine was on day five of working a 12-hour shift in Long Term Care at Polson Place. She felt unwell and was diaphoretic (sweaty) and was having difficulty breathing. She took two baby aspirin ‘just in case’, but didn’t really think it was a heart attack. (She thought she was too young). Initially, she thought it was indigestion.
Then it morphed itself into what felt as though someone was reaching into her chest and squeezing hard. It was a sharp crushing pain in her sternum area. She was still feeling doubtful and still thought it was indigestion. (Denial can be powerfully deceptive).
A colleague took her to Emergency. The first ECG (Electro Cardiogram) was normal. (Confirming her denial). But then they did blood work and another ECG and then the Nurse told her she was having a heart attack. She was immediately put on medication which helped a bit with the pain.
She told the doctor she wasn’t sure if she should attend Emerg or just go home and rest, as she was exhausted. The doc told her if she had done that, she may not have awakened from her nap.
Interestingly, it is one thing to have the information (and education) and quite another to experience it, because as women, we frequently deny our own body messages. (We have the ‘women cope with anything’ mentality).
Yes, even those in the medical field fall prey to this thinking. They don’t consciously think this, but they are, after all, the caregivers and not the patients. They are programmed to think of others, not themselves.
As we know, medical personnel have been stressed beyond measure in the past few years. They are still working longer hours, due to shortage of staff who retired, or left due to job demands that felt inhumane at times. Sometimes working 16-hour days for what is supposed to be a 12-hour day. This means no time for coffee breaks or lunch breaks, with barely enough time to use the washroom.
Nadine spent five days in the hospital. She was lucky that she had no damage to the heart, so her recovery will be a bit faster. She shared that there was a familial history of heart problems, an indicator of potential heart issues.
She attends the Cardiac Clinic at the hospital once a week. She feels this has been a huge help as they provide invaluable information post heart attack and she is so grateful for the care and resources that have been available to her.
It is important for women to clearly understand the symptoms of a heart attack. They can be different from those of a man. This list comes from the University of British Columbia.
If you think you may be having a heart attack, do not dismiss it as indigestion. Nadine would strongly encourage you to go to Emergency and make sure it isn’t more than that. Take care of yourself. You are worth it.
Common symptoms of heart disease for women:
• Chest pain or discomfort. This can feel like a pressure, tightness, heaviness, squeezing, burning, or gripping pain or discomfort
• Pain radiating from chest to the neck, jaw, left arm and/or back, stomach
• Stomach pain or discomfort, or feelings of indigestion
• Unusual shortness of breath
• Unusual or extreme fatigue
• Dizziness or lightheadedness
• An irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
• Nausea and/or vomiting
Carole Fawcett is a freelance writer, counsellor and clinical hypnotherapist. www.wordaffair.com