Today is the seventh anniversary of my “heart thing.” In 2009 I developed Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy, (AKA) Neurogenic Myocardial Stunning. More commonly known as an attack of Broken-Heart Syndrome. There is plenty of information out there about this condition, including the recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, and a couple medical journals. Despite the fact that I spent a couple nights thinking I was going to die soon, for me, the most important bit of information about this disorder, is that it is reversible. Remove the stress, and my left ventricular chamber stops doing this apical ballooning thing. The Japanese named the condition—something to do with squid—or a squid trap. Of course they did.
My doc tells me that this does count as my first heart attack. The headline in the WSJ piece is incorrect, slapped on at the last minute by an uninformed editor. It seems that when I am stressed, physically, psychically, or emotionally, my fight/flight response doesn’t work properly. I have an impaired parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that is supposed to help the body calm down.
At the time of the attack, I had a constellation of events going on in my life that seemed never ending, but of course, all things do come to an end. I made my way to a great female cardiologist, Doctor Harmony Reynolds, who was specifically studying the effects of this disorder. She understood the emotional component, and would sit down with me in the exam room, to talk with me about what was happening with the numerous crises in my life. With her help, I learned to calm myself by meditating and walking. I mostly took the medications that were prescribed, and five, six years on, I thought I was more-or-less cured.
This winter, I was contacted by Lucette Lagnado, a journalist doing a piece in the Wall Street Journal, to coincide with the publication of Dr Reynold’s study on Takotsubo. I had a couple of phone interviews with Ms. Lagnado, and weirdly enough, talking in depth about all that had been going on in my life at the time of the attack made me feel symptomatic all over again. I got off the phone, took an extra blood pressure pill, slammed on my boots and went out for a long walk. I calmed down, but thought that I was just really SO weird.
But, in my final conversation with the reporter, she revealed the big medical takeaway from the study I participated in. During the research interviews, we were all wired up, and even including a needle that was measuring minute blood samples over time, checking for stress hormones. They found that a significant number of the participants exhibited stronger symptoms of the disorder while we were merely talking to the researchers about the events in our lives, than we did while going through the stress tests and other experiments of the study! I suspect this disease will ultimately be found to be some cousin to PTSD. I’ve always felt that I had some form of that, even though I hadn't lived through a storm like Katrina, or gone to war, though there have been some places in my life that truly felt like a disaster.
So, knowledge is power, and now that I have an understanding of what is going on inside me, I can take steps, literally, to walk it off.