Healing the Broken Heart

Healing the broken heart was shared with me by a patient I have known and worked with for years. She is a Women Heart advocate and an inspiring voice to heart disease.
What have you done for your heart today? Have you exercised? Did you eat oatmeal instead of pop tarts for breakfast? Did you take your beta blockers, ace inhibitors, diuretics, supplements or any of the host of pills they give us after our hearts to pot? Maybe you took your blood pressure and (God forbid) weighed yourself. Most of us have been around the block several times at our age. We know what we are supposed to be doing to keep our hearts healthy and functioning.
Well, let me tell you what I did for my heart today. I kissed my husband. I scratched the cat’s tummy till she purred. I smiled at an old man in the grocery store till he winked back. I went to my Tai Chi class, not for exercise, but for the pure joy of movement and good conversation. I came here to talk to you. These are all things I do for my heart.
I had my first heart attack at 45, second at 48, my third was at 51 and then my heart began to fail. The first two attacks were fairly mild and since no obvious reason could be found for them, I simply went on with my life as usual. Each time they offered cardiac rehabilitation, but I felt I didn’t have time for it. I was active, why go to a gym?
Then at 51, I didn’t recover as quickly. My heart never settled back into a normal rhythm and was weak. Within a few days I was passing out in the grocery store. Once, while running the vacuum, My heart went into a rhythm that could no longer sustain life and I went out. I don’t remember falling, but I did. I woke up on the floor, lying across the Hoover with a lump on my head and a bruise, already starting to purple across my chest. I am probably the only woman you will meet who was saved by a vacuum cleaner.
I was so lucky. The doctor believed that when I fell, my chest hitting the vacuum jarred my heart back to beating. The problem was, I didn’t feel very lucky. Within days, I was in the hospital again having a pace maker-defibrillator installed, my ejection fraction, even with the assist of the device was down around 20 percent . I thought life was over and was heartbroken.
This time I was not given a choice about cardiac rehab. I was going on my own or my family would drag me down there. My first day was humiliating. I was the youngest person in the room who did not work there and one of only two women. Ten minutes on the treadmill exhausted me, but I went back two days later. And two days after that and two days after that. That was five years ago next week. I’m still going.
The ICD, the handful of daily meds the structured exercise all started to work. My body was coming back. Even though I was told repeatedly that the exercise was good and would help my heart, I should not expect it to improve my ejection fraction. My heart remained broken. Every time I thought of my family going on without me, my heart ached. When I thought of the grandchildren I might never see, my heart was emptied of all joy. That year, when I put away the Christmas decorations (which by the way, neither of the men in the house had thought to do when I had the attack), I labeled each box carefully so that the next wife would know where they were supposed to be put up.
This is when I realized that there are two sides to every heart. The physical heart and the heart spirit. The Tao Te Ching and Zen practices teach that there are three distinct parts to every human being. The intellectual mind, the body and the spirit. For a person to be fully functional and live a happy life all three of these areas must be cared for and cultivated. The Judeo-Christians have a similar belief, only they refer to the spirit portion as the soul. Other cultures refer to this as the heart. We have all heard people say, “listen to your heart, loving with all your heart and of course, my heart is broken.”
The doctors, the medications, even cardiac rehab all work to take care of the physical heart. It heals, it becomes stronger and many of us live better than we did before our heart events. But the spirit heart is seldom addressed. It is perfectly normal to experience depression after a heart attack or surgery. In fact it is part of the stages of recovery. Your mind, body and soul have been through a great shock. You know your life will be different; you may even be a little embarrassed by the fact that your heart “failed you”.
Stop and take a look at that inner heart. The spirit heart, the heart of your soul. What makes it sing? What lifts it up and makes it soar. Find that which fills your heart with joy and lights up the darkest night. It may be as complicated as going back to school to learn something you always wanted to. It may be relearning to ice skate after 23 years. It may be as simple as kissing your husband of flirting with an old man at the grocery store.
A woman’s heart is a tender thing. She is the heart of her household and she carries the hearts of all her family in hers. If her heart is healthy, she does not suffer alone. Take time to heal this inner heart and make it strong and shinning again.
Now, back to my story. Within two years of my rebirthday (that’s the day they implanted the ICD and I began to live again) my ejection fraction was nearly normal and I had lost 70 pounds. No one can tell me why my heart improved so much. There is no scientific explanation. My doctor shrugs his shoulders and says I should be very grateful. It was a fluke. It’s not a fluke, it’s a combination of hard work, medication and bionics, the support of my family and friends and a heart no longer broken.
Five years later, here I am. I wore out the first pacemaker and am my second. I come to cardiac rehab, teach an aerobic class, ice skate, study Tai Chi, and belly dance. Recently, I have taken my soul on a journey into Eastern religion and philosophy. Life is good. It is filled with activity and joy. I plan on using both sides of my heart as long as I can.
Now, what are YOU going to do for your heart today?

9 thoughts on “Healing the Broken Heart

  1. I emailed you a bit ago and suggested that you put the link to this blog on your gravatar page. If you click on my image on the like, it takes you to the gravatar page. There you can put links to this blog and any others you may have.

    I agree that man is three part being; body, soul and spirit. I believe the soul is the part that you label the heart-not the physical heart, but the heart of who you are. That is how the Bible teaches it, yet many Christians don’t really understand.

    I would like to suggest that you double-space your paragraphs, it would make it easier for us to read.

    • You could take the auto-correct off, then that problem may be gone. In the post-possibly a current one, you talk about massaging scars. You may want to read your posts through after posting to make sure they’re correct. In several places it says scares rather than scars. Maybe it’s that pesky auto-correct again?

      When I post, many times it takes me 2-5 times to get it looking the way that I planned.

      Btw, thanks for checking out my blog about freelancing, and following that one also. I appreciate that.

    • Thanks, I will go back and make the changes appreciate the help. Glad to know someone is actually reading the posts…I’ll get better at this it’s only been 20 some days of blogging. Big learning curves. Have a great day!

  2. perhaps i am suffering from cardiac depression since my heart attack two months back. i came back from hospital with 3 stents, meds, lots of do’s and dont’s. i developed curiosity about heart disease and stories from the survivors. most of them are fearful and i was getting upset day by day. but i like this one and found it inspiring. thanks a lot. .

    • Living with heart problems is not easy, take it one day at a time. Depression can be serious, if it doesn’t improve make sure you tak to your health care practitioner. Exercise usually helps significantly.

      I am glad you found the story inspiring. She is an inspiring survivor, and am glad she shares her stories with me.

    • thanks for the reply. i found your blog very useful for heart patients like me. so i rescooped some of your blog for survivors from my country. I am from Bangladesh. thanks a lot.

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