How I Live Life on 20%

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, killing 1 in 3 women. More than breast cancer, lung cancer, or accidents, more women die each year of heart-related illness than anything else. I was almost one of them.Twice.

Here's my story:

In 2005, At the age of 31, I had a surgical procedure that nearly killed me. During the week after the procedure, while at home attempting to rest, I felt an intense pressure in my left side. After searching for the knife in my side (and realizing there wasn't one), I decided it'd be in my best interest to call the doctor's office. He was with a patient and the nurse was busy so the receptionist took a message and said they'd call me back.

And then they had lunch.

The pain continued to intensify as I tried to sleep, so much so that my breathing became labored. My dog was incessantly barking outside and I had trouble getting up to let him in. I called my husband, Jason, at work and asked if he'd come home (you know, to let the dog in) because I couldn't get out of bed. He agreed and left his office for the 30 minute commute.

The doctor's office called sometime before Jason arrived home. They suggested I go to the hospital, as my symptoms were atypical of the procedure I'd had. With labored speech and breathing, I thanked them for calling and waited for Jason to get home. When Jason arrived home he took me to the emergency room (he let the dog in, too). I was admitted to the hospital immediately with a pulmonary embolism, which is a blood clot lodged in the lungs. I was one of the lucky ones who survived, as nearly 30% of the people will die within one month of diagnosis. I was now living life on 70%. I was in the hospital for nearly a week, on blood thinners while the clot dissolved. I came home the day before Thanksgiving. I had a lot to be thankful for that year, including my dog, whom I attributed to saving my life.

My internal dialogue:

Looking back, I know now that I should have called 911. I am grateful to be alive. I didn't take the pain seriously, dismissing huge warning signs- like not being able to breathe, for one. I was more concerned with the internal dialogue running rampant through my head:

The minimization: "it's not that big of a deal."

The shame: "do not call 911… your insurance will go through the roof."

The condemnation: "an ambulance, really?! You can wait."

The rationalization: "you'll be fine… just get some rest."

Let me be clear… I was not a good patient. Let me be frank… I did not learn my lesson.

Round 2:

The second time I ignored my health I had a stroke – in 2 places. I was 37 years old and couldn't remember how to wash my hair. That in itself is alarming, but I once again dismissed the warning sign and tried to 'rest' my way through it. This time I wound up taking a ride in an ambulance, having a 7-hour brain surgery, and staying in the hospital for 10 days. The doctors told my husband that, once again, I was lucky to be alive. The type of stroke I had affects about 5 people in 1 million each year, with a mortality rate of approximately 50%. Now I live life on 20%.

The lesson: 20%

My son says statistics don't work that way, but in my book they do. I'm lucky to be alive. So, what's the lesson here? If you have concerns about your health, DO NOT WAIT. That inner dialogue is generally not your friend in times of health crisis. When in question, play it safe and go to the doctor. Call 911.

Along with going to the doctor regularly, here are 5 tips to follow that will help you stay on the good side of health:

  1. Stay hydrated – drink your water!
  2. Know your medicines and their possible side effects.
  3. Stop smoking… seriously, for good.
  4. Shop (and eat) from the perimeter of the grocery store – minimize your processed food intake.
  5. When in doubt, get it checked out! Don't wait… your life may depend on it.

My hope is that by sharing my story, you learn from my mistakes. I also hope you understand the importance of being an advocate for your own health. If you don't, no one else will.