Beliefnet
Daily Joys and Simple Pleasures

Thirty nine years ago today my mother died. I was thirteen years old. I heard things around the house like, “The doctor said I needed to take a higher dose of my blood pressure medication.” I had no real concept of what high blood pressure actually was. I knew enough to associate it with limited patience and a short temper. That’s about it.

The last year of my mother’s life a family friend cared enough to alert me to the signs of a stroke. I remember I was supposed to look for a crooked smile.  Perhaps if, at thirteen, I’d been near the “information highway” I would have known the acronym FAST –

Face:  Ask the person to smile. Is one side dropping? (Crooked smile)

Arms:  Ask the person to raise both arms…is one arm drifting downward?

Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase.  Are the words difficult to understand?

Time:  Is of the utmost importance…if any of these signs are present, call 9-1-1. Immediately.

The heart is a complex and amazing instrument.  It does so many crucial functions in our system and, of course, there are so many things that could go wrong.  I was on the look out for the signs of a stroke…but not the signs of a heart attack.  In the 39 years since my Mother’s death I’ve learned that heart attack symptoms can appear very differently in women than men.  And, just as my mother did, many women discount their symptoms of pain and discomfort and march on – assuming they will just get through it.  Those signs are less apparent than the signs of a stroke…

  • shortness of breath
  • weakness
  • unusual fatigue

Women also have these symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Lower chest discomfort
  • Upper abdominal pressure or discomfort that may feel like indigestion
  • Back pain

An author whose work I follow posted an experience that has haunted me.  She had to cancel some of her appearances because she was hospitalized.  She thought she was having a heart attack.  Turns out she wasn’t!  Good news.  But the part of her story that has stayed with me is this…she was very proud of the fact that before she went to the hospital she took a shower and put on clean underwear.  She delightedly reported that she thought her mother would be especially proud of the clean underwear part.  In treating issues related to our one and only heart, TIME is of the essence.  Time, TIME is far more significant than clean underwear.  Am I being bossy on this?  Yes.  I am.

In the month ( a whole month) set aside to paying attention to two traumatic maladies, high blood pressure and strokes, let me underscore the whole notion of Self Care.  Every day we each invest in the legacy of our health by the choices we make on behalf of our bodies.  Paying attention to the signs our bodies provide is an important element.  Too often we over ride the clear and purposeful signals our bodies are sending.  This is a great day to pause, observe and ask yourself, “What might my body be telling me about my own health matters this moment?”

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