When the American Heart Association reached out and asked if we’d be interested in working with them, I’m pretty sure I said yes before asking any questions. It was a no-brainer for us. It’s a great organization who I respect for many reasons, and our own family has been affected by heart disease as well. I remember, as a kid, reaching out to the American Heart Association for information about heart disease for a couple of science projects I created. Back in the day, you know, before Google (or computers in every home) , I would pick up the phone and actually talk to someone at the AHA and request specific types of information. They were always so kind and would put together the information I was looking for and send me a package in the mail. (Yes, I’m THAT old!)
I had a lot of interest in learning about heart disease because my favorite uncle was affected by heart disease. He was the guy who taught me how to tie my shoes and how to do backwards somersaults. And when I say he was affected, I mean he had to undergo a heart transplant in 1984 at the ripe old age of 29. It’s mind blowing how much I remember about that year and how many questions I had.
And that’s the thing about heart disease, there are so many misconceptions … that it only affects older people, or that it’s a “man’s” disease.
So when we were asked more specifically to join in the Go Red For Women campaign to help raise awareness about the fact that heart disease is actually the No. 1 killer of American women, we jumped at the chance to become more educated ourselves. Because the signs and symptoms are very different between men and women. And let’s face it, a lot of times, as women and moms, we shrug off a LOT of sypmtoms …
I had a personal heart scare not too long ago, and as many times as I’ve tried to edit this story down, I just can’t seem to do it. So, fair warning, it’s lengthy. But if lengthy means someone else picks up on some symptoms they may be having, then it makes sharing my own experience valuable….
I remember June 11, 2013 like it was yesterday. Cliche, but entirely true.
It was the day an ER doctor told me I’d be staying overnight at the hospital so they could monitor my heart.
Cue the freak out.
The day had started out pretty normally, though in retrospect, there’s now an explanation for what my “normal” had been in the few weeks leading up to my hospital sleepover. I thought I was being tired. And lazy. Because I just hadn’t felt like I had the energy to do as much running around and playing (and laundry) for some reason.
But on that Tuesday, Mayhem and I got out of the house to run some errands and enjoy the beautiful day that June 11 was in our neck of the woods. We were home for lunch and I put her down for a nap shortly after. About an hour and a half later, my pint sized person was yelling for me to come and get her from her room. (Full disclosure: my three year old was perfectly capable of getting herself out of her big girl bed and walking to the living room, but she had routine that she liked where she’d yell for me, I’d come and get her, carry her to the living room, and we’d snuggle for a few minutes while she finished “waking up”.) But this time, when I went to pick her up, I felt incredibly weak. Not tired. Weak. Like it took ALL of my strength to pick her up and carry her to the living room.
I placed her on the couch and immediately headed for the kitchen where I grabbed a couple of popsicles for the two of us. We sat together enjoying our popsicles while I was silently trying to figure out what was happening inside my body. I wasn’t in any pain, but I KNEW something was not quite right.
Approximately 20 minutes later, I was feeling even more weak, and in that moment I knew I needed to call someone for help. I had this terrible vision of me collapsing with my three-year-old standing by. Keith would have been the first person I’d call, but I knew he had an on-location appointment and he was nearly an hour away. So I called my mom, who happens to live and work just a few minutes from us.
She arrived no more than 10 minutes after my call and after seeing that I could no longer stand without leaning against a wall, and that normal conversation was making me catch my breath, she promptly called the local Fire/EMS department.
The paramedics arrived and found that my vitals were excellent. So they checked again. Same.
So then they asked me to stand up and saw that I was able to do that for approximately three seconds before my legs started shaking uncontrollably and I had to sit back down. But still, there was absolutely NOTHING off with my vitals.
They noted that I was a lovely shade of “looks like this girl is going to puke any second”, and we chatted about the fact that Mayhem had been sick the previous weekend which led to nearly no sleep for me. We were headed down the road of “your body probably just needs some rest” and I was having another mental conversation with myself trying desperately to make some sense of what was happening. Because something was definitely happening. But one of the paramedics finally just shook his head and said something just didn’t seem right. An otherwise healthy person shouldn’t really have these symptoms and he thought maybe they should go ahead and take me over to the hospital.
