A Heart to Heart Talk

My beautiful Mother, Earnie

February is heart month designated by the American Heart Association  in an effort to raise awareness of the risk of heart disease and stroke in women.  Their mission is to promote healthier living, free of cardiovascular disease.  That single purpose drives all they do.

My parents, and grandparents, had cardiovascular disease including stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart attack.  My biggest shock came when my mother suffered a stroke in 2007.  Her best friend, Margaret, called Sister Bee and told her Mother “didn’t seem right” and wasn’t making sense on the phone.  I stopped by on the way to work and took one look at her and knew she was suffering from a stroke. The entire side of her face was drooping and she had a blank look on her face.  Still able to function we rushed her to the hospital where she stayed for about week. Fortunately, Mother was able to regain her abilities, but some damage was irreversible.  She lost her ability to write clearly –oh, she had beautiful penmanship and loved to send letters and cards to friends, she became easily fatigued, swallowing food was a challenge sometimes, she found it difficult to find the right words when putting a sentence together — something referred to as “word salad” and could no longer drive her car safely.   It was a huge adjustment for her but she did it with a smile and positive attitude!  Thankfully, our family made the adjustments needed and that’s when my parents came to live with us.

What I remember most about that day in the ER with Mother was this:  As they were assessing Mother’s blood pressure, I couldn’t believe the result.  The nurse and I looked at each other, then looked over at Mother.  The nurse asked her “do you have hypertension?”  I expected Mother to reply no, but she told the nurse she indeed had been diagnosed with hypertension several years prior and was taking medication for it.  I had to pick up my chin off the floor.  How had I missed this?  Why did she not tell me this? Come to find out, this was partly true.  The nurse called her physician to confirm the hypertension, then followed up with the pharmacy only to find that Mother had not filled her prescription in over a year!  When the nurse reported this back to Mother, her only response was she felt fine and didn’t think the medication was necessary.

Heart disease and stroke are the world’s two leading killers, and more than one in three U.S. women live with some form of cardiovascular disease. But studies show 80 percent of cardiac events and strokes are preventable.

High blood pressure affects one out of three adults over the age of 20. There is a reason it is referred to as “the silent killer”  because most of the time there are no symptoms. A lot of times it’s considered a man’s disease so women don’t think they can be affected.  Mother never liked to take medicine even after she came to live with me.  In the beginning, when I’d hand her medication to her, I’d watch her try to put it into her tissue.  I was always very respectful, but would point out she needed to take it.  Reluctantly, she would.  Another factor that caused her non-compliance was that she devoted all her time and strength to looking after Daddy and didn’t give herself the same attention.  Caring for a loved one strains even the most resilient people. An excellent resource from the Mayo Clinic  provides tips for caregivers.

More women die from heart disease than from all forms of cancer. It’s not rocket science, but why do we try to make it more complicated?  Our prescription is not complex — eat smart and exercise.  There are some factors that are unpreventable, but we can all agree that diet and exercise are two things we do have control over.

Life’s Simple 7 — Designed by the American Heart Association this simple, seven step list has been developed to deliver on the hope we all have–to live a long, productive healthy life.  My score was 8.6 out of 10.  I am working on losing some weight to lower my BMI which affected my score and I need to increase my fruit and vegetable intake.  The interesting thing about this assessment is you really need to know your “numbers” like your blood pressure, your fasting blood sugar and cholesterol.  If it has been a while since you have seen your physician and had labwork, do yourself a favor and give yourself this gift.  As a healthcare professional, I am a huge advocate of an annual physical examination from a family practice physician or internist AND an annual gynecological appointment.  Of course it can be argued that your family physician can do your GYN exam, but I feel that women’s needs are best met, especially peri and post-menopausal, by a GYN.  Just my opinion, but so far it has served me well. We only get one pass in this world and you might as well make it the best you can.  We make appointments for our loved ones — children, spouses and parents, yet why are we always at the bottom of the “to do” list?

I’ll be back another day with some more good information.  For now, just soak this in and ask yourself “am I giving this life my best chance possible?”  Please share this with a friend on Facebook or via email.  It might just save their life.

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