The staff in Cardiac Rehab at UCLA offered me a cap and gown for this momentous occasion: Graduation. I thought they were kidding. They weren’t kidding nor were they laughing as hard as I was… Nevertheless, they broadcast Pomp and Circumstances through the sound system, handed me a certificate and parting gifts, including a Bruin-blue cardiac graduate tee-shirt.

But the best swag came at the end of my session when I slapped my big bare feet on the magic machine that measures everything that’s happening in my body. The good, the gooder, the OMG.

I took this same test my first day of rehab. They handed me paddles with electric sensors which I grasped tightly in my hands. I stood motionless, like a scared statue, as the machine went buzzzzzzzzzz. It was one minute of “what the hell is this?”

Well I soon found out, as they presented me with the computer readout — a cascade of numbers indicating what’s happening “down there.” A friend once said: “My brain would have killed my body years ago if I didn’t need it for transportation.”

Would you like to know how much fat is in your right arm? How about the amount of muscle mass in your left leg? Water in your trunk? (28 pounds for me).

It all looked like gibberish, but on graduation day when I took the test again, the improvement was stunning. Even the staff was over the moon. I lost fat, gained significant muscle, and exclaimed to myself “holy sh_t, this stuff works!”

Treadmills, circa 1920’s

How did I get here?

Well, for three months, two times a week, I arrive at 6 effing 30 in the morning, step on the scale by the front desk, announce my weight for all to hear, because that’s what we do, help the nurse attach the ECG leads to my chest, and receive instructions from the drill sergeant, er, Steve. I glide into a cardio routine for the next 45 minutes — the NuStep recumbent bike, the treadmill and what I call the arm-whirligig-from-hell.  It’s like a bicycle for arms. If I never see this machine again it will be too soon.

All through the workout, the nurses are checking my blood pressure and asking me to assess how pooped I am (my words) on the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale. At first I don’t have a clue how I’m feeling, except scared that I am going to have another heart attack, but they are watching over me, hovering sometimes, so I begin to relax a little and report that I’m about a 13 — working hard but not keeling over (my words).

One of my favorite parts of Cardiac Rehab

After cardio, one of the exercise physiologists shows me how to lift weights. The right way. When to breathe in, when to breathe out and how to focus on specific muscle groups. I’m learning to get as much bang-for-my-buckout of each lift. CLICK HERE to watch UCLA’s Cardiac Pulmonary Strength Training video with lovely Lauren leading you in upper and lower body exercises.

My living room gym

What I love about this weight lifting regime is that all I need is a chair, a few dumbbells and a pair of ankle weights.

One rehab morning I was experiencing a little chest pain and let everyone know about THAT. My blood pressure was okay, the ECG normal. The exercise physiologist and I suspect this is a musculoskeletal thing and not related to my heart.

He mentions that his wife, who plays viola, has been practicing mightily to get her chops back, post pandemic and…wouldn’t you know…getting chest pain. I’m not proud to admit that it hadn’t occurred to me that some of my upper body discomfort is from playing a musical instrument, albeit a small one, and this focused physical activity includes repetition and postural adjustments. What a relief to know what I’m dealing with.

Then he tells me about trigger points. Like what…? Apparently there are points on our bodies that are like conduits of energy and manipulating these spots can help relieve tension in different muscle groups. He has me order a couple lacrosse balls on Amazon. The first time I lay my upper butt on a ball and hit that point — Zap! Pow! Bam!

But after a few seconds of pressure, I can feel my muscles relax, like they are saying “thank you…thank you.” I am absolutely stunned!

So now I do my trigger ball regime almost every morning. Butt, back, upper chest. Who would have thought that cardiac rehab would open an expressway between my head and body.

In lieu of the fancy cardio machines, I trundle daily around my condo community for a whopping thirty-minutes and encounter all kinds of wildlife (crows, ducks, lizards, rabbits) that I know aren’t paying the monthly assessment fees. Mr/Ms Squirrel reminds me to hydrate, although not quite THIS way…

The heart! This fist-sized miracle machine weighs all of 7 to 15 ounces and beats over 100,000 times a day. Let me say that again. ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND TIMES A DAY. In one year your heart, my heart, will pump enough blood to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool.

In all honesty, before all this happened I barely gave my heart a passing how-dee-do except to refer to it as my built-in drum machine. But I’m alive today, you’re alive today because our hearts are beating. It’s kind of that simple.

And this bears repeating — how that Friday morning last March unraveled. As I was sipping a cup of tea and cleaning my computer keyboard I suddenly felt a knot in my throat, a little achy pain in my neck and jaw. Then it spread to my arms and chest. When I stood up, a wave of nausea rolled over me and I was feeling just a wee bit winded. I tried to talk myself out of it: “This is a panic attack. I got gigs today. People are depending on me to show up.”

Sound familiar?

How I crossed the threshold between denial and acceptance SO FAST I’ll never know but within an hour and a half I was in the emergency room at UCLA. Having a heart attack.

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. My symptoms were mild. I was not clutching my chest in pain nor gasping for breath. But something was wrong and I knew it. Since that day I have heard stories of women who had similar symptoms, women who waited too long to get help. They didn’t make it.

Let’s all give our hearts a whole lot of love.





The way I process Life 101 is to write about it. Tap-tap-tapping on the computer keyboard is my therapy. Let me tell you, it really helps. The remarkable bonus is that you are reading these blogs too and finding yourself in the stories. Thank you for being there!

These are the blogs that got me through the past few months:

OMG, I’m having a heart attack

How’d I get here? Heredity, stress… Fixing the plumbing with a stent.

When you have a heart attack, it kind of shakes up your world…

I’m floating in silver linings.…nd-trigger-balls/