It was on the way to the hospital that I noticed I couldn’t move my hands. For real. At the same time I mentioned it to the EMT, he asked if I’d ever had any issues with my heart since I was now hooked up to a heart monitor and my heart rhythm seemed a bit off. I said that I hadn’t had any issues and he assured me I was just fine … no need to worry.
Upon arrival at the hospital, the ER nurse assigned to my care took in the report from the EMTs and it was decided that I must be having an anxiety attack. She actually asked several times “How often do you have anxiety attacks?” and “Have you come to the ER for anxiety attacks in the past?” I told her that I’d never had an anxiety attack that I was aware of and I was pretty sure I wasn’t having one right then either.
My nurse got going on the usual triage stuff and grabbed an IV to get started. As she was placing the needle in my arm, I happened to notice that both of my hands were in a clenched position, so I tried to open them. Not happening. I tried to wiggle my fingers. Nope. Then I tried to raise my arm. Nada.
I looked right her and said, “I can’t move my arms.” Only the words came out sounding like I was approximately 5 cocktails into the party.
What the what?!?!
She looked right back at me and said, “Honey, you can heal yourself.”
I have to tell you at this point, the ONLY reason for me not completely freaking out, was that I wasn’t in any kind of pain. I could see that my hands and arms were still attached, I just no longer had the ability to control them. So I was searching the far corners of my mind for an explanation as to what was happening and why.
An ER doctor came in and noted my now very irregular heart rhythm. And started ordering tests.
Shortly after, my nurse came running into the room yelling something about my potassium level being dangerously low. The doctor flew in and ordered the dosage. And then, that nurse pumped potassium into me until I puked. Literally. At the same time it was flowing in via IV, she was handing me pill after pill to swallow.
The doctor came back and gave me a biology refresher …. potassium is critical in muscle function. Which explained my slurred speech and temporary paralysis of my arms. And then he said, “Your heart is one big muscle, so I’m hopeful we’re going to see your heart rhythm get back on track as the potassium gets back in your system.”
And it did.
I’ll spare you the details of the additional tests or what it felt like when the IV dislodged in my arm, but the next couple of hours were eventful.
Despite my potassium level returning to normal, and with it, my heart rhythm, the ER doctor didn’t feel like I should be going home that evening. He said that as much as he’d like to send me home, he believed that it would be best to keep me overnight, hooked up to a heart monitor, to rule out any other heart issues.
And that is exactly how I spent my first ever night away from Mayhem. Laying in a hospital bed, bawling my eyes out, worrying about my health and playing the “what IF” game in my head.
But morning eventually rolled around and a doctor finally came in with some good news.
I was fine. My heart was healthy and it never missed a beat through the night. I could go home.
Now, as excited as I was to be able to go home, the question still remained, “What in the heck caused my potassium level to dip so low?”
Four doctors later we still have no answer. Nearly $8000 worth of tests revealed that I was ridiculously healthy … except for this little hiccup. Awesome.
It’s been explained to me that stress can cause some pretty dramatic changes in our bodies. Changes that a lot of us moms ignore because they don’t seem like a big deal. And we’ve got other people to take care of, so we tend to keep pushing until our bodies reach a breaking point.
The low level of potassium in my body was not a result of me not eating enough bananas. It wasn’t dietary at all. Actually, the doctors all agreed that it was likely that my body had been flushing potassium out of my system for weeks leading up to my trip to the ER. We still don’t know why. But I can assure you that this little episode left an impact. It’s most definitely made me pay more attention to how I’m feeling. And I’m fully aware that my health is my responsibility. Including how I deal with stress.
There is a level of comfort in knowing that 80% of heart disease and stroke events are preventable!!! So we try to eat a healthy diet and stay active. We’re back in a regular routine at the gym and having a high energy five-year-old requires that we stay in motion. Incredi-juice (carrots, apples, celery and ginger) is made almost every morning at our house, and we’re playing around with some other “kid-friendly” juice recipes to start our day.
And we plan to spend our money on “de-stressing” vacations instead of overnights at the hospital 😉
We’re honored to join the fight against heart disease and show our support by going red all month long. And we hope you’ll take a little time to visit Go Red For Women to learn more for yourself and those you love.
Knowing the signs may just turn you into a superhero too …