We’ve talked a lot about hearts the last eight months. We’ve worried that our hearts would break when our freshman left home, only to discover that in fact we were all more resilient than we thought; and that the natural cycle of life does have it’s own tempo and that if we follow it we will end up in the place we are meant to be.


Feb 19, 2010by tracey Comments

We’ve talked a lot about hearts the last eight months. We’ve worried that our hearts would break when our freshman left home, only to discover that in fact we were all more resilient than we thought; and that the natural cycle of life does have it’s own tempo and that if we follow it we will end up in the place we are meant to be.

Most of us find ourselves now at that point where we are used to our babies being gone, the house is calmer and they are less aggressive with us from college and when they are home.

We learned that if you love someone enough, even if you let them go, not only do they live on in your heart but also they return for that love in person.

When it comes to love be it filial, or romantic the heart is a powerful place, sometimes weak, sometimes strong, but for the most part rather elastic as it has a tendency to bounce back after all sorts of blows.

But that, my freshman mom friends, is the emotional heart, the poetic heart, the heart that feeds off connection. The heart that often times has such a mind of it’s own we can’t figure out what why it’s pulling us in directions we had no intention of going.

And then there is our other heart, the one I learned this week has five active parts to it.  Dr. Heart described it to me like a car, not a very romantic image. Scientists don’t tend to be poets.

It has an electrical system, and…oh God, you know I’ve forgotten all the parts; I was so concerned whether mine was a Toyota and was going to be recalled I wasn’t paying enough attention. And to be honest when men start talking about cars I tend to tune out.

I remember this it has valves and an engine but no seat belts, or cigarette lighters.  But as we all know it’s our most vital organ and one we cannot and should not ignore.

But the truth is too many do.

If you are a freshman mom, chances are you are over forty-five and my guess is many of you reading this like me, are over fifty.

How many of you – honestly – have ever had a full cardiological work-up?

I’m not talking about an EKG,  In terms of accuracy, a run of the mill EKG tells you about as much about the inner workings of your heart as kicking the tire does about a car. It tells you if you are alive, it tells you if you, have missed beats, but in terms of the big-ticker stuff, pardon the pun, it does bupkus. So you can say my heart is fine, I got an EKG last August, but you know it doesn’t t show you the real inner life of the organ at all.
The thing about us woman we are convinced and I talk about this a lot in my book BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HOT PLACE (I told you I would try and get it in every blog) that our boobs are what is going to do us in.

Stop any woman on the street and ask her her number one health fear and I promise you nine times out of ten she will say breast cancer.
Don’t get me wrong it’s a real fear, it’s out there and a percentage will get it.

But the facts are the facts and no matter how many times we hear them we still don’t believe them.

“Nearly twice as many women in the US die of heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases as from ALL forms of cancer, including breast.”

It is not strictly a male problem.

But for some reason we don’t focus on it. Instead we run around, did you get your mammogram?  Did you get your sonogram?  Are you eating soy? Stay away from HRT.

We go to the gyno and have our vaginas scrutinized once or twice a year. And now with colonoscopies we have someone looking up our butts the minute we hit fifty.

But the truth is we should be getting our hearts checked just as carefully, and we don’t.

Colon cancer is real, but not as big a threat as heart disease. Why don’t they demand you get a real heart test once you hit fifty?

You know when the average woman gets her heart really gone over, when she or her doctor detects a problem.

Every woman I ran into in the last week’s forays into the world of heart testing was there because she thought there was a problem. No one was there for mere prevention.

So along with asking each other about when was your last mammogram?  Did you get your colonoscopy?   We should be asking each other did you get an echocardiogram?  Many steps up from the EKG, really this EKG thing, in terms of reporting information it’s like comparing ticker tape to the online Bloomberg report.

Did you get an MRI that shows your full heart?  Have you had a test, be it stress test or the CAT SCAN I had that shows you how your arteries are holding up and how much plaque, if any is actually there?

There is also a calcium test Dr. Bernard Kruger likes his patients to take that shows calcium build up.

All of this is really important information and if you get it when you are in your early fifties you will find yourself way ahead of the game.

This is some of the stuff I do remember Dr. Heart said.

“Every woman should get a complete heart exam between fifty and seventy.”

