heart on paper

Today in cardiac rehab, a new patient and I were chatting while on the treadmill.  Our experience is very similar, though we have very different heart issues.  She had her chest cracked open for replacement of valves.  I had stents put into my arteries that were exploding.

The results are similar. Once the panic is over, our friends think we’re okay.  We’re not.  It’s at least a full year to recover completely.  There are all sorts of things that come up along the way.  Running out of breath.  Aches and pains in the chest.  Sometimes anxiety or panic attacks.  The feeling of not really being in our bodies.  The fear that something will happen again and we’ll be either crippled or die.  Worst of all, the not knowing if we can walk up a hill, pick up a heavy box, talk and walk at the same time.

I hear a lot–“Wow.  You look great!  I’m so glad you’re better.”  Only, I don’t feel better.  Better than the moment that the elephant was sitting on my chest.  Better than being in the ambulance and better than the morning after. But not really better.

After the first heart attack which was an easy one, it took 6 months to feel better.  This time with the massive heart attack and a smaller heart attack within a couple of months…I’m not sure how long til I feel better. Or feel like I can go out and not worry about hills or walking too fast or walking and talking.  The fear of getting somewhere and needing to get help can be pretty overwhelming.

This past weekend I chose to drive and pay $36 for a round trip ticket to Bainbridge Island because of that fear.  I had my dogs with me.  I wasn’t sure how I’d feel after dinner.  I wanted to park in the city, but the streets are hilly close to the terminal.  It’s a terrible feeling of powerlessness.  I’m too young…but it’s a reality to feel vulnerable physically.