Last year, the day before Easter, I was wasting time at an an antique store when my cellphone lit up announcing my sister, Kathleen. It lied.
It was actually my niece calling from Connecticut, 700 miles away. Her voice was weary, “Hi Aunt Jane, it’s Krista. Everything’s Fine.” That’s when I left the store because I knew those two words signaled something was very wrong. As I hustled through the parking lot, she continued,”This morning Mom called me to pick her up because she was having a heart attack. They put a stent in, she’s at the hospital, and she’s gonna be fine.”
I kept my cool, got the details, consoled Krista, ended the call, and then had a little moment in the privacy of my car. It was a shock, but not a surprise.
The shock was that Kathleen is just four years older than me. It was not a complete surprise since she smokes, eats poorly, and her exercise program was way worse than mine. We also have heart disease on both branches of our family tree, and yet, we think we are invincible.
Typical of most women, she ignored her symptoms. For weeks her jaw had ached and her left arm and hand kept going numb. The day before the heart attack, she had her teeth cleaned. Afterward, she deduced that the increased discomfort was due to the dentistry. A little voice inside her head emphatically said: everything’s fine.
Finally, Saturday morning she couldn’t help but hear the mental sirens screaming for her to pay attention. The jaw pain had intensified and the numbness has spread to her leg and foot. That caused enough concern for her to chug her coffee, put out her cigarette and call her daughter for a ride to the hospital, just in case. She didn’t need an ambulance because, of course – EVERYTHING’S FINE.
When I relayed the story to my son, Ben, who is an EMT, he said it was not unusual for women to be slow to call an ambulance for themselves. He also reported that men and women not only have different symptoms of a heart attack but they react differently as well.
In his experience, when a guy is having a heart attack, he looks awful; ashen, sweaty, clenching his chest and arm as if he’d been kicked by a horse. Women on the other hand, look a little disoriented and talk about being uncomfortable because our concept of pain is so different.
Women have the advantage of the UCC (Uterine Cleaning Crew). Mother Nature insists that the UCC (pronounced UCK!) has monthly drills where they pretend to internally excavate a personal sized watermelon from our belly button to our knees. For those of you of the male persuasion this is the equivalent of having food poisoning or a kidney stone every 28 days. Yeah, ouch. Hence, women have a higher pain threshold.
The lesson from all of this is Ladies: EVERYTHING IS NOT FINE! Know the symptoms of a heart attack. Which include the jaw pain, the numbness, the sweats and nausea, and also the mental confusion that precedes it days before it actually hits. Please , PAY ATTENTION!
CALL THE AMBULANCE – My sister was extremely lucky. My niece got to her quickly but they went to a hospital just 15 minutes away that couldn’t handle her heart attack. They spent time checking her in and then put her into an ambulance to send her to the other hospital in the opposite direction of her home, now 30 minutes away. Call the ambulance. They know what to do and where to go.
LEARN CPR – My son was emphatic about this. Start by going online and learning hands only CPR. One had over the other, center of the chest, to the beat of “STAYIN’ ALIVE.. STAYIN’ ALIVE”… c’mon, sing it with me!
And then maybe in truth you’ll be able to say “Everything‘s fine.”