This is a long post with a long story that begins with just a catch up on our travels including our experience with the flu, and then my cardiology journey and resistance to doctor’s orders. If you have ever felt you and your doctor were not communicating-read this post. Enjoy!!
This year we have done a lot of traveling-California in January, Nevada and Arizona in February, Florida in March and early April, and in May I went on a wonderful and writer changing retreat in beautiful and peaceful Santa Fe, New Mexico. Each of these trips have their own story and lots more to share.
It’s been both fun and exhausting and Steve has set his own boundaries around travel. “I can’t unpack and repack a suitcase without an at home for a while break. “It’s too much!” I, on the other hand have a hard time saying no to life and opportunities to travel, explore and experience everything. Steve reached his limit when after completing a delightful family Caribbean cruise, we embarked for a 10-day vacation to be with friends in Cape Coral, Florida and the second day there he was diagnosed with Influenza B. Poor Steve. For the first week of that trip he was either outside on their beautiful lanai or in the house wearing a mask. Although our friends were wonderful, “like family”, and we did enjoy many great conversations in between rest time, this did take a toll on all of us. Our dear friends hung in there with us and we all went on Tamiflu. I was the only one who did not have at least a day of the flu.
At the Urgent Care, it was noted that my blood pressure had climbed to 160/90 — yikes! I was stressed. I managed my stress by writing daily out in the Tiki Hut down on their deck and canal landing. It is a beautiful and serene place to reflect and write. Some days I would just rest in the hammock or sit and meditate and listen to the many sounds of nature. It helped that the weather was beautiful. I also enjoyed an evening glass of wine, which I noticed did lower my blood pressure. Toward the end of our stay we were able to go out and enjoy the last few days of our trip. One of our outings was an art fair in Cape Coral where I met and photographed the artist, Rita Schwab and her glass piece used with her permission as my photo for this post.
By the time we got home and to our own beds, Steve was exhausted and I was concerned about my heart. I purchased a new OMRON B/P monitor and made an appt with a cardiologist.I continued to monitor my blood pressure and it varied-sometimes high and other times normal. I really focused on my breathing and although I did not sit in formal meditation every day, I attempted to stay mindful of my thoughts and pace of living.
As I sat in the cardiologist’s waiting room, I felt a bit out of place. The room was filled with elderly people, some in wheelchairs, and the younger patients were very overweight. I “pride” myself in being as healthy as I can “the middle way” through exercise, a plant-based diet, and meditation, yet here I was. I have to admit I have a strong family history of heart disease—Mom, Dad, and siblings. But I thought I was different and was on top of controlling the risk factors, at least that’s what I thought. Yet now I realize how hard it is to control the biggest risk factor-underlying tension and anxiety.
My cholesterol is high but so is my good cholesterol. I used to smoke but quit 36 years ago, and I have not been overweight since nursing school. Why was I there? My primary care physician was okay with me going although he has never seen my blood pressure over 120/70. He takes my blood pressure every time I see him, and he carefully monitors my lipid profile every year.
Long story short, the cardiologist was not quick to put me on any medication (I liked that!) until I had some tests to determine if I, indeed, showed signs of heart disease. He ordered an echocardiogram and coronary calcium scan (CAT Scan of the heart and its major blood vessels). I was game. The heart scan took about 20 minutes and the echocardiogram took almost an hour.
The next day I got a call from the nurse who gave me the results of my tests—the echo was normal and the heart scan showed minimal heart disease, better than most for my age so the doctor would like me to take a daily 81 mg of Aspirin and 40 mg of Lipitor. Noooooooooooooo.You would have thought she told me the doctor wanted to do open heart surgery. I totally reacted with surprise, anger, sadness, and disappointment and asked that she have the doctor call me.
He did, and it did not go well. The American College of Cardiology recommends the aspirin and Lipitor for a patient picture like mine. Actually there are many cardiologists that feel we should all be on a statin. But that’s it! This doctor really does not know me and I am not a typical patient. I had only seen him one time, and we need to go beyond one size fits all medicine. My primary care physician is an MD with years of alternative medicine experience and for over 25 years has followed my health and prescribed the daily supplements I take. I take no prescription medicine and don’t want to start. On the other hand, I also don’t want to have a heart attack or stroke and would welcome a plan to prevent further heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women.
