True story. This has been published. Good advice re: heart disease.
| After a lovely day spent fishing with my husband on the Cape Fear River in early June, I could smell the crappie and bream already frying in the pan and was eager to get home. We maneuvered our small aluminum jon boat up to the bank near the landing where we pulled it out and started making our way up the steep incline to the parking lot and our truck. We didn't need a trailer for the old boat, we were fairly young and hardy and just grabbed hold and started up. I had made the trek often, sometimes struggling with the awkwardness of the boat but this day it took all I could muster to get to the top of that hill. After making my way to the truck, arms and legs weighing a ton and lungs heaving for air, my heart pounded into an achy pain. I don't believe I could have taken another step.
The following Monday I had an appointment with my family doctor and I went with a building amount of anxiety. I knew I had to tell him about the episode. With an extensive family history of heart disease in its female members, my grandma had her first heart attack at forty-two, fear of the silent killer slept in the background. Always there. I had monthly checkups to monitor my blood pressure and had been on hypertensive drugs for three years already; I was 32. After listening to my heart and checking my blood pressure every which way except upside down, he left the room.After a while, the door opened and our quintessential small town doc walked in with a subdued demeanor and with what seemed like a suitcase of medication samples. That small dose of anxiety I had gone in with slowly turned into a ball of panic. I now had appointments for a "stress test" and a cardiac specialist in nearby Lumberton, NC within the week.
Test day I woke at five am. still sleepy and wanting the coffee I knew I couldn't have. I entertained myself on the drive by choosing an after test lunch spot. This also served to keep my thoughts off the coming day. In the cardiac unit it was all smiles and jokes that I was much too young to be in their care, attempting to put me at ease as they hooked me up to the EKG and blood pressure machines. Finally, it was time to kick up my heels and run. I lasted just under four minutes before the attending physician gave a small shake of his head and a nurse pulled me from the hateful machine. With my heart trying to win a race and dragging me down in the process, I sat alone and cold waiting to be gathered by my husband and taken to lunch.
Three days later came the cardiologist appointment and the test results. I signed in and sat with several others all older and looking at me with kind curiosity. With my anxiety level rising I braced myself for the report as I realized I was putting my life into the hands of someone with more than just a few diploma's on the wall. A bit condescending, he informed me that I had failed the stress test but that wasn't unusual for a woman. He proceeded to give me statistics and reasons why there was no reason for concern. Only I was concerned and I went into detail again about my family history. I also knew that the pain I felt fishing day was not my imagination. After discussing the test results and my fears, he agreed to perform a heart catheter the following week. With no internet access, the world wide web hadn't caught on yet, and no way to thoroughly research this next step, I talked with my grandmother about her experiences with the hated heart disease and prayed, a lot. I was hopeful but, prepared for the worst. And I'm glad that I was.
In recovery my doctor came back to see me this time not looking so distracted but, rather apologetic. The catheter was consistent with the stress test and I will never forget his words, "Ms. Jackson, you have a monster in the worst possible place." Wow. The LAD-Left Anterior Descending artery--also known as the Widow Maker, was 75 percent blocked. I was sent to another specialist in larger Southern Pines, NC; one who was more familiar with early onset heart disease. He placed a coronary stent in the artery and thus began the last 13 years of my life in and out of doctor's offices. I have had seven stents placed in various arteries, several angioplasties, triple bypass at 42 and a heart attack which came eight months after the open heart surgery. I have been on disability for two years because I can't walk up one flight of stairs without having to take a nitroglycerin.
If I had not been aware of my family's history, if I had not pressed the issue after the failed stress test; I most likely would not have been alive to share this. I was going to be dismissed as a statistic until I took a firmer stand. I have a wonderful cardiologist now in Dr. Christopher Pallas, who practices with the esteemed Medical College of Georgia. He knows my history, always takes time to listen to my fears and never rushes me out the door. It is very important to find a doctor that understands you, someone you are comfortable with, especially when your heart is literally “in their hands”.