Life through my myopic eyes.

Matters of the Heart Part 2 or I’m Coming to Join You Elizabeth!


When I was growing up I loved the television sitcom Sanford and Son. Back then I didn’t know it was an American version of the British telly comedy Steptoe and Son. Like All in the Family, (another British comedy titled Till Death do us Part) Sanford and Son ruled the airwaves of the 70′s.

I adored Redd Foxx and thought (still do as a matter of fact) that he was one of the funniest actors and comedians going. The story of this father/son business ran for years and it never failed to make me laugh. Foxx as Fred Sanford had a running gag throughout the series. If son Lamont did something that Fred did not like, he would clutch his heart and yell “I’m coming Elizabeth, it’s the big one! I’m coming to join ya!” He would stagger about and gasp while he “suffered” his heart attacks.

This “fake” heart attack of Fred Sanford never failed to make me (or the canned studio audience) laugh. It was a device used to great effect by Redd Foxx and fans of the show loved it.

Sadly, in real life, Foxx died in 1991 while working on another sitcom The Royal Family while suffering a real heart attack that his co-workers mistook for a practical joke. Somewhat ironically, the working title of the show was Chest Pains. But I am digressing.

This post is not about Redd Foxx, even though he was one of my comic heroes when growing up, it is about heart attacks and how you deal with them after you’ve had one.

"I'm coming to join you Elizabeth!" Photo courtesy of ihigh.com

“I’m coming to join you Elizabeth!” Photo courtesy of ihigh.com

Like the old rhyme says, paranoia can annoy ya. Unfortunately if you have a heart attack, you do become a bit paranoid about having another one. I am no different. I’m not afraid of the dying part, that is unavoidable and we all “owe” the big guy a death. To say that I am not scared of dying would be untrue. Of course I am, I am just not paranoid about it.

No, the bit I am paranoid about is the pain. To be more precise, the pain of the actual heart attack, the pain after the surgery and the pain of the recovery.

Like other folks recovering from heart attacks and the resultant emergency surgery; I have to constantly battle against becoming an irritating hypochondriac. Someone whose every ache and pain sends them screaming to the doctor’s office or the emergency room at the local hospital; a person who is convinced that these same aches and pains are the prelude to what is probably the worst episode of their lives, a heart attack.

I pulled a muscle in my chest the other day walking back from the local shop carrying a small but heavy-ish bag of shopping. The muscle is on the left side of my chest.

At least I think I pulled a muscle.

I had done this once before (about a week ago) and luckily for me I had a doctor’s appointment and he checked it right out. I was fine, the ECG came back normal except for a little circulation problem that he said was to “be expected” after the surgery I’d had. I was, of course, relieved and felt a bit silly that I’d even mentioned it.

Then I pulled the same muscle, again.

I re-acted exactly the same. “Shit! Is it my heart? Can I feel it in my back? Is that a strange feeling in my left forearm? Crap!” I had this “inner dialogue” with myself all the way home from the shop. Oh it varied a little, but the main gist of it was the same. The bottom line was, I was attempting to stave off a panic attack (not pleasant, but not a heart attack) and calm myself down before I had a real heart attack from the panic.

Of course the fact that I have an “in-operable” hole in my aortic arch is why I tend to panic. Despite my surgeon’s assurances that, apart from having to restrain prisoners as part of my old job, I would eventually be able to participate in cardiovascular exercises like running and lifting heavy objects (such as doors) and not worry.

But…

I have this feeling that I have a ticking time bomb in my chest. This “hole” (my works doctor referred to it as an embolism) will get bigger with age and if I suddenly have to perform an isometric exercise and cause my blood pressure to rise rapidly as a result, it could either kill me or make the hole rapidly increase in size. Neither one of which is good.

As I am sitting her typing this post, the left side of my chest is aching and hurting in sympathy with the information that I am relating. Does it bother me? That would be an emphatic yes. Am I frightened? That would be another yes.

Will I call the doctor? That would be a no.

“Why,” you ask, “if you are frightened surely you’d call someone?”

The reason I won’t be calling anyone just yet, is simple. The pain I feel in my left side is nowhere near as incapacitating as the actual heart attack was. When that hit on the 30th of August this year, I was immobilized. I couldn’t do anything. The pain was so all-encompassing that I had to crawl on my hands and knees upstairs to get my daughter Meg to call the ambulance. This pain is nowhere near the league that the heart attack was, pain-wise.

I have an appointment on the 3rd of January in the New Year. If I am still around and I haven’t completely misdiagnosed myself, I’ll mention it to my doctor then. Until then, I’ll continue my paranoid existence of panicking each and every time I have an un-identified pain.

In the meantime, I’ll grit my teeth and try not to do an old-man Sanford and clutch my chest dramatically and stagger about. But in my head?

Yup, you guessed it.

“It’s the big one, I’m coming to join ya…”

Merry Christmas…

PS, If you have recovered from a heart attack and surgery, do you suffer from displaying hypochondriac type tendencies? Or is it just me. Let me know, okay?

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Categorised in: Entertainment, Health, Personal, Reflective

2 Responses »

  1. In 2010, I discovered I had cancer in both breasts. Unrelated to each other, just twice lucky. They removed the tumors and the breasts, gave me very attractive fake replacements, and a little more than two years later, I’m almost me again. Almost.

    My mother died of metasticized breast cancer and my brother died of pancreatic cancer about 5 years ago, having never gotten as old as I am now. Not a reassuring family history.

    All chronic illnesses make you paranoid. With heart problems, there’s fear of the pain, the surgery and everything you said. With cancer, what you fear is that you don’t feel anything at all until it’s too late to do anything about it.

    I don’t think any of us are afraid of dying per se. We are afraid of the journey we will take to get there. After you have already had one or more close encounters with the dark angel, you are not eager to feel the brush of those wings again.

    But there are many of us in this life boat. They call us “survivors.” What that really means is “not dead yet.” As you say, we’ll all get there. The end of the road waits for all living creatures. As time passes, you will get to know your “new body” better, you’ll know which symptoms are new and should be discussed with your doctor … and you’ll know which things are just the usual stuff and you can safely not worry about them.

    The hardest thing for me is the eternal well-wishers who keep asking me “How are you?” I have learned to smile broadly and say “Just FINE thank you.” Because we don’t really know, do we. We have no idea at all if we are well or dying or what. If we are breathing, functioning, the real answer is “So far, so good.” Someone actually asked me the other day if I expected to be seriously ill next year. It was an insurance question and I’m still pondering what the appropriate answer should have been.

    Welcome to survivorship. It’s not perfect, but it sure does beat the hell out the alternative.

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