Grief is Tough on the Body: If you Notice Troubling Signs, Seek Medical Attention: STATThursday, November 4, 2010 10:42
By Ellen Brown
Several years ago, when I was writing an article about heart disease in women, each of the women I interviewed pleaded with me at the end of our conversation. “If you ever notice symptoms like these, please don’t wait like I did,” they begged. “Get it checked out.”
After promising to do as they said, I filed the information away in my mind and moved onto the next thing.
Then a few weeks ago, it happened. Seemingly out of nowhere, I started feeling a dull pain in my chest, and felt strangely fatigued and short of breath.
Suddenly, I started flashing back to my conversations with those women, remembering the symptoms they’d described, which included shortness of breath, nausea, pain between the shoulder blades, and fatigue. Each had fluffed off their symptoms, because they hadn’t wanted to “make a big fuss,” they told me. And one woman waited so long before heading to the emergency room that she almost hadn’t lived to tell about it.
At first, I explained away my symptoms, just as the other woman had done. I was tired because I was grieving the loss of my Mom. I felt discomfort in my chest because I was lifting weights that were a little too heavy. And my shortness of breath? Well, I HAD gained a few pounds lately. Surely that was the reason I was huffing and puffing up the stairs.
But then I remembered my promise: don’t wait like they did; get my symptoms checked out. Thankfully, at the time, I was participating in a bereavement group, in which our facilitator kept emphasizing the importance of staying healthy when grieving the loss of a loved one. Because the fact is grief can be tough on the body. So it’s important for us to keep up with health screenings and tune into what our bodies are trying to tell us.
So a few days later I was on the phone, explaining my symptoms to a triage nurse, and since there was no sense in sugar coating it, I mentioned that there’s a strong incidence of heart disease in my family.
It’s funny how the proverbial “sirens” go off when a 50 year-old woman with a family history of heart disease calls in. So that very next day I was at the Cleveland Clinic, talking to a young internist, whose eyebrows shot up like a cartoon character when I told him that my Dad had his first heart attack at the age of 57, and my Mom was in her 60s when she required quadruple bypass surgery.
The doctor ordered an EKG and a chest X-ray STAT. Thankfully, both turned out “beautifully,” as he put it, so beautifully, in fact, that I thought I was going to be able to weasel out of having an echocardiogram which seemed a bit over the top. But no, I still had to have the echo, he said, though he decided against putting me on the treadmill for a stress test after my EKG turned out so well.
In the meantime, my doctor ordered a big batch of blood tests, including one that measured cholesterol levels. The tests all turned out “great,” he told me a few days later.
But the results of the echo still remained a mystery.
A couple days later, I received the happy news that my echocardiogram was “normal” and my heart was in good shape, and boy was I ever relieved. I almost dropped the phone, while I was doing a little happy dance, as I spoke with one of the nurses in my doctor’s office.
The shortness of breath, it turned out, was due to being a bit overweight, so now, I just have to lose a little weight, which seems like nothing in the grand scheme of things. At least I didn’t have heart disease!
So thankfully, my story has a happy ending. But take it from me, and the three women I interviewed years ago. If you’re experiencing the symptoms I described, or some other symptoms that may indicate heart disease, please, have them checked out. And if you’re dealing with any kind of loss, it’s so important to keep up with your health screenings and seek medical attention, if you notice any troubling changes in your health.
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Ellen Brown is a certified professional coach based in Cleveland, OH.