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This past week I went to see another cardiologist. After seeing one two years ago I informed my husband I refused to see one again. I’d had my fill of condescending, patronizing male doctors when it came to matters of my heart.

My husband was so sure it would be different if I saw a female cardiologist. I’d hoped he was right. Sadly it was not so. Not only did this female doctor not listen to me, she literally walked into the room; meeting me for the very first time, having already determined my diagnosis based solely upon very limited information from my previous cardiologist visit of two years ago. Mind you, I only saw that guy one time for an office visit.

You see, when you are a female and show no obvious signs of heart disease; it gets a bit tricky when it comes to sorting out the mystery when one has erratic heart behavior. Thankfully, the Japanese, and other pioneering souls, quest for understanding is improving the landscape for those of us who are women having genuine heart issues that don’t fit into the realm of traditional cardiac arrest or cardiomyopathy.

For me there is nothing quite so insulting as knowing full well there is clearly something wrong but being patted (literally and in a patronizing manner) on the wrist and being assured either there is nothing wrong or that what I have is perfectly harmless.

NO, doctor, it is NOT! I am NOT simply a hysterical female who maximizes every little twinge I feel—as was so insultingly suggested to my husband, in regard to me, by an old chauvinistic male doctor, about 18 years ago. But, back then there was no knowledge of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

I didn’t learn about this stress induced cardiomyopathy until after seeing that male cardiologist two years ago. I was so mad after leaving his office I sat up half the night searching the internet; I was determined I would not sleep until I found something, ANYTHING, to explain what I’d experienced.

I lack effective enough words to describe the elation and satisfaction, and validation, I felt when I found something that described EXACTLY what I’d experienced!!

Before I post that link, let me briefly describe what I’d experienced.

I’d been separated from my spouse (who is now my ex-spouse of 13 years). At the time my heart ‘whacked out’ he and I had reconciled just a couple weeks earlier. However, the previous six or so months had been a time of extreme stress for me. (Shoot, based on journal entries even the weeks after reconciling with him were full of stress and sorrow).

Anyhow, during those months of separation I literally had to make myself eat, as I had no desire to. Even then I consumed very little food as upon eating I felt ill. I’d started out a healthy weight but over those months lost so much my clothing no longer fit. Due to lack of funds I searched thrift stores for something small enough to fit. If I weighed 100 lbs, that was on a good day.

I’d been attending cosmetology school, but, the day things went “whacky” was my day off. I was with my spouse who also had Mondays off. He and I had gone to breakfast at Denny’s then spent the day running errands. It was late afternoon that found us standing in the lot of a used car dealer on Main Street in Salt Lake City. Robert was inspecting a pick-up truck while I stood looking on. The salesman was chatting at me when I felt a pain on the left side of my neck and my left shoulder. Initially I thought my shoulder bag was too heavy so I moved it to my right shoulder. However, the pain not only persisted but increased.

I’d written of the incident in my journal; here’s quoting from October 24th – a Monday (1994) (note: for authenticity of my story I’ve typed exactly as I wrote– regardless of any grammatical error etc.):

“That evening around 6 pm we were at a car lot looking at a black For P.U. The sales guy was standing there talking to me while Bob inspected this truck. I felt a deep pain in my left shoulder and moved my purse off that shoulder and then the pain seemed to surge down my left side and up through my left rib cage and I had this horrible pain. It hurt so bad I could barely breathe. I crossed my right arm over my left side of my chest and stood there and listened to this guy and wondered what the hell was wrong with me. Then Bob got done looking and we got back in the car and I said to him that I didn’t know what was wrong with me but I had this terrible pain in my chest and I said I thought I might be having a heart attack or something. He said maybe it was indigestion and that my breath had an odd odor. I hadn’t eaten since 10:30 a.m. Well I sat back in my seat and we drove to a junk yard way out west and all the while the pain in my chest continued and it was intense. It hurt so bad. I could only take small short breaths. Then we drove to Albertsons to get milk and some already fried chicken. I had to go back to the car to get a coupon and I remember thinking if I tried to run I’d die and praying that I didn’t collapse of a heart attack in the parking lot. On the way home from the store the pain was easing up a bit. That night my chest felt a little tender but the intense pain was gone and I was able to eat with no problem. Since then I have been a lot more careful. If I start to get all stressed out I take long deep breaths and try to calm down.”

For years after this incident I thought, knowing of nothing else as a comparable option, that I must have had a heart attack. What I did not have was ischemic heart attack. What I did suffer is Stress-induced (takotsubo) cardiomyopathy. Thank you to Japanese physicians; we now can know of an recognize this type of heart attack.

For a very technical explanation of this condition:

http://www.uptodate.com/contents/stress-induced-takotsubo-cardiomyopathy

For a more simplistic explanation:

http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/asc/faqs.html

From this link I appreciate the information in #5 which includes the following:

“Stress cardiomyopathy can easily be mistaken for heart attack. Patients with this syndrome can have many of the same symptoms that heart attack patients have including chest pain, shortness of breath, congestive heart failure, and low blood pressure.”

I find that information to be extremely validating as I grew VERY weary over the years of being dismissed and otherwise patronized. I quickly learned to not speak of it when seeing a new doctor. I feared lest I potentially jeopardized my health care, but since they so quickly dismissed me anyhow, what was the point in bringing it up?

Sadly, even now knowing full well what I experienced, I still bump up against such closed mindedness. It no longer affects me the same way as I now have knowledge which grants the assurance of knowing I did in fact experience something very real.

Now however, is to determine what is currently going on with my heart .I started noticing I was having PAC’s, premature atrial contractions, four or five years after I experienced the Takosubo. They were very mild and didn’t interfere with my life so when my doctor, fourteen years ago, assured me they were harmless I didn’t worry about them.

However, about five years ago I started experiencing a whole new level of erratic heartbeats. Accompanying these symptoms I experienced bouts of severe fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath. Unlike those “harmless” PAC’s, these newer developed symptoms most definitely DO affect my quality of life.

However, and this was the oddest part, a mystery, these symptoms only manifest anywhere from a few days up to two weeks a month and correlate with hormonal changes surrounding my menstrual cycle.

I am so thankful for the internet; it’s such a wealth of information and resources to help me in this quest for knowledge in regard to my health. I’ve learned much including the mystery between the manifestations of my symptoms in relation to my menstrual cycle!

I’ll share more on this when I post “Matters of the Heart part 2”.

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