Monday, November 24, 2008

In remembrance: Talk about health over the holidays

Dorothy Irene 4/26/24 - 11/24/98
(yours truly as the not-politically-correct blonde Indian in 1970s attire)

It has been ten years since I disembarked from a plane in my homeland with my "new boyfriend who sounds so nice" (now incredible husband & father of our son) to learn that, instead of having a joyous Thanksgiving with my grandma, we would be making arrangements for her at the funeral home and beginning the awful process of settling her estate. Thanksgiving has never been truly happy for me since. Spending time with her was every Thanksgiving my entire life up until that year.

I could drive myself crazy with the 'what ifs.' Both she and her neighbors did not know that the symptoms of a heart attack for women do not always include pain. She spent the morning resting as the neighbors changed the oil in her car before an afternoon doctor's appointment to check what she thought was pneumonia... just mild chest tightness, feeling winded and fatigue after a cold. No emergency at all, of course. By the time she was seen then immediately sent by ambulance to the emergency room it was too late. She died at the same time I left work for the airport. My grandma didn't call to tell me she was feeling ill in the first place since she didn't want me to worry about her.

In 2004, the American Heart Association launched the Go Red for Women campaign to increase awareness of the fact that heart disease is the #1 killer of women & promote preventative measures for cardiovascular health.

My grandma's hypertension was under control with medication, she ate well, and she either swam laps (she & her high school team often won competitive Pacific Ocean & other swim meets and I have all the pictures & articles about them in the papers) or walked for an hour daily depending on the weather though. It concerns me that Go Red doesn't include well-marked links to information about the actual symptoms of heart disease in women, so here's one from the Mayo Clinic
Women are more likely than men to have signs and symptoms unrelated to chest pain, such as:
  • Neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Unusual fatigue
As a mom, I understand not wanting to worry other members of the family... plus there's always so much to do. We work hard, both in and out of the home. We juggle countless after-school clubs, activities and events in our kids', family's and maybe even our own personal time schedules. We try to pull off picture-perfect Rockwellian holidays for everyone to enjoy, without the deranged look of the 1950s cigarette ad. I admit I forget about my own health sometimes in the rush to keep up with life. I suspect with our current economic climate even more moms will choose health care for their children first and postpone their own due to the expense.

As you're getting together with your family this week for the holidays, take the time to talk with those you love to make sure they're getting the health care they need. I'm taking my own advice too: Take care of yourself first.

I only wish I had a chance to have that talk with my grandma a decade ago. In retrospect, this is probably part of why I'm so passionate about consumer health education now.


Mary said...

After I was diagnosed with thyroid disease, my doctor told me to talk to family members about it because I have a hereditary form, and they should know to get checked. As I asked around, I found out that EVERY SINGLE PERSON had my thyroid disease. A couple were close enough to borderline by old standards that they hadn't been officially diagnosed (but would be now, or have been since), and a couple were in some sort of weird denial (like the sister on Synthroid "for depression"), but every single person had it to some degree.

I wish someone, anyone, had spoken up earlier, I might have had the symptoms investigated earlier.