Heart, Light, Snow


You never know what a new morning will bring. I awakened with what can be all too familiar: that clutch of pain in my neck and head, but then as I moved across the room, an increased heart rate that gathered steam, then thundered its way through morning preparations. A shower was not a good idea, at all; it ended fast. I was confounded. Often my myriad heart issues settle and improve with time but no. I felt breathless, not a good sign.

Once dressed, the question was: do I call 911? My cardiologist or my husband or both? I managed the blood pressure cuff and found the vitals alarming– very high blood pressure and heart rate still unstable. My chest felt better sitting. I didn’t identify any other sign of heart attack yet felt unwell.

I sat and thought about what had entered my mind when I had been awakened off and on by the creeping neck pain and various heart arrhythmias. I had said one prayer in the thick, long darkness: Lord, please let me know what I need to do about this. By morning I was getting the directive to not ignore things. I monitored my heart and tried to drink my tea and eat a little. Heart rate was falling; that was good. But I did not feel okay yet. I felt…stunned, unstable, faint at moments.

The night before had been wonderful. A grandson turned eleven and his dad–he is my son’s son–had made chili and I made the cake and added potato rolls. Their family came plus an aunt, an other “adult child” of ours. The food was good, the gathering even better as we lolled about the living room; the spaces warmed and filled with laughter and random stories. My son and his girlfriend just returned from Hawaii so shared videos and pictures. Young Asher was happy with his gifts–fancy iridescent silly putty being one of the best. His older sister smiled and chatted easily. I felt very happy to be a mother and grandmother.

In the morning it was so bitterly cold that when the snow came it lingered, heated up from all the traffic on roads and then got icy. In the Oregon valley, snow is not welcome, it is difficult, dangerous.I felt exhausted and shaky and uncertain. As a woman living with heart disease for 15 years, I have made countless trips in an ambulance. I always want to avoid it.

Doctor was called: come in, I heard. Husband was summoned and he soon arrived.

It is a mystery, how this pattern has emerged, a sudden shifting of heart rhythms and rates. How blood pressure has skyrocketed when it was not a problem for many years. I would likely only know the latter because I have the blood pressure cuff to take my own vitals–I generally have no discernable symptoms of that. The majority usually do not. I know what is not safe when I read those numbers.

My cardiologist, good Dr. P.– exuding compassion and intelligence while seemingly ignorant he is movie star good-looking—has never steered me wrong. He is the hoped-for combination of attentive listener, brilliant strategist and swift decision maker. I trust him with my life because he has saved it often. I have watched him get older as he has, me, and it is clear he is only mortal, after all. So we always put our heads together; he does the best he is capable of doing.

It wasn’t heart attack symptoms, which an EKG verified. It turns out it is likely the intense chronic pain I have had increasingly over the past few months. The idea is not so surprising; it is clear it has impacted me though I’ve become used to varying degrees of chronic pain throughout my life due to a different health issues. I guess I’ve learned to ignore it mostly, even believe it will not win the battle. I avoid taking OTC pain medicine. (As a person with coronary artery disease I can’t safely use ibuprofen much, though this helps most; it affects heart patients in negative ways as well as health of the stomach.) I do not take opiate medication as I’ve been in recovery from substance abuse for over 25 years. I am anxious even about the drug Dr. P. mentioned, which is not an opiate but perhaps a second or third “cousin”. It targets the same receptors in the brain as do narcotics. I was never an opiate addict, but being recovery means being cautious of all we put in our bodies. And I also know from experience pain can be managed in many holistic ways.

I might have ended up in a bit of a corner now, though. Being stubborn is not so good. I desire to–choose to–live a healthy life each day. I want to stay on the go, enjoy all I can every second. I have a hunger for the wonders and curiosities of life. And sometimes I choose to ignore a difficult need of my own rather than own up and relent. This is not helping me.

“It is time you take something to get the pain under control or you will likely continue to have high blood pressure and tachycardia. The body always reverts to alarm mode with daily pain. And you must find out what you can do next about those old disc issues. Let’s increase your heart medication for now, as well.”

I propped up my aching head on my hand, felt relief but also new fear. What would come of all this?

“I want another really good ten years, Dr. P. Can I do that? I have a lot to do.”

He took my other cold hand in his warm one. “Let’s work at doubling those numbers. Take even better care of yourself–you’ve done such a good job for son long and you can do more. Take your new medicine, too. And if this doesn’t do the trick, back to the drawing board we’ll go.”

Dr. P. remains a crucial light in my life. From the start when no one believed I had heart disease at such a young age (by 50, likely even earlier but diagnosed at 51 during an emergency) he believed me. He made fast and right choices to save me from death or at least serious impairment.

By the time my husband and I left the office, it was snowing mightily. I felt quiet watching the whitening air swirl about us. How much I loved the snow as a kid and even now, how it draws me–its softness and freshness, all those intricately patterned flakes, how it transforms the gritty world for awhile. I expressed my desire to take a slow, short walk when I got home. My husband shut down the idea fast.

So I took my medicine and I have been lounging around feeling like a very unproductive person. Yet resting when rest is needed is a wise thing to do. I will try the pain medicine tonight. I want to sleep long and well for once, and I  need to experience far less misery in this restless, hurting body.

So I decided to share this day with you. If you are a person who has heart disease, first stay as well as you can; the work and fun will still be waiting. And if you are in need of more assistance for any reason at all in your life, don’t hesitate– reach out, find and use it.

My gratitude for every moment runs deep. And even for this trying day–for all human and Godly light that illumine my way. The fiercely exquisite snow. This tough, resilient, tenderly beating heart.

14 thoughts on “Heart, Light, Snow

  1. I’m sorry to read about your struggle and hope it gets better. I’m 27 years old and was born with heart problems so I know how it goes. I’ve made peace with the fact that I can drop dead at any second. Doesn’t slow me down any.

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