Fourteen years ago, Dr. P diagnosed Dad with liver cancer. Sometime in the next six months, the six months we had before we said goodbye, Mom told Dr. General she had chest pains.
“It’s probably just stress,” he told her, his kind brown eyes reassuring her.
I could have lost both my parents that year. But no one knew just how strong Mom really was.
“I walk to the mailbox, and I’m just fine,” she told me. “But when I turn around to come home, my chest hurts. I walk over to the neighbors’ with no problem, but when I come back, I can hardly breathe.”
It sounds like a broken heart, avoiding an empty house. Dad was the love of her life. Until death do us part was the truth they both knew.
A family full of people in the health care professions: three nurses, a pharmacist, a physical therapist, and a regulatory affairs professional, we finally talk Mom into seeing Dr. General again. He schedules an angiogram.
By the time the test gets scheduled, Mom feels better. Mom’s artery is so blocked the test cannot be completed, nor could an angioplasty be done to clear the blockage.
“The good news is that you created your own by-pass,” says Dr. Heart. “No need for further treatment.”
“Looks like you have work left here on Earth,” I tell Mom. She rolls her eyes. She misses Dad.
Mom joins the Senior Center, plays pinochle, and begins to play the drums in the community band. She never played the drums before, but she did play violin when she was a girl.
Silent heart attacks are more frequent in women than men. Doctors are more likely to chalk them up to anxiety; Dr. General knew Mom and Dad for years, losing your life partner of more than 50 years, is one of the most stressful events Mom ever experienced.
Women are more likely to dismiss the symptoms. According to Go Red for Women:
“People who have these so-called silent heart attacks are more likely to have non-specific and subtle symptoms, such as indigestion or a case of the flu, or they may think that they strained a muscle in their chest or their upper back. It also may not be discomfort in the chest, it may be in the jaw or the upper back or arms,” she says. “Some folks have prolonged and excessive fatigue that is unexplained. Those are some of the less specific symptoms for a heart attack, but ones that people may ignore or attribute to something else.”
Ten years later, in April, Mom has by-pass surgery. She prepares us all in case she doesn’t pull through. She still misses Dad.
By July she attends our annual camp-out, and climbed the sand-dunes with some of her great-grandchildren.
She wants to get the most out of that expensive surgery. As my brother tells her, “Looks like you’ll be around for another 20 years.”
She hopes so, she just had a knee replaced.