I was discouraged, I knew I wasn’t feeling my usual healthy self and I admit I struggled with self doubt about my own experience of the symptoms I described to my physician.
In January 2014, I went on short-term disability from a busy and stress-filled job facilitating primary health care systems redesign. Not an easy decision as I enjoyed my job. It was important, fun, and I found meaning in the work. Aside from the newly diagnosed hypertension, the decision to go on disability was based almost entirely on “instinct” and the entreaties of my family members.
I languished at home for two months just sitting and feeling my feelings, becoming reacquainted with my body, reading signals, understanding cues, patterns, rhythms and sinking ever deeper into my body language. What was my body telling me? I had pain in my heart, I was certain of this and I cast my mind back in search of myriad causes, were there more than physical causes. What of spiritual and emotional. Disappointments, failures, foolishness, willful ignorance; like everyone I’ve had my share and I let myself feel every one of them again. The sting, sear, heat, prickle, and nausea. I summoned each one, feeling them again, and connecting feeling with memory. I catalogued as many as I could conjure and the pain grew and intensified in my chest, banging away in my back, my neck, down my arm and up my neck and jaw. Oh my heart, oh my heart centre. I realized had entombed it. The search for opening it meant uncovering each possible memory for clues to understand why I had closed my heart to myself; why I had lost my way back to myself; why I felt deeply unworthy of self-care, self-love and simple gratitude.
In the interim, I waited in the out-patient queue for my cardiologist to book a heart catheterization appointment. Despite pleas from family and friends, I didn’t want to “clog the local emergency department” with my complaints of pain. At the time I justified my inaction with some misguided rationale about how women’s heart pain isn’t taken seriously and I didn’t want to waste important time and acute medicine resources. I look back now and realize that I had internalized the worst messages about my sex; I was behaving as though I didn’t matter and I wasn’t worthy of medical attention and care. I was finally prompted into action after discussing my symptoms vs. health care dollars when a family member with wise counsel asked, “Lisa, is this the hill you’re choosing to die on?” She was right of course, I was in deep denial of my symptoms. It wasn’t all in my head, my pain was real and it wasn’t responding to the emergency medication I was given.
I was ready to go into the Emergency Department of my local hospital. Fortunately I was fast-tracked as I had been in there a mere 12 weeks earlier with hypertension and the same chest pain complaint. All the preliminary tests in the ER showed no evidence of acute distress but I was admitted regardless and hopefully for that long awaited heart catheterization now that I was in-patient. At least I wasn’t having a heart attack. Little would I know what waited for me was profoundly worse.