My Heart Story: How Becoming a Patient Transformed One Nurse’s Recommendations for Her Cardiac Patients
Listening to your body could save your life.
On Feb. 28, 2022, after leaving work and running a few errands, I arrived home short of breath and felt a new, strange sensation on the left side of my upper chest. I decided to go to the hospital. After a series of tests, doctors determined that the back of my heart wasn't getting enough blood. They performed a minimally invasive diagnostic test, called a cardiac catheterization, and it confirmed that I had a 95% blockage in the left anterior descending artery (LAD) of my heart. This artery is called the “widowmaker” because a heart attack in this vessel is so dangerous.
The next day a stent was placed in my blocked artery, also via cardiac catheterization. This procedure opened up the artery to enable healthier blood flow and I was able to go home the following day.
My cardiologist said it was a good thing I listened to my body, otherwise I would have had a massive heart attack. Wow! As a Cardiac Nurse for over 35 years, I am well-versed in the signs of heart disease, but I never felt any of the typical symptoms– at least not the way I imagined they would feel.
According to the American Heart Association, the warning signs of a heart attack include:
Chest discomfort, which can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain–typically in the center of the chest.
Discomfort or pain in other areas of the body, such as the jaw, back, neck or stomach.
Shortness of breath, which can occur with or without chest pain.
Cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
While the most common symptom of heart attack is chest pain or discomfort for both men and women, women are more likely to experience other common symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
I don't know how long I was walking around with a blockage, so I educate my patients a bit differently now. I tell them to always listen to their bodies, regardless of the symptoms, and go immediately to the Emergency Department or their primary care provider if they feel anything alarming. Cardiac disease does not discriminate (it can happen to the healthiest person). Worrisome symptoms, big and small, are the body’s way of letting you know there could be a problem.
Graphic courtesy of the American Heart Association.
Hallice Waddell, R.N., has been a nurse at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center for more than 35 years. She works in Cardiac Rehabilitation.