This was when he was singing the CAT SCAN’S praises I told him I was fifty-one. He said

“That’s over fifty.”

He then said  “But if you wait until you’re seventy chances are there could be damage that could have been averted or reversed had you taken a look a few decades earlier.  If you find an artery with thirty percent build up you can take statins and get it down instead of waking up one day with ninety percent blockage and have your chest cracked open.”

The flip side of that – which is true in my case, my cholesterol is a little high for Dr. Dracula’s taste and he wants me on Lipator, but the truth is, I  may register as 220 total cholesterol, but Dr. Artery said,

“Who cares none of it is sticking to your arteries. If it’s not there it’s not doing damage.”

In my case that just happens to be pure genetics, my dad at eighty-two eats bacon every morning and has no build up. His wife eats oatmeal and had a bypass fifteen years ago. So, some things are the luck of the draw. With the number of 220 one would think some would be hanging out around my heart, but it moves on.  In my life many have!

There is another unbelievably interesting and important fact Dr. Heart shared with me.

Do you know what age we start accumulating plague in our arteries? I would make this a test and give out a prize but thanks to Google those things don’t work anymore.

Just go ahead and guess. OK – I ‘m giving the test, I’ve had so many tests this week I want to administer one myself.

I will give you three figures and I want you all to be really, really honest and don’t look it up. If you do look it up, well you will only have your own conscience to deal with and a guilty conscience is not good for stress, which in turn is not good for your heart.

At what age do you think we start building plaque in our arteries?

You can write in your response on the comment page.

1)    38

2)    18

3)    28

Next, while I was making my argument to Dr. Heart as to why I did not want yet another test I pointed out the fact I exercise between six and seven days a week.

Another fascinating piece of info he told me,

“You can run a marathon with fifty percent blockage.”

Who knew?
This explains Bill Clinton, I always wondered when he said he thought something was wrong when he was winded after a run.  I thought how can he run with that much blockage?

You can.  Fifty percent. A marathon. So your exercise regime should not lull you into a state of I’m OK.

Someone at my gym was going in to have the monitor this week as she was having chest pains.  I asked her how it went?  She said the pains stopped so she cancelled the test. DUMB MOVE…Symptoms come and go and they are not the same in man as in women.  If you’re having chest pains get them checked.

I also think she thinks because she exercises up to twice a day she is fine.
Again, back to Dr. Heart, you can run a marathon with fifty percent  blockage.  I find this doubly amusing as with zero blockage I can’t run around the block.

So do not be fooled by stamina.

This was brought home to us last summer when the spinning teacher at Glenn’s gym dropped dead right in front of everyone.

This sent Glenn to Dr. Heart’s office so fast he was barely out of his gym clothes.

I write about this in the book too, so I can’t give away the funny points. It wasn’t funny…but whatever.

So between the two of us we have been so tested it’s ridiculous.

In fact when I returned Glenn’s heart monitor on Wednesday when I was en route to Dr. Heart’s for my CAT SCAN, I told the girl behind the desk

“ This should be it unless we decide to hook one up to the French Bull Dog and my ten year-old.”

But kidding aside, we don’t take tests for two reasons, one big one, we don’t really want to know. I understand this. Better to be in the dark. What if they give me bad news?  As Bernard Kruger always says to me if I we ever find something bad we will send you to the right person to fix it.

But we need to know, as only in knowing can we do something about it. And there are so many ways to fix things if we get them early.  There is no sense in not going in early and taking the right precautions.

The second is often times financial.  These tests are not cheap. The gold standard test is aptly named, you need a good ounce of gold to pay for it. And as they informed me, to get reimbursed you need authorization and it sounded like unless you were on the heart  transplant list that might not be forthcoming.

But even in these  dicey economic times, it’s money well spent. And I would rather scrimp on something else than my health.

It boils down to choices and making the right ones.

When I tell people I’m going to the cardiologist the first question is always, what’s wrong? I went in at forty-eight for a baseline. Every one said,

“Why, what’s wrong?”

“Because, it’s the right thing to do.

I went in last week for another baseline and ended up with the super-size version it wasn’t always fun, but it was the right thing to do.

I’m fifty-one and the mother of a ten year old, forget me, I owe it to her.


Since  no one seems to want to guess the answer I will tell you  – 18…when you’re a freshman in college your arteries start collecting plaque.