The Female Heart Attack
(a piece for women)

Posted 01.19.10

OSLO, NORWAY | This story is not funny, even as told by LCC's resident klutz -- I mean concussions and broken bones can contain some slapstick humour, you know, visualize and laugh out loud. Heart attacks do not.

I'd been feeling unwell for as long as a year but I'll get back to that later.

On December 30th, as I went to work to open the Canadian Embassy here in Oslo, I was overwhelmed by acute earaches and a peculiar feeling in my chest. I'd had these earaches for a couple of months, on and off, and except for the fact that I'd never had an earache before, didn't give it much thought. This was more intense however, so I did what I had to do and went home.

Straight to bed and the feelings subsided. Slept and read most of the day and when I got up to make my dinner wasn't feeling too badly at all.

Until 8 pm. Because of the earaches, a long lasting cold, and a sinus problem, I had honestly thought I might have pneumonia. So as the pain intensified, I put hot oil in my ears, filled the hot water bottle for my chest, and at this point had begun a little prayer.

I spent close to an hour sitting on the floor in the bathroom hanging over the great white bowl, wrenching my guts out. Pneumonia? I was thinking, not so much.

All this time I had been dripping with perspiration, the cold, clammy kind, and was just soaked but much too weak by then to do anything about it.

I finally realized that I needed help -- the ten meters or so between the loo and my bedroom (where the phone was) took an excruciating thirty minutes to get to -- crawling, passing out, crawling some more until finally I was up on my bed with my phone in my hand dialing 113. According to the switchboard, the call had come in at 9:50 p.m.

The ambulance came, took pressure, blood oxygen and then the famous EKG which confirmed that I was having an acute heart attack. Boy, did they go into action.

Oxygen, morphine, blood thinners, IVs. They called the hospital to set things up there and by 10:35 I had had my angioplasty, the stent was inserted, the pain gradually subsided, and I was sent to the intensive care unit for cardiac patients. I was wired and attached to so many things it was amazing.

By the way, here in Norway angioplasties take fifteen minutes in this country -- through my wrist, up my arm to my heart. Amazing!

I am now on the road to recovery -- tired and feeling very, very lucky to be alive but the reason I write this story is to let women know that the symptoms of a heart attack can be different for them than for men.

Had I paid attention to symptoms like earaches, a new pain in my back which seemed unrelated to my arthritis, the sudden unset of nightly snoring which left me with a sore throat each morning, aches in my jaw, localized pain my legs (blood clots moving around), poor complexion, and mild chest pain which I associated with my annual allergies, this might not have happened.

Most important of all, I did not discuss any of this with my doctor. This will pass. I thought.

So you see, ladies, I wasn't having a heart attack -- no pain radiating down my arms, the pain was further up my chest than I would have expected, I didn't know that vomiting can be a symptom nor the incredible cold sweats, and the pain which radiated from my jaw line to my ears had to be the most confusing of them all.

It has by far been the most frightening experience in my life and one of the most enlightening. I am not indestructible -- as I grow older, little pieces of me might fall apart. I thought I looked after myself well but will have to do better.

In just under three years, I retire home to Canada where I have three beautiful children, two beautiful grandchildren, and many beautiful friends and I intend not only to make it there but also to enjoy lots of time with them.

Copyright © 2010 Berit Lundh/Log Cabin Chronicles/01.10