Have you ever ignored good advice? Or, let your parents’ wisdom fall on deaf ears? Maybe tossed the warning label in the trash without as much as a glance?
I’d wager we all have. A quick internet search reveals video proof of lots of people not heeding good advice. It seems we all have a stubborn – I’ll find out for myself – streak.
Don’t ignore your symptoms
But when it comes to your health, stubbornness can get you in serious trouble. A topic I discussed over lunch with author, wife and mother, Bridget Nelan, of Germantown Hills, Illinois. Bridget told me of a time when putting off her health almost cost her everything.
After delivering her first son, Bridget became easily fatigued and winded with minor exertion. Her feet were swollen and sore, and she developed a dry cough.
“I chalked all of these symptoms up to having a brand new baby. I was beyond tired and winded like I had been running a marathon. And I was just walking around the house,” Bridget said. “People were calling to offer congratulations on the new baby and would ask if I had been running up and down the stairs when I was just actually standing in the kitchen of our ranch-style home.”
The Real Reason
Unbeknownst to everyone, a heart valve had ruptured during her son’s delivery. Bridget was in heart failure.
“My heart was changing shape and leaking,” Bridget said. “We knew I had a heart murmur previous to getting pregnant and the doctor wanted to keep an eye on it, but I never suspected the delivery could result in heart failure.”
She tolerated the symptoms, planning to deal with her body’s complaints after she took care of her growing family. It was a decision that almost caused a medical emergency.
So, how could this have happened? Why are humans complacent about health issues?
Bridget is a responsible person who pays close attention to her health. This was not a case of self-neglect. Bridget is not self-destructive or flippant about herself. If anything, she is the exact opposite. She is a goal-driven, health conscious professional and mother who eats healthy, manages her time, exercises and meets deadlines. Are these positive traits the root cause for her failure to take action?
“I knew my cardiologist wanted to check my heart after delivery, but I didn’t think any more of it. It was my first child, and I expected to be tired. I thought this was just how new moms felt,” Bridget said, “and quite frankly the follow-up heart appointment had slipped my mind.
“Daily walks with my husband and newborn made my perpetually achy feet more apparent. I even asked my husband to get me some running shoes that might have better support. He did and it didn’t help. Still no correlation or ‘aha’ moment that this could be related to my heart.”
Over pasta, we narrowed it down to three major factors:
- Not understanding the potential danger of her condition – “I knew about my heart murmur, but didn’t tie it all together. Eventually, I would have been forced to, or worse.”
- Simultaneously going through a life-altering event – “My focus was truly on this amazing child who just entered and changed my life.”
- Placing others first – maintaining responsibilities and expectations – “This is especially true with mothers. Mothers want to make sure their family is taken care of first and literally run out of physical and mental capacity to make medical issues a priority.”
Of course, these aren’t the only reasons we put off our own health. Things like pride, denial or fear can play major roles in why some people ignore warning signs from their bodies, health care professionals and loved ones. For others, there are accessibility and economic hurdles for them to overcome.
Whatever the reason, it is not worth jeopardizing your health over. Fortunately, Bridget’s care team at OSF HealthCare Cardiovascular Institute would not take “I’m busy” for an answer.
“A nurse called and left a voicemail. My cardiologist was concerned that I hadn’t made my follow-up appointment,” Bridget said. “By that afternoon, when I hadn’t returned the message, the nurse called again and said he was ‘adamant’ that I come in for an echocardiogram.
“It was Friday morning, my son was being baptized the next day and I had a houseful of guests arriving soon, but, thankfully, the nurse insisted, and I complied.”
Bridget’s cardiologist called her later Friday night. He wanted her to come to his office on Monday, with her husband.
“We had mixed feelings as we headed to the appointment – optimistic yet unsettled. The words left a permanent imprint in my brain: you are in heart failure and your mitral valve has to be fixed. I asked him if this could wait until my son was a little older. He said, ‘not if you want to be at his first birthday,’” Bridget said. “Unless we have a health issue hit us over the head, we tend to put it off for one reason or another.”
Even with her dire situation, Bridget still looked for a way to postpone treatment so she could fulfill her responsibilities as a new mother.
Our bodies are marvelous creations, and we become accustomed to everything working properly. Consider your heart – It beats around 115,000 times a day, pumping about 2,000 gallons of blood. Even a minor glitch can cause serious health issues.
What We Learned
“It was a life lesson. I truly believe I would not be here today if I hadn’t listened to them [the nurse and doctor that insisted on my follow-up],” Bridget said. “We all need to listen to our bodies and watch out for each other. If that nurse had let it go, I probably wouldn’t be here.”
When you know, or just sense, that a family, friend, co-worker or neighbor needs medical attention, speak up, offer to schedule an appointment for them and make that insistent call back if they don’t do it. Above all, don’t ignore yourself.
“We all take care of people and things we are grateful for, so be grateful for your body and your health and take care of it.” Bridget said.