Don’t take yourself so damn seriously

It’s the week after reunion. I’m walking back from lunch at the Malott Commons to my office in Steele Hall. It’s a signature May afternoon in Claremont: mid-7Os, clear skies, not a hint that June gloom is merely weeks away. A day that makes you feel great. Funny, what’s this little twinge in my chest? No pain. No loss of breath. Just a vague pressure. It’s all too familiar.

Ten years ago I had had the same feeling. I didn’t pay attention until I couldn’t walk a block without stopping to rest. Even then, when I did get it checked, a nurse practitioner first had me tested for hormone imbalance. At that time, women’s heart symptoms weren’t taken as seriously as they are today. A man complaining of the same feelings would not have been tested for, say, low testosterone.

A week later (in 1996), a concerned cardiologist hurried me into the Huntington Hospital and, through an angiogram, discovered one of my main coronary arteries was almost totally blocked. He put in a metal stent, and I went home the next day. It was a close call, but life returned to normal. I increased my exercise, watched what I ate, and took my medicine. At least for a while.

Back to this past May. If I can find a way to laugh at something, I’ll sure try.That’s why I love Kathy Schwarz’s quote from Reunion Convocation: “Don’t take yourself so damn seriously.” And she’s a doctor.

So, was this a laughing matter? No. My cardiologist didn’t even give me a stress test when he heard my symptoms. “Classic,” he said. “Let’s get you right in for an angiogram.” But my symptoms seemed so uneventful to me that I worried about being embarrassed at causing so much trouble if he found my arteries totally clear. Sorta like the guy in the plane who thought he saw a wing on fire but didn’t want to report it; he’d rather risk crashing than be called a fool.

Within hours, I was flat on my back, mellow on Valium, with an exploratory scope traveling from an artery in my groin up into my heart. For those of you who haven’t had the experience, it’s gripping to watch the process on the monitor screen and see the interior of your heart and arteries in detail. The thin probe snaked in and out of several arteries and gave out puffs of dark dye; the screen wasn’t in color, so I could imagine this was an old ’50s TV program (if Dr. Kildare had had such modern methods). Unfortunately, there was no cause for my embarrassment: there they were, two more blockages, serious, but not as bad as 10 years before. In went more stents, this time plastic, not metal. Again, home in one day; back at work the next week.Taking my medicine without fail and walking each day. Prognosis, pretty darned good.

What can I tell others-especially women? If you have a family history of heart disease (my dad died of it at age 57, in 1961), pay attention to even the smallest symptoms and act on them immediately. For me, I let my cholesterol get too high, thinking that diet and exercise alone would keep me healthy. I got complacent because everything seemed fine on the exterior.

Take your medicine and keep laughing. And outrageous boots help you from taking yourself too seriously.