One woman’s perspective of life after heart surgery in your 40s with special thanks to the American Heart Institution and Swedish Heart & Vascular Institute

One woman’s perspective of life after heart surgery in your 40s with special thanks to the American Heart Institution and Swedish Heart & Vascular Institute

In late August of 2015, as a woman who had literally just turned 40 years of age, I walked into Swedish Heart & Vascular Institute as a first time stress test patient. This was arranged to figure out what I thought at the time was related to panic attacks and was 100% affecting my heart and lungs. Thinking this would be a standard procedure and then I’d head right back to my downtown corner office, on the waterfront, near Pike Place Market, little did I know that within a few hours of the stress test and heart echo, I would be somewhat sedated and rolled into emergency heart surgery. What in the actual #$%?!?!?

Fast forward to four years later, and I walked back into Swedish for my annual routine stress test and heart echo. By freak coincidence, the exact same parking stall was available, and the only one available, when I pulled into the parking garage as the one from 2015. Level PB, which after over 40+ visits to this facility in the last four years, I had nicknamed the Peanut Butter floor. My heart started to race and tears welled up in my eyes as I bravely headed towards the elevator that had all of the bright yellow warning signs that say if you have recently been ill you should take precautions or return later when you are well. Here’s the thing: I get the point of their concern to not further jeopardize hospital patients, but I’ve always felt like this is mixed messaging. Aren’t many people entering the hospital because they are sick? And didn’t they have to enter through similar elevators if they didn’t arrive by ambulance? Not everyone is going to do the valet service. I can never turn off my marketing brain. Like seriously, never. (Although I am guilty of treating myself to valet at the hospital sometimes given the number of times I’ve been here.) Regardless, I’m always happy to see the Costco size tub of hand sanitizer that is readily available for me to bath my hands and arms and any other piece of Alysse exposed flesh that I can reach without causing a scene on the Peanut Butter garage floor.

Realized I forgot to take the medical band off later when I went to Target. I was wondering why people were looking at me like I was from Girl Interrupted movie.

Ladies and gentleman, there is nothing fun about a stress test. And if by chance, you are a woman (or a man) that has double D size breasts that are real (meaning they have actual movement), than you can really appreciate the pain front and back that will happen once I take to the treadmill. I patiently wait in the lobby alone, eying the other patients that are waiting. They are basically all white men, double my age sitting there with their wives or partners or family members. I’m wondering AGAIN why I didn’t ask someone to come with me. I literally have 20 woman at the ready that would drop their lives and come sit with me for this test, given what happened the first time around when I was here alone and it was such a disaster. But do I call and ask for help? Nope. Of course I don’t. Not this year. I did for year 2 and year 3 (patting myself on back), but my stubbornness of my “I can do everything all by myself” has returned in full force and good luck trying to change my mind when it’s been made up. I nervously spend the wait time checking work email and creating my 1,001th pinterest board. I’m not in the mood to swipe left on a bunch of dating apps today. That’s not going to lift my nervous and anxious mood.

The appointment starts off being covered by stickers, that basically double for a waxing service later when they remove them, but they are never in the places that you actually might need waxing. I was asked to remove all clothing items from the waist up (including the sports bra) and put on a lovely lavender cotton wrap shirt that opens in the front. Forgot to mention, you leave your modesty in the lobby when you check in. The heart echo is the first thing they do, which is basically an ultrasound for your heart. (At 44 years of age, I was relieved to see there were no babies up in there.) They mark all these beats on this machine that looks like it was around during the filming of War Games (one of my fav movies of all times) and make you hold your breath, not hold your breath, hold your breath for different lengths of time, yadda yadda. Minus the somewhat luke warm lube jelly on the heart echo magical wand being shoved into your chest and under and around your left breast, it’s really not that bad. And the pillow they give you smells clean, steryl and is surprisingly soft.

Lucky sneakers bring me (NEW) BALANCE #seewhatididthere

After this series of tests are complete, it’s treadmill time. I get up on the treadmill, hooked up to all the wax strips stickers that have now been hooked to countless number of wires all over my body. It’s almost like I’m a volunteer for a full body scan for some new VR experience, but not nearly as cool. Now keep in mind, I’m still rockin’ that lavender cotton wrap shirt that opens in the front with NO SPORTS BRA ON UNDERNEATH. For extra measure, they added some medical tape across the front of my lavender shirt to keep it from flying open and giving them all a peep show. My guess is that lavender medical wrap was probably inspired by a Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress from 1974, before I was even born. OK, I’ll stop talking about my breasts and medical fashion and get back to the treadmill portion of the story, The goal is to go at a set speed and incline and every 3 minutes it would increase in speed and incline. I was to go until I couldn’t go anymore. There isn’t a certain amount of “rounds” to aim for, trust me I asked and was reminded once again it was not a competition. Trust me, it is. With myself. And I’ll tell you what, that treadmill it starts off at a pretty damn good clip to begin with. They aren’t wasting any time.

Competitive by nature, I was determined to beat last years time of 9:30 minutes and a super high incline, when they told me I had the heart of a 40 year old. (I was 43 at the time) Thankfully one of the nurses pulled out an epic 80s playlist that keep me motivated. The irony is she was a millennial (sorry to those of you in this category, but most of you deserve the heckling with the exception of small number of you) and she had NO IDEA what most movies the songs were from or the bands that played them. How did she even GET this playlist was the question I wanted to ask. I’m talking the theme song from St Elmo’s Fire, Whitney Houston, and Dirty Dancing for examples. Finally Prince came on and it registered with her, kind of. And by “kind of: I mean it was Purple Rain and guess what? Her favorite color is purple. She probably had a say in the lavender medical shirt wraps. Not my normal choice of treadmill tunes, but sometimes you have to let someone else play Nurse DJ, specially if they are investigating the health of your heart.

So back to the treadmill, no sports bra, double D situation and oh every few minutes they have to also take your blood pressure while you’re still running hooked up to all of the wires by placing one arm on a nurses shoulder standing next to you all while you are at a fast speed and high incline. If you know me well at all, then you know I am VERY accident prone. I’m concentrating so hard on not flying off the back of the treadmill that is now angled basically straight up towards the sky, holding my breasts for dear life so they don’t hit me in the face, and also trying not to take the nurse with me on my way down. (Thank you Whitney “Dancing on the ceiling” helped, may you RIP)

Don’t fly off back of treadmill and beat the clock while getting my heart rate over 150 BPM. My two main objectives. That and basically do not have a heart attack in the middle of the stress test like I did back in 2015 that NO ONE saw coming and created quite the Gray’s Anatomy episode but in real life. Stomping along at a quick pace with my short little muscular legs, I’m starving because there’s no food or drink 4-6 hours before with the exception of water. All I want is an iced americano with a splash of cream and a Peanut Butter Perfect Bar (thank you Megan W. for introducing me to the gateway drug protein bar).

I reached my point of exhaustion, beating last year’s “record” (although they keep repeating to me that it’s not a competition) and then they whipped me around quickly in what felt like a choreographed dance, and had me back over to the table for the 2nd round of heart acho (aka heart ultrasound) to compