Wanna know my new favorite four letter word?
My journey through post-heart attack land is a traveler’s work-in-progress. I’m learning more and more about the backroads and red flags in Cardio Land. So here’s the latest…
I’m still alive! And so are you. The rest is gravy. Or icing on the cake. Neither of which I should be eating now…
Two months ago I did not know that heart disease is the number one killer in the United States. For women and men. Never crossed my mind. But now it’s personal and I really understand how we ladies are especially proficient at talking ourselves out of it. We’re too busy. Not today buddy…
The force may be strong in Luke Skywalker’s family but denial is the party planner in mine. As you may recall, my early-morning symptoms were squishy and ho-hum. Mild heartburn, some tightness that crept into my neck and jaw. A little achy breaky in my arms and chest. I tried to shake it off: “Walk around Cali.” “Sit down Cali.”
You’d think I was playing musical chairs. But soon I was breathing harder and feeling nauseous. We know what a heart attack looks like in the movies… I wasn’t grabbing my chest, howling at the moon or seeing dead relatives beckon me from the other side.
But I knew something was wrong and that’s when I swallowed a regular strength aspirin. I learned later in the hospital that it’s better to CHEW it. Nonetheless the blood thinning process had begun with that one Bayer. This little act of doing something was just enough to push me through the veil of denial.
I will be forever grateful to the morning staff at UCLA’s Emergency Room for taking my lady symptoms very seriously. And now it’s been eight weeks since my heart attack and between the “please-tell-me-what-the-hell-happened” appointment with my cardiologist and the first meet and greet with the staff in Cardiac Rehab, I’m learning about the risk factors that contribute to heart disease and the steps we can take to find healthy detours through this land.
My cardiologist explains that the plaque that builds up in our arteries can crack. Like plaster or my beloved acrylic nails. The body goes “Ding! Ding!” “Injury! Injury!” “Send the Troops!” In this case, the big guns are the itty bitty platelets in our blood. Word gets out, as if this is how the body does social media. Platelets rush to the cracked plaque and gather ‘round. Now it’s about crowd control. Things get crazy. And sticky. My cardiologist snaps his fingers and says a blood clot can form just like that.
The nurse in Cardiac Rehab tells me that my 80% blockage was in the worst part of the biggest coronary artery, the one that supplies breakfast, lunch and dinner to the largest area of the heart. It’s called the LAD. That does NOT stand for Let’s All Dance. It is referred to as “The Widow Maker,” also known as the Left Anterior Descending, which means it’s on the left side of the heart, in the front and points down. My blockage was at the top of the artery where the spigot opens and it could have, potentially, cut off the blood supply to that entire side of the heart.
Slowly it’s sinking in–how close I came to sustaining permanent damage to my heart, how close I came to shuffling off this mortal coil. In the snap of a finger. I’m not kidding when I tell you that getting to the Emergency Room quickly most likely saved my life. And now I gratefully carry a “stent” card in my wallet. Wish it was good for a discount at CVS…
In my previous blog, The Yellow Light, I mentioned how heredity is not on my side. Heart disease is a smoldering flame in the trunk of my family tree. Here are other risk factors that lead to heart disease:
Smoking. I never smoked because I’m a freaking Girl Scout. But my father loved his cigars and pipes so I grew up in a biosphere of gunky haze. Then I sang in piano bars–dives and fancy joints galore that reeked of Marlboro’s and Virginia Slim’s. So there’s that…
And imagine all those years working in assorted boozy watering holes and I don’t even drink alcohol. But I gulped down enough glasses of “I-wanna-buy-her-a-drink” cranberry juice to pee pink.
Speaking of sugar… Okay I’m knocking off the honey that I slop on almost everything and am eating more veggies and less meaty stuff. Integrative medicine researchers are pointing their fingers at inflammation as one of the culprits in heart disease (and a whole lot of other ailments too). Sugar is deadly. So is obesity. And stress. Anyone out there stressed?
High blood pressure is really bad news in Cardio Land. Like most people, I didn’t have symptoms and went through my day blissfully unaware of the thumping and banging inside. Now I pop a couple pills and check my BP every morning with a cuff I bought at Costco. As a woman who is going through this right now, here is my advice. DON’T MESS AROUND WITH HYPERTENSION.
