Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Her Mother's Heart

I don't know about you, but I was wrecked last night as I watched Canadian Olympic ice skater Joannie Rochette perform.  In case you missed it, she is the Olympian whose mother passed away suddenly shortly after arriving in Vancouver on Sunday, apparently of a heart attack.  Her mom was only 55 years old.  Joannie made the decision to go ahead and skate, showing up for all of her practices between Sunday and yesterday when her event began.  She skated beautifully -- she's in 3rd place so far -- and when she finished and the applause began she broke down and cried.  I don't think there was a dry eye in the house; even the sports announcers calling the event were choked up.

I had a hard time falling asleep last night, thinking about my own mother, who many of you know passed away from a heart attack five years ago. I lost my father, also suddenly, from a blood clot five years before that. I understand the shock you feel at losing someone so suddenly, and the heartache of never having had the chance to say, "Goodbye."

In my mother's case, she had been feeling poorly for a couple of days and thought she had the flu: nausea, body aches, just all around lousy.  She lived alone at her home in CA, and on the day of her heart attack she was waiting for a worker from the phone company to come and install another phone line in her house.

Her friend and neighbor stopped by and encouraged mom to go to the doctor.  Mom told her she had to stay home and wait for the phone company.  She asked the neighbor to pick up some soup for her at the grocery store.  The neighbor left to do that, and when she returned with the soup she found my mother passed out in the kitchen and called the ambulance. At the hospital, doctors discovered she'd had a heart attack the day before, and, left untreated, she'd then had a stroke.  By the time I reached her from CO, she was unable to communicate.  She had to be medicated as soon as I arrived because, in her confusion and pain, she wouldn't stop trying to pull out all her tubes and catheters.  She went to sleep then, and she never woke up.

My relationship with my mother was such that we didn't talk daily, or even weekly sometimes. I acknowledge, though, that even if I had been talking to my mother on the day she had her heart attack, had she told me her symptoms I probably would have agreed with her that she was suffering from the flu.  Her symptoms didn't include chest or arm pain -- the signs that I had understood to indicate heart attack.

Physicians have just in the last year or two been trying to get the word out that women often have different symptoms than men when suffering a heart attack, like what my mother experienced.  It's so important to be aware of this.  Here is some clear information from The Mayo Clinic:

"The most common symptom of a heart attack in both men and women is some type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest. But it's not always severe or even the most prominent symptom, particularly in women. Women are more likely than men to have signs and symptoms unrelated to chest pain, such as:
  • Neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Unusual fatigue
These signs and symptoms are more subtle than the obvious crushing chest pain often associated with heart attacks. This may be because women tend to have blockages not only in their main arteries, but also in the smaller arteries that supply blood to the heart — a condition called small vessel heart disease."

My heart goes out to Joannie.   If you have lost your mother, you know as I do that her life will never be the same.  In case you missed it, here's a video of her skate.  Don't watch it without your hankie, though!


Anji Gallanos said...

OMG. I watched it last night and cried along with her..however..I thought she was crying because she skated so well in front of Canada. Now knowing the full story I have tears again. I also need to forward this information to my mom..thank you thank you

Debby said...

One of the most inspiring moments of the Olympics. I am so proud of her for going out and skating for her Mother. My fingers are crossed she stays in the top 3. My heart goes out to her and her family. Thank you for posting this.

Terri Gordon said...

What a wonderful post, I watched last night and was so happy that she did so well. My heart was breaking for her. Thank you for sharing about you Mom, it is a very important post. Thank you. Terri

Linda Sue said...

That video is SO much better than the chap that slammed in to the luge wall which shook me to my core...You were right- get out the hanky! My mom's heart is what finally nailed her- there was a calm before the attack- a peace and poof! Gone.I am so sorry you lost your Mom that way- with such warnings but not enough information- thanks for posting this- very important!

Merry said...

Thanks for taking the time to post all this information. Sorry that you couldn't be there with your Mum. What a moving story about this skater and how strong of her to keep on training and to perform.

Christine said...

She skated beautifully and thanks for the reminder about women and heart disease!


Joy said...

Laurie, I haven't been following the Olympics but I'm glad you brought this to our attention. And especially for sharing about your mother.

Barbara said...

I watched the skate and I've got to say that I cried too and so did my hubby. I had to go for the hankies. How sad for her but how courageous she was to go ahead and skate.

Susan said...

A wonderful reminder that none of us know when the day may be the last day! thanks for sharing. My dad will be gone 5 years on March 10. My husband had 2 heart attacks 5 days apart in 2001, and then double bypass...his pain started kind of under his arm at around 3am, and he thought it was like a gas bubble...finally at 9am, he wakes me and says I think I need to go to the hospital...anyone who knows my husband, that is completely the opposite of him, so I KNEW it was a heart attack, even before we got there.

Lovely post, and great information for us gals!

Melissa said...

I've been following the skater's story. How very sad for her and her family to lose her mom, and to have it happen right before such an important event in her life just makes it that much sadder.

Sorry to hear about the loss of your parents, and thanks for sharing those symptoms of your mom! I was not aware of that and now will be extra cautious with my own mom, who won't go to the doctor for anything!