So, you’ve had a sudden cardiac arrest. For you and many of us, this marks the beginning of long-term medical interventions and therapies designed to diagnose and treat the underlying cause or causes of this traumatic heart-stopping event. But while the family doctors, pharmacologists, cardiologists and/or electrophysiologists are working to ensure our cardiac systems are functioning well, the healthcare system seems content to let us fend for our own mental health. As a helpful tool, below are 10 signs that may indicate you are finally getting over the trauma of your sudden cardiac arrest.
- You wake up in the morning, or go to bed at night, feeling so good and so positive that you forget to take your meds. Warning: Forgetting to take your medications can also be a sign of a memory issue or a lapse in attentiveness, which are both very common outcomes, shortly after a sudden cardiac arrest. Feeling good and feeling positive about yourself isn’t a common outcome of a sudden cardiac arrest, however.
- An acquaintance tells you about their brush with death and, instead of politely interrupting them and detailing the slim probabilities of surviving a sudden cardiac arrest (around 5-8% and, surviving with intact cognitive functioning, less than that), you listen attentively. Note: Smiling or winking at your spouse or covertly rolling your eyes are acceptable coping mechanisms in this situation, and are a sign of maturity, not back-sliding.
- A family member asks how you’re recovering from your heart attack but your systolic blood pressure doesn’t increase by 10 mmHg and you don’t feel the need to correct them or give them a lecture on the difference between a myocardial infarction and a cardiac arrest, including producing a laminated colourful chart illustrating the characteristics of each. Instead, you simply say “I’m fine and getting better all the time” or words to that effect. Afterwards, you are permitted to have a shot of pure unrefined carrot juice to take the edge off. Enjoy!
- You’re out for a run, climbing some stairs or sensing that your partner is open to the idea of making love while the rest of the house is still quietly sleeping on a Saturday morning, and your heart races momentarily or you experience a premature ventricular contraction (PVC). Instead of rushing to your mobile phone, laptop or tablet and posting a question about the possible meanings of a racing heart or PVC on the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Facebook group, you keep running, finish the stair climb to your office or quietly close the bedroom door. Warning: While a racing heart and PVCs are very common phenomenon for everyone, regardless of whether they’ve ever had a cardiac issue, if your heart doesn’t stop racing or the PVCs come in triplets or more often, call your physician. This will be a difficult decision for some, especially in the latter example, but consider your partner’s reaction if s/he ends up having to call your physician, because you can’t.
- Your re-birthday passes, and you don’t notice. Note: This is a very promising sign of good mental health, unless you’re also forgetting to note your own birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Hallowe’en and other significant events in your life (excepting folks whose religious beliefs preclude celebrating such events, of course).
- You notice that your family and friends have stopped asking about your health, in particular, they are not asking about or mentioning your cardiac health, and you are okay with that. Note: Getting over not being the centre of attention for a medical event is a great growth step. Savour it; you’re getting better. The exception is if you are currently in the hospital or recovering at home, in which case you should feel free to say: “What the hell is wrong with you people!” You have our blessing to do so.
- You find yourself getting engaged in helping others wade through the emotional challenges they are confronting after their own sudden cardiac arrest or helping others in some other capacity. Note: Again, this is a very positive step as it indicates that there’s been a shift in focus from internal to external, from yourself to others. A very common outcome of a sudden cardiac arrest is to become very much self-focussed and sensitive to how others are treating and reacting to you. Oftentimes, this can come at the expense of your relationships with others you care about. Shifting your focus externally, on others, is a very helpful and healthy step forward.
- You find yourself tired telling your sudden cardiac arrest story, so you edit it down to an elevator speech from the multi-page epic tragedy (in the poetic, not being sarcastic, sense), with its embellishments and references to your having died. Note: This is a huge step because if you’ve told your story so many times that even you are sick of it, you can be sure others are too. More importantly, telling your story often can help mitigate against PTSD and other emotional consequences.
- You stop wondering if every symptom of everyday life that manifests itself is somehow related to your sudden cardiac arrest or whatever underlying disorder caused it. Instead, some other reason pops into your mind first, such as the too many glasses of red wine you had last night or the fact that you’re now pushing 60 or that maybe running that half-marathon in 28 Celsius heat wasn’t the wisest decision or you’re just having a bad day and ought to go hug your kid. Note: Some of the more immediate and common emotional and cognitive consequences of a sudden cardiac arrest, and the treatments for its underlying causes, include: fatigue and tiredness, irritability, sensitivity to criticism, feeling vulnerable, lack of attentiveness, poor short-term memory capture, loss of confidence in oneself, feelings of loss, anxiety, and sadness or depression. Find a reason to get up in the morning: sometimes the best way to help yourself is to help others.
- You stop visiting the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Survivors, or other such FB groups, as often as you once did. While I’m certain that the Administrators of these groups are a little sad to see you less often than they once did, I’m positive they are also very delighted at how far you’ve come. Congratulations!
If 9 or more of these signs apply to you, you just may be getting better.
I’m fairly certain there are more signs. Perhaps others can list them.