Yes I am back on the exercise bandwagon. Many of my friends “walked” themselves through the pandemic. They invited me along. I wish I had said “yes.” But I got way too comfortable sitting in front of the computer playing Zoom. And Sleep. What’s that?
Then there’s the social network thing. I think it’s risky business NOT to have someone or better yet, a community of someones, who keep you warm and safe in their embrace. Online, in person, whatever. I picture myself skipping along a yellow-brick road of humanity. From my dearest dear ones to the perfect stranger who shares a smile with me in line at Trader Joes… anywhere I can make a heart connection is a little slice of heaven for me and I feel loved back to sanity for another day.
So when I look at the list of lifestyle changes, post heart attack, there’s room for improvement, but mostly I’ve been doing okay. So I ask my cardiologist “what is the most important thing I can do now?”
TAKE THE PILL
He laughs and shakes his head at the irony of this. Of course it all helps–eating healthy, moving my ass, turning off the cable news…and so on. But when it comes to my innards, the plaque is here to stay and what we are trying to do, from now on, is keep it from getting worse. I have to control my cholesterol with a daily pill.
My doctor adds, somewhat cheerfully, that I am healthier today than I was the day before my heart attack. Well yeah, I’ve got this stent... But NOW I KNOW what’s going on so I can sort through my choices and take the best path forward. After her heart attack, one of my friends quit her job in the corporate world to pursue more creative endeavors. “How’d the resignation go?” I asked. “They feel bad that I’m leaving.” Then she smiled as big as a rainbow and said “let them feel bad.” A heart attack is a wake-up call but it’s also a fierce gift — the kind that shatters your compass. Then helps you build a new one.
Speaking of choices… Something had to go for me too. My first paid gig was in 1976 so you do the math. I am a working musician, through and through. My fellow musician friends and I have been living in our own “gig society” long before it became part of the popular lexicon. When the gigs came, I grabbed them. Last year was no exception. I worked 375 gigs (that would be shows and classes combined). I was exhausted and obviously nefarious things were percolating under the hood. Plenty of people were plenty concerned but nothing and no one got through to me. It took an effing Widow Maker to get my attention. I quit my gigs.
The grand adventure continues. Cardiac Rehab! Picture a cozy little gym. With nurses. And heart monitors. After my hour workout, I go home and take a nap. I have committed to all 24 sessions. That’s a lot of naps…
To be continued…
I’m not doing gigs but I’m still teaching. If you would like to learn the ukulele and play with The CC Strummers on Monday afternoons and Thursday mornings, please check the Zoom Page on my website. Email me personally so I can add you to the elist and send you the login information.
I thought about the words I chose to ask you about posting your blog – “Another great service you’re performing…” and it struck me that you have always been a performer- this is more of the same, just a different slant. You inform, you educate, you make us smile at the same time we understand the seriousness of what you are saying. If this can happen to you, it can happen to anyone – pay attention! In that sense, I think we’re both trying to do the same thing – share our lives to make people pay attention to theirs. I am so grateful that we have this connection with our writing.
You f*cking ARE resilient. And you will likely save lives with your words. I’m glad you’re still teaching – you save lives that way too. ❤️
Oh, girlfriend, I so love your blogs. Really, you’re a terrific writer… Great information written in an enjoyable and engaging style. You go, friend.
Thank you for the update on matters relating to your heart. That was a close call and am so glad you are ok and happier that you are taking care better of yourself by excercising, eating sensibly, taking medication and slowing down your crazy work schedule! 375 classes/gigs/year? Yikes! Don’t know how you do it and all with a smile and lots of humor! You are like the Energizer Bunny! LOL!!
Take good care of yourself, my friend. I lost my parents when they were in their 50s, both from heart disease. My father was a very heavy smoker and the air I breathed in my growing up years was always smoky. Life was one constant cold as my lungs were exhausted. On meds for BP and cholesterol, so I can relate. Do my best to avoid stress and try to integrate some walking outside with a neighbor into my daily routine. And naps are good!
Oh my goodness Cali! I am shocked to hear this news, but SO thrilled that you are okay, and that it has been a wake up call for you to make some lifestyle changes. Lots of people do not get second chances, but you are obviously quite aware of that. Yes it’s easy to get on our own personal little treadmill juggling a million things and living like a superhero. Good for you for heading the call to live a little bit simpler and quieter version of your personal extraordinary life. I wish you many happy and healthy years to come my friend We don’t know each other well, but you have always been a bright light and appreciate you for that!
