In January 2015, I was admitted to the hospital for acute respiratory failure and congestive heart failure. At some point in the initial hours, I also suffered a mild heart attack. Ten days later, I underwent double bypass surgery. All this happened suddenly and with no pain - just the inability to breathe. Now, I am dealing with the aftermath and getting my health back on track. Here are five things I learned after having my heart attack.
1. Real heart attacks aren’t like Hollywood heart attacks.
Many people think a heart attack causes bone-crushing pain like you see in the movies. While a heart attack can be painful, it can also cause a host of other symptoms that might be harder to detect. This is especially true for women. In my case, I experienced shortness of breath. When I say shortness of breath, I don’t mean I was breathing heavily. I could not get a breath. It felt more like an asthma attack than heart attack. I had been experiencing shortness of breath for years and didn’t realize it. Which brings me to my next point...
2. You have to put your health first.
All of this stemmed from the fact that I was not putting myself first. I was too busy worrying about my family, friends and colleagues. Were they taking care? Were they exercising? Were they eating right? I should have been asking myself those questions as well. I should have been looking after my own health. Women struggle with putting ourselves first. We feel selfish if we do. Nothing could be farther from the truth. By not putting myself first, I put my life at risk.
3. Putting your own health first is also good for your family and friends.
While I thought I was doing good by putting my family and my job first, I didn’t do my them any good by letting my health suffer. They want me healthy – and here with them. Now, I go to the doctor regularly. Instead of one regular doctor, I now have a team of doctors, nurses and specialists that help me stay healthy. My plan is to stay alive for many more years.
4. You need to visit your primary care doctor at least once a year.
For those of you who have been putting off going to the doctor, value yourself and make the appointment today. You should have your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar checked at least once a year. Now, I have to monitor these every day. Going to the doctor for a yearly check-up is much better than emergency bypass surgery or worse. If you aren’t going to your doctor because you are unhappy with his or her services, find another! Ask for recommendations from friends and family. If you aren’t going to the doctor because you can’t afford it, come to Westside Family Health Center (Appointment line: 310-450-2191), or another California community health center near you by visiting www.cpca.org and clicking “Find a Clinic.”
5. Be in partnership with your doctor and advocate for yourself.
Your doctor should be your partner. It is that simple. This person should not judge you and they shouldn’t dismiss your feelings. With that said, a partnership is a two way street. As a patient, you need to be an active partner as well. You know your body best, but you should always check in with your doctor. Ask questions. Your doctor would rather you ask a question than be sick or in pain. Take notes when you go to the doctor, or bring a friend or family member with you to help. Most of all, advocate for your health needs and pay attention – especially when dealing with more than one doctor. Are they giving you conflicting advice? In the age of technology and electronic medical records, keeping track of these issues is easier than ever. Take advantage of it, for your health’s sake!