Grief is Tough on the Body: If you Notice Troubling Signs, Seek Medical Attention: STAT

Thursday, 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.

I’d love to hear what you have to say about this post. Please leave a comment here on Stepping Stones.

Are you dealing with a challenging life transition? If so, I’d love to help out. Visit my website at to sign up for an introductory coaching session or a coaching package that’s right for you. Since coaching sessions are conducted by phone, I can work with clients anywhere in the world.

Ellen Brown is a certified professional coach based in Cleveland, OH.

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4 Responses to “Grief is Tough on the Body: If you Notice Troubling Signs, Seek Medical Attention: STAT”

  1. Laurie Wallin says:

    November 7th, 2010 at 1:11 am

    So glad all is well and you’re okay! That must have been scary. You’re so right – we have to take good care of our bodies during seasons of stress or grief. I’d love to know where you got your info on that – do you have a source for the info on grief and physical ramifications? I coach people working through intense challenges and would love to know where I can point them for resources!

  2. Sophie Lhoste says:

    November 7th, 2010 at 1:51 am

    This is a great post Ellen! I really enjoyed reading it and I always enjoy being reminded that it’s ok to look after myself and to ‘make a fuss’ to make sure I am healthy! Thank you.

  3. Ellen Brown says:

    November 7th, 2010 at 9:14 am

    Thanks, Sophie. It’s true that even the helpers and the healers need to be reminded of that. “Making a fuss” is a good thing :)

  4. Ellen Brown says:

    November 7th, 2010 at 9:16 am

    Thanks, Laurie. I don’t have a source per se, but now I want to find one, so I let you know what I dig up. I’ve just read it time and time again. And our local hospice (that leads the bereavement group) stresses the physical link to grieving quite a bit.

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