I had a Heart Attack. Now What?
A little over three weeks ago on Easter Sunday I had a massive heart attack. Crazy right? I’m shocked too. But it did happened and thank God I am still on this side of the sod. We know if Todd was not home the outcome would have been different. I am so grateful for him and the care I received at the Health Sciences Centre. Actually I am grateful for everything thing in my life. Grateful for each day I get to wake up. It is a wonderful gift, trust me.
But let me tell you having a heart attack also does weird things to your psyche. The “what if” and the “now what” play over and over in your head. Its voice is fierce, it’s loud and while you are sure grateful to be alive those thoughts take up an enormous amount of space in your day.
Then there are the new things in your life. Things I am disliking. I hate that I am afraid to be left alone in case something happens. I hate that any ache in my chest makes me think I’m about to kick the bucket because my ticker might crap out again. I hate that I tire so fast and need many naps. I hate that I can’t do much or that I’m panicky to try anything new. I hate that my normal is now in the past and its replacement is strange.
Less Diet Pepsi,
Less Chocolate and Sweets,
and the list goes on and on.
But I am coming to terms with these new things. I have to. I have to make a serious commitment to a lifestyle change. Because changing my lifestyle will hopefully allow me to stick around a bit longer. And of course I want to do that. I’m liking it as “my new lease on life” or “my second chance” and frankly I’m friggin excited. There is so much I want and need to do.
And one of the things I need to do is share my story. Why? I assure you it’s not for the prestige of having a heart attack but to let you know a fact.
A Heart Attack can happen to you. Yes You.
So listen up people there are things you need to know. Things that will prevent you from having a heart attack no matter your age or sex. Things that will keep you around to enjoy your days and love ones. And we all want that.
I found this list online and added my voice in brackets after each bullet point. Please, please read.
- Watch your diet. Add plenty of fruits and veggies, grains, and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like fresh tuna or herring to your diet. Eat less salt, saturated fats, sweets, and red meats. Avoid trans fats. Avoid food with “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” ingredients. A variety in your diet is a good way to get all the nutrients you need. (A lot of learning here for me. But it’s really important and after three weeks I am getting use to the changes. One of the biggest is eating three meals per day. As I move forward I will share more on this.)
- Take it easy. Find a relaxation method that works for you. Yoga, meditation, dedicated time to unwind. – these can help keep your stress levels down. Stressful emotions such as anger and hostility may also lead to heart attack risk, so keep calm and be cool. (Yeah, totally need to work on this. Right now I am resting in the afternoon while listening to whales… lol, sounds weird but it works. It does!)
- No Smoking. If you never started smoking, kudos! If you already quit, excellent. If you still smoke, stop! Talk to your doctor to find out what method will work best for you. Even people who smoke fewer than five cigarettes a day can have early signs of heart disease. Get started – in just one year you can reduce your risk of a heart attack. (Omg this one is hard. But I’m smoke free. Its been over three weeks now. Each day it gets easier however there are times when I get this over whelming feeling of “I need a smoke”. I usually reach for some gum or a glass of water and then try to do something to distract myself. Todd has not quit… yet. But there is zero smoking in the house, and zero smoking around me.)
- Keep tabs on your blood pressure. If it’s too high, your risk of heart attack and disease goes up. Stress management, a healthy diet, and regular exercise can help you manage your blood pressure. Your doctor may also prescribe medications to lower your levels. (I bought a blood pressure cuff and do a reading every morning. I am also on pills to keep it in check.)
- Mind your blood sugar. Too much sugar in your blood can damage your arteries, even if you don’t have diabetes. Work with your doctor to control your levels. That may lower your chance of having a heart attack or stroke. Remember, you can’t tell if you have diabetes (or high blood pressure, or high cholesterol) based on how you feel. (Well this was an eye opener. I mean I knew too much sugar was not good but I never knew just how not good. I now limit my sweets to fruit, yogurt and fat-free pudding. But I love chocolate. OMG, do I love it. So instead of a bar once a day I’m having one a week. Last Sunday I had a fruit and nut bar. I ate it slow to make it last.)
- Be smart about cholesterol. When blood runs through your heart, it can drop traces of cholesterol, fat, and calcium, creating a buildup of plaque in your arteries. Too much of it makes a heart attack more likely. If you don’t know your cholesterol numbers, ask your doctor for a blood test. Keep in mind, there are two kinds of cholesterol: One is bad for your heart (LDL), and the other can protect you from heart disease (HDL). You can improve your levels with exercise and a diet low in unhealthy fats. Some people may also need to take cholesterol-lowering drugs. (Lots of learning here. Right now I’m learning to read labels. I am also on meds to lower my cholesterol. Once I get my levels at the right spot I think I will be able to come off of these.)
- Don’t wait to lose weight. If you have extra pounds, it can put your heart at risk. Exercise and a good diet help. Ask your doctor or a dietitian what your goal should be and how to get there. (I’m doing the Heathy Heart Diet that was recommended by the dietitian. She gave me lots of tips but there were some things I wish she had given me more of like meal plans. Now I have to figure all this out and it would have been nice to have at least a few sample meal plans. More to come on this. I also am just starting on the exercise bit. Ten minutes of walking to start. I need to lose a big amount of weight. I need to buy a scale. I’m using the App “my fitness pal” to record the 1400 calories I’m eating daily.)
- Ask about aspirin. Talk with your doctor about taking an aspirin daily. In some people, this reduces the risk of heart attack. (I have to take aspirin for the rest of my days. It was the first thing the dispatchers asked Todd to give me. Of course we never had any in the house. People listen up get the aspirin.)
- Get a move on. Hit the treadmill or the trail. Walk around the neighbourhood or go for a swim. Whatever activity best fits your needs, do it! Regular exercise can prevent heart disease, lower blood pressure, and improve cholesterol levels. (I hate exercise. I’m not going to lie. Hate the gym, Hate the thought of any form of exercising. But I don’t mind walking. Years ago I lost a lot of weight walking. And with my health issues walking is the best form of exercise for me. Right now I’m in recovery mode so I’m walking only ten minutes. I am hoping I can get that up to hiking as I really want to start do that.)
- Keep a social safety net. Stay in touch with your friends and family. Research shows that people with more social support are less prone to heart trouble. As you grow your network and make new friends, know that you might be good for their heart health, too. (oh, I so suck at this one. But I can tell you I have a huge shift in my thinking. I am determined to make big changes in this area.)
So there you have it. Ten things you need to do to keep yourself from having a heart attack. Unfortunately for me I needed to have the heart attack before I smartened up. Don’t be like me. Carpe this diem people!