Thank you, and continued good health and healing to you, and all the best to you and yours!
Um…I think I just exchanged a big treadmill for a smaller model. But naps help.
I just read your post to learn about your recent heart attack and operation. I’m so thankful that you are alive and doing very well in cardiac rehab.
You have such a wonderful way of wording everything and enlightening us all about your ordeal. You are also such a unique, giving, caring, and talented woman. Even though you’ve been shaken up by such an incident you take the time to impart wisdom to your fans (including me), whom are around the same age, and could soon go through the same major upheaval in our lives. Thank you for your openness, honesty, generosity of spirit, and grace.
You are a marvelous woman and an example to us all on how to be brave, become informed, stay sun-shiny, courageous, and resilient through adversity. I wish you continued success on your pathway to wellness. Sending you loving vibrations of healing and thankfulness.
I learn a lot reading about your situation and how you are solving it. You are a really good writer and you make reading fun.
Love reading your blogs! Even knowing that heart disease is the #1 killer of both sexes in the U.S., some of us (yours truly) fail to follow AHA recommendations! My downfall is sweets! Not too smart for someone with a strong history of diabetes in her family! There were few pleasures in life with this Virus looming over us. So, to placate myself, I’d reach for a cookie, chocolate or some type of bakery! Sounds reasonable until you get that unexpected wake up call.
You’ve become my inspiration! I know the changes I need to make and am determined to make them! Here’s to a healthier life and lifestyle!
OMG I missed your other email and I am just shocked but enormously grateful you are still
here with your fabulous wit and humor. Your communication should be published for the
safety of many. As usual you manage to face life with incredible strength and creativity.
Thank God you are still pushing us all to great good.
Keep up the personal experience with heart conditions, care and cures Cali, you are saving lives by sharing your experiences…and reminding those of us who have grown complacent of what growing complacent can turn into – another attack! Bless you, girl!
I love to read your emails. Your write so well. Your funny and a wealth of information to share. I am so happy you were smart enough not to poo poo your symptoms and take that baby aspirin that most probably saved your life. You still have a lot of music to play and smiles to share with us. I’m glad your taking care of yourself and being such a compliant patient. I see the nurse is still inside of you.
I love the way you write, and, of course, this information that you’re sharing is so important, especially to women. Thank you!
Thank you for this Blog, which as always, is excellently composed, generously shared and heartwarming! I hope your Cardiac Rehab goes well, and I’m inspired by you to take better care of myself and to heed all the advice to exercise more cut down fats and sugars – my downfall! Why is my fridge always so well stocked with ice cream? Why is it always too cold, windy or hot for walks?
Wishing you ease as you adjust to the new lifestyle! I know the continued love and warmth from the CC Ohana will sustain you, as you do to us.
You are a great writer..and an ALIVE one, too!! Whew! I just spent a sleepless night and an exhaustive afternoon- worrying ( what a waste of a word) about some mindless crap on my Computer. Then I received your terrific email…
I shut the computer off- laid down – got up to write this, and going to sleep for 12 hours.
F__I___ ! Thanks for the reminder.
So glad you are making life changes and doing well. And thanks for awakening our awareness of choices we make and how they affect our bodies. But I am having trouble giving up my daily ice cream! We all benefit from your music and smiles!!!
I am an advanced beginner ukulele student that has taken one of your workshops in Reno Ukulele Festival many years ago but always enjoy reading your blogs about your life. In your last issue, I was saddened to hear about the heart attack you suffered couple of months ago but relieved to hear you didn’t suffer significant long term heart issues…you are very fortunate to have gotten the appropriate medical diagnosis & treatment needed to ameliorate your heart issues. You are indeed a very lucky person!Thanks again for sharing! Keep performing, teaching, & strumming…
Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned – I know it’s really helping people. I’ve learned so much from your blogs, especially the last couple ones.
Wow…am glad you are OK…! Thanks for sharing you story, but most of all am glad you are back at it, and healthy too!! We are coming out of our dark pandemic tunnel, so I’m sure that will help you, and the rest of us…! Good health and keep these posts coming…!
Thank you Greg and here’s wishing you all the best too.