Boycotting Heart Disease

It has been almost two months since I have blogged.   This blog sits in the back of my mind as I keep thinking to myself that I really need to write.  Truth is, I have kind of been boycotting heart disease.  I have taken the summer off; not from having heart disease but from thinking about it defining me.

My move from the corporate world has been a whirlwind.  In a matter of five months, I have gone from being an expert in anesthesia billing to owning The Vintage Sunflower,  a vintage furniture and home decor store.  I haven’t had time to think about heart disease.  I’ve been busy following my passion.

IMG_20150805_212434I love making old worn out pieces of furniture pretty again.  I love getting up and putting on jeans, a t-shirt and a pair of Birkenstocks and making my way the mile to my store.  What a change from commuting an hour each way.  I love meeting my customers and getting to know my community better.

These days, I don’t think of heart disease as often as I did.  I really just don’t have time.  The great thing?  I don’t have any symptoms to constantly remind me.  My symptoms of chest pain were so bad before I quit my job that I was sure I was very quickly going to have a second heart attack before I turned 50.  Now, I don’t feel that way.  It is amazing what stress can do.  In fact, one study published in Behavioral Science and Policy states that stress at work is as bad for you as second hand smoke.

My summer off from heart disease defining me, my boycott,  is over and that is ok.  I was asked to be the chair of the Go Red Ambassadors for The American Heart and Stroke Association in Kansas City.  We are a volunteer group of survivors and advocates who educate women in our community that heart disease and stroke are the number one killer of women.  It is a great honor and I am proud to serve as the chair.  I can’t wait to work side by side with such amazing ladies!  Without heart disease defining me, I would never know them. That my friends is the beauty of ending the boycott!

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No More Chest Pain

It has been almost three months since I stepped out of my corporate job.  I realized the other day that I am a different person now.  I’m me again. My cardiologist said after the testing that there was nothing physically wrong with my heart, only stress, and now I believe her.  It feels good to believe her.

My last day at work was really surreal–I still couldn’t believe I’d made the decision to leave.  The funny thing?  When I walked out the door, I knew I would never return to that world.  Just about as monumental as the decision to leave the corporate world was the decision to turn my hobby into my job.

This decision is like the weight of the world off my shoulders and literally lifted the pain out of my chest and I feel as if I can breathe.  I have long salvaged furniture and turned it into something pretty.  I have signed a lease on a shop in the downtown of my little town and am opening an up-cycled vintage furniture shop.  As my girls and I were coming up with a name we knew we wanted to incorporate being from Kansas.  The result?

The Vintage Sunflower

Capture

Perhaps not everyone can make this move but I was forced to in order not to kill myself.  I think you need to realize how detrimental stress is to your life.  When you are in the middle of it, you can’t see what it is doing to you.  Once you are out of it, hindsight is truly 20/20.  Please take steps to reduce the stress in your life before it harms your heart!

Are Patients Stupid?

Yesterday I read a USA Today article that was posted on Twitter by Carolyn Thomas at Heart Sisters.  The article is called called Don’t Yelp Your Doctor and it is written by Niam Yaraghi who hails from the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation.  The Brookings Institution lists Mr. Yaraghi as “a fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation. He is an expert on economics of healthcare information technology with a focus on Health Information Exchange (HIE) systems. Niam’s research examines the network externalities in the healthcare market and their effects on HIE adoption and usage. His research is currently focused on analyzing the outcomes of HIE use in reducing the costs and increasing the quality of healthcare services.”

I was completely enraged when I read his article in USA Today. The basis of his article is that patients should not rate physicians on Yelp or any other online customer review site. He states “Patients are neither qualified nor capable of evaluating the quality of the medical services that they receive. How can a patient, with no medical expertise, know that the treatment option that he received was the best available one?”.  He continues with “Since patients do not have the medical expertise to judge the quality of physicians’ decisions in the short run and are neither capable of evaluating the outcomes of such decisions in the long run, their feedback would be limited to their immediate interaction with medical providers and their staff members.”

For the record I never give online reviews whether it is for medical care, electronics or strawberries. I only read the online reviews on electronics and usually CNET is my source.  I don’t really believe in online reviews and I certainly would not pick a doctor based on an online review. The proper place to check out a doctor is your state medical board.  There you can find negative information on doctors.  As an example for Kansas, you would go to http://www.ksbha.org/main.shtml to research complaints against a doctor.

My objection to his article has nothing to do with online reviews and has everything to do with the implication that all patients are ignorant when it comes to their own medical conditions and completely incompetent to make medical decisions. This is a ridiculous implication. This implication suggests that one should never question the care they receive or the decision of their doctor because they don’t have the appropriate education.  Bullshit.  I can give him excellent reasons you should absolutely question doctors and that you should not go back to a physician you don’t like and wouldn’t “rate” highly.

First and foremost is my visit with a new family physician after my long time doctor left his practice to take a research position.  This was my first time with the doctor that took his place.  He was prescribing me an antibiotic and I am allergic to penicillin so he told me he would prescribe Zithromax.  Good choice if every cardiac provider that I have seen had not warned me about taking this antibiotic.  When I brought this up to him he got very arrogant and seemed to chastise me for challenging him by saying that cardiologists overreact to this antibiotic and that not every person who has taken Zithromax has died.  When I asked him if he knew I was a heart attack survivor he treated that like it was no big deal and he had no interest in discussing that.  When I told him there was no way I was taking it, we settled on doxycyline.  Why on earth would I give him a good review after this encounter?  If there were an online medical review site that listed asshole, I would go fill it out. I absolutely will not see him again.

