Sweeping It Under The Rug

By Vickie Wingfield

I have been an employee of Arkansas Heart Hospital (now Champions For Health, which is the Foundation of the hospital) for almost 24 years. My role has always been community relations. I have educated in the community on cardiovascular disease for 20+ years.

When I joined the Heart Hospital staff, I had no clinical background at all. I hung out in the Cath Lab and watched dozens and dozens of surgeries and procedures, all the while asking a million questions. Because I had no clinical background and it was now my job to educate the community about a disease that is the number one killer of Americans (and Arkansans), I wanted to know about this beast of a disease. The fantastic nurses and doctors patiently listened to my questions and taught me well. In turn, I was able to go out to the public and educate about heart disease knowing the meaning of some huge words and able to connect in authentic ways with my audiences and raise awareness of this number one killer.

In 2009, I began to tire easily. As long as I was moving, I was great but let me sit down, and I was falling asleep or just unable to get motivated to get up and walk or do anything. I was working a lot of extra hours and almost every weekend. I was 55. I just chalked it all up to burning the candle at both ends and aging. In case you have not got the memo yet --- aging is not for sissies. I continued to plow through life in this cycle of work hard, get home exhausted and barely function. I had no margin for life.

One day I got a call from our Radiology crew. They needed a guinea pig. I have been at the Heart Hospital for so long that frequently I volunteer to help so the staff can train on a new piece of equipment or process (as long as they do not have to cut me open, I am game to help). In this case, they had just installed a new CT Scanner, hi-speed, able to take a different and new look at the coronary arteries. They needed a volunteer to scan. So I did it. No news is good news – isn’t’ that the adage?

I am back on my merry way, and about two weeks later, I am coming into the hospital one morning around 7:00am and Dr. Andrew Henry, one of our cardiologists, pulls up next to me in his Jeep and rolls down his window and says, “I need to talk to you, can you meet me in the Cath Lab?” I said sure – confident that he was going to ask me to get him on a morning news show or radio spot or to speak at an event (something I routinely did for our physicians). Off to the Cath Lab I went, he was doing a case, so I waited. He came out sat down next to me and said, “I looked at your CT Scan this week --- you have a narrowed artery that really concerns me.” I have a family history of heart disease – my Dad died of a heart attack. I asked what he thought we needed to do, he said because of your family history and age (there it is again), I think we should do a Cath. I agreed.

We did the Cath – and to all our surprise the artery was not just narrowed, I had an 85% blockage in my LAD – what we lovingly call “the widow maker.” He put in a stent and opened the blockage. While recovering in my hospital room, he came in and said: “Girl, because of where that blockage was and because of the size, if you had had a heart attack, you would not have survived.” I dodged the heart attack bullet.

Why am I relaying this story --- because I should have known – and on some level, I think I did, I just chose to sweep it under the rug? I had been educating on the warning signs of a heart attack for over 12 years. At this point, you would think, I would have been the first one to get myself to the cardiologist to be checked out. This is what I do for a living – I knew that fatigue is a significant sign of heart attack in women, I hammered this point every time I spoke, especially to women’s groups. How could I not know or choose not to identify, how could I just sweep it under the rug? I decided to make excuses. I am burning the candle at both ends, it is just the normal aging process. It almost cost me my life.

What are you sweeping under the rug? We are far more likely to stick our head in the sand when it comes to our health. We are far more likely to make an excuse about a circumstance than to deal with it head on and take ownership. What is it? Your health, a toxic relationship, unmanageable stress, out-of-control eating, inability to say no. Oh, the list can go on forever – what is it for you?

Sadly, we typically know what to do to remove or impact the “dirt” – it is just easier to sweep it under the rug.

It is time to roll back the rug – grab your broom and do some sweeping!

Amber Bobo