Having been a psychologist for 26 years I was able to watch myself cycle through what felt like a mini episode of PTSD ( Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) after I had the heart attack.
I remember my original thought was, Oh My God, my life is going to be shorter than I expected it to be and I feel like I have so much to do. As you read in my article about the medical spell, I went through a period of about a week where all I could think about what dying, death, what it was like to die, where would I go, and not wanting to die. I was in a spin that I couldn’t get out of for days.
This lead to anxiety and worrying about every little pain I had in my chest. I was told by the doctors to take every chest pain seriously and call the doctor, but that seemed like an over reaction. I became hypersensitive to my body. Chest pains got serious enough on two occasions to land me in the ER, once by ambulance and the other ended up with me staying overnight. None of the pains felt like the original pain I had when I had the heart attack so I felt silly even being their. The second ER visit for chest pain happened at 4 AM. The pain started the day before and I was just hoping it would go away. It ran down the front of my chest along my esophagus to the end of my sternum. It felt like what you would imagine a heart attack would feel like. I went to bed that night thinking it would be gone in the morning but at 4 AM it was worse. I called 911 and took a ride to the hospital…again! It turned out to be esophagitis which is a painful inflammation of the lining of the esophagus, caused by one of the drugs I was taking.
“Medical events such as a diagnosis of cancer, a stroke or heart attack can convince people that their life will be shorter than they had thought just before the event. But lives being changed by a medical event is qualitatively different from veterans’ sense of being changed forever by the degradation and dehumanization they faced at the hands of their captors or for a rape victim, at the hands of a rapist, which are usually the people who are diagnosed with PTSD.
People who have just suffered a life threatening medical event are understandably upset immediately afterwards. Vigilance and hypersensitivity to bodily sensations may be quite appropriate and adaptive responses. Some of these bodily sensations are novel and threatening, having had their onset with the medical event. Or they could be signs that they need to promptly seek medical attention. Ignoring them could be difficult in light of the life threatening event.” From But it’s not PTSD
I didn’t know what to ignore and what to pay attention to. I am still not sure, especially since I came down with a bronchial infection and was coughing for over a week. I had this many times in the past and yet I couldn’t remember now what it felt like, in light of having a heart attack. Where my chest pains from the cough or were they from my heart?
“Over time, most persons having had a medical event will adjust. Their initial emotional reaction subsides, even if bouts of anxiety, as well as realistic concerns and self-monitoring continue. Distinguishing normal from abnormal may make sense in the abstract, but there are sometimes challenges deciding between normal reactions and abnormal reactions warranting mental health interventions. Professionals do not wish to leave persistent and debilitating psychological reactions unaddressed, especially if they would respond to treatment. Yet, there is also a wish to avoid turning normal reactions into a mental disorder or for mental health professionals to interfere with the normal reactions in ways that might be counterproductive and even harmful.” From But it’s not PTSD
I realized by the sixth week, in a series of weeks where I not only had a heart attack but 10 other stress producing events that I was depressed. I do not get depressed so this was new to me. I was exhausted, didn’t have any motivation, my appetite was gone and could barely navigate. So was this PTSD or just a natural reaction to a life threatening incident?
“A team of Columbia University investigators seem to be going down the same path as psycho-oncology researchers did, but for cardiovascular events such as acute coronary syndrome (myocardial infarction or angina), transient ischemic attack (TIA), and stroke. These investigators recently published an article in PLOS One that they have followed up with a press release and television and radio interviews declaring cardiac events to be commonly associated with PTSD. They call for resources for routine screening of cardiac patients and for their research program.” from But it’s Not PTSD
Take a look at the article to see the results of the investigation.
Personally I feel that it is important for hospital staff to be aware of this possibility, to prepare patients about what to expect and to be conscious about the possibility that patients will experience some level of stress due to the trauma of going through a life threatening event. In my experience those things were not address.