Perhaps we should take a look at an earlier blog post of mine, Gender Inequities In Cardiac Care – You Must Advocate For Yourself.  In this post, I discuss an email I received from a woman in Georgia who was not referred to cardiac rehab post cardiac event. How is it that this woman did not know about cardiac rehab?  When all of the studies show that it is of great benefit, some doctor made a decision not to tell his patient.  If I knew what doctor that was, I would tell everyone I know not to see him. In my opinion, this is inadequate care.  I challenge Mr. Yaraghi to argue with me on this when numerous studies support my stance.  How is that for not having the knowledge?  A patient who reads medical studies on her condition?  Apparently unheard of in Mr. Yaraghi’s world.

The fact is that there are a lot of very qualified and excellent doctors and I have the highest respect for them.  Just like any other profession such as financial advisors (the example Mr. Yaraghi uses), some are excellent and some suck at their jobs.  Patients should not be chastised into thinking that because they do not posses an MD, they do not have the common sense to be able to weed out the providers that are not providing good medical care. For a national news publication to allow an article that suggests this is irresponsible.

Heart Walk Day

Tomorrow is the Kansas City Heart and Stroke Walk and 5K Run.  This year, the American Heart Association asks you what is your why?  Why do you care about your heart health?

I started to type out why I walk tomorrow but it is a long list and I thought  this better:

I could think of no more fitting song than “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten.  It seems fitting for all of the survivors that are my whys.

You May Not Need to See Me, But I Need to See You.

I read a blog article tweeted by Carolyn Thomas at Heart Sisters the other day.  It hit very close to home and close to some recent conversation with another heart sister Teri. (See Teri’s story).  It was written by Brian Loew, the CEO of Inspire and is titled What Do You Wish Your Doctor Knew?. It is no so much the article itself, but the comments that are so valuable.  One in particular said, “I wish my doctor knew this is not routine for me.”

That statement resonates to my core.  This is exactly how I felt as I was being discharged from the hospital after what according to all of the hospital staff was a massive heart attack.  I had my heart attack late on a Thursday and was discharged on Saturday morning; literally spending less than 48 hours in the hospital after almost dying.  If it were not for my decision to call an ambulance I would have died.  My doctor told me that most women that are having “the widow-maker” die because they decide to lay down to see if they feel better.  Once they do this, they just never wake up.  In fact he told me that less than 20% of women survive this kind of heart attack and that I had done everything right to give them the best chance to save my life.

Armed with all of this new information on the seriousness of what had happened (and really not absorbing much of it–see Post Heart Attack Stun), I was shocked to be going home so quickly.  I was also shocked and put off by the callousness of the staff as I was being discharged.  I was terrified.  I had never been sick like this and to me, it was not routine.  How could this be taken so lightly?  In reality, I am sure they do not take it lightly, but that was the impression that was given to me at the time.  The staff of the CCU is well trained and took great medical care of me (you know, that saving my life thing that I am grateful for!).

As the nurse was discharging me, he handed me an appointment card for my follow-up with the cardiac surgeon and it was 3 1/2 weeks away.  Really? I said, “He isn’t going to see me until then?”  The nurse said, “He doesn’t need to.”  Here is the thing doctors–you may not need to see me, but I need to see you.

I was fortunate in my circumstance in that I am stubborn.  Being stubborn led to me refusing all anti anxiety and pain medicines at the hospital.  That following week, I had so much bleed back and it was so painful that I went to see my family doctor.  Shocked at the turn of events, he spent his entire lunch hour with me because they had worked me in.  He checked the groin incision to make sure it was ok as I was sure the massive bruising down the inside of my leg and across my entire abdomen meant I was going to bleed to death.  I was sure I was going to die in my sleep; I was sure every single thing I ate was going to clog an artery and I was sure that I was never going to get well.  I just needed a doctor to tell me I was really ok.  He went over things like what I should eat and avoid now as my only instruction from the hospital was to limit salt. At the end of my appointment he gave me the pain medicine and told me not to be so stubborn next time.

I felt so much better after he took that time with me.  I know he did not have that kind of time in his schedule that day and I will always be grateful to him.  I was so scared and I really needed his time.  I  needed to hear that I wasn’t going to die.  It was all so new to me to now have this chronic illness and to not be sure what it meant for me or what to expect.

For me, this is what I wish my doctor and all cardiologists knew.  You may not need to see me, but I need to see you.

The Results

After an excruciating weekend waiting for test results and envisioning a multitude of really bad outcomes, I received my test results on Monday.  They were fine–no further damage and no open heart surgery.  What a relief!  Of course, when they called with good results, it did not mean that I could reverse my decision to leave my corporate job. (See My Decision to Leave).

Stress can be harmful to your heart health and I most certainly have to take care of mine.  An article in Time Magazine from June 22, 2014, explains “Stress causes an overproduction of white blood cells, which defend the body against diseases but can cause problems when produced in excess. These extra cells can stick to artery walls, causing restrictions in blood flow and aiding the formation of clots that can cause blood-vessel blockages throughout the body.” (New Study May Explain Why Stress Can Cause Heart Attacks)

Dr. Steven Nissen from the Cleveland Clinic explains how stress can trigger a heart attack:

I chose a pretty extreme way of limiting my stress.  Stepping out of the corporate world is the right decision for me and allows me to chase what I have always wanted to do.  When I look in the mirror, I can see that I made the right decision.  I look and feel younger (except for that decision to let my hair go grey!) and  the relief of knowing I don’t have to think about it any more is amazing.

I have come to terms with my departure from Corporate America and now look forward to the possibilities that await me.  I am in a rare position to be able to stop mid-life and totally recreate myself.  What a tremendous opportunity!