When the cardiologist called, I let him know how disappointed I was that the nurse called and that we did not talk before I was given a prescribed plan that included a statin drug without more discussion on its benefits and its risks. Statin drugs do lower cholesterol and prevent plaque buildup in the arteries, but they also come with an array of side effects—muscle aches and weakness, GI symptoms, and more. There is a ton of research that is now questioning the cost/benefit of statins.
I have to admit, I did not give the doctor a chance to explain how we would proceed or how he would follow up with me. When I got off the phone, I felt sad that the conversation did not go well and I wished I had sat in a 30-minute meditation prior to speaking with this doctor. This doctor has an excellent reputation as a cardiologist, is very kind and personable and I am sure he has saved many lives. I wish I could have expressed myself in a better way to be heard by the doctor. I also wish his office would have scheduled a follow up appointment so that he could go over the results with me in his office. Most of all I have used this experience to reflect on my own defensiveness and fear and also trust that there is a blanket of universal forgiveness between both of us.
Doctor patient communication can be difficult. There is fear on all sides. I have a deep respect for the medical profession. I am a Registered Nurse and know how difficult it is to navigate around a system that is frustrating to the patient and the doctor. And I also know that in today’s world of alternative, integrative and functional medicine, there is much that medical schools and nursing schools have failed to teach. The research is often driven by pharmaceutical companies who have a vested interest in us taking drugs when there are so many alternatives to healing. I will not take a long-term prescription without research and that is my current mission about statin drugs and heart disease prevention and treatment in general.
Dr. Danielle Ofri’s book What Patients Say. What Doctors Hear, states it well:
Patients, anxious to convey their symptoms, feel an urgency to “make their case” to their doctors. Doctors, under pressure to be efficient, multitask while patients speak and often miss the key elements. Add in stereotypes, unconscious bias, conflicting agendas, and the fear of lawsuits and the risk of misdiagnosis and medical errors multiplies dangerously.
A week later, I went to my primary care physician. He agreed that going on a statin drug was premature, but also agreed that we needed to take the tests serious and take a closer look at my cardiac risks and current status. He was grateful to have the test results for additional information about my health. He recommended beets and cayenne pepper as nutritional support for the heart. He also recommended 1000 mg of Niacinamide (Vit B3 derivative-not as much research on its affect on cholesterol like Niacin). He also said he may want me on a low dose of of Zocor, which is a statin. I might add that my physician knows me well and suggested I relax and balance my chakras.
My lifestyle supports health but there is more I can do. I exercise (making sure I get 10,000 steps a day) but could increase the intensity of my walks and add more strength training. My diet is plant based; no red meat and I avoid saturated fat- but I am far from perfect and need to be more aware of salt and sugar. I do meditate, but I am a hyper personality and need to focus on breath awareness and slowing down in between life’s adventures. But more important than all of that is that I often feel I live in two worlds. On one hand I teach and coach a very deep spiritual path of love and forgiveness and on the other hand I have the same fears of illness and death as everyone else. Our fears fuel our defenses and often cause us to separate rather than join.
In two months we will repeat all of the blood tests that aid in determining my current heart disease risk. Since being more mindful of my diet, exercise and meditation as well as forgiving myself and the doctor, (Forgiveness is a powerful medicine for the heart), I have noticed my blood pressure has been staying within the normal range and I am hoping my blood tests show that I can reduce my heart disease risks without taking medicine.
In the meantime, I will continue my research, be mindful of my lifestyle, and stay “open hearted”. I have a follow up appointment with the cardiologist in 6 months. I’m not sure if he is the right fit for me, but it would be nice if we could meet again. I will go prepared to listen to him and hopefully he can also listen to my concerns and we can join in a much more productive manner.
In the end, its not about any of this. It’s always about all the lessons we learn along the way and as I continue the journey, I enjoy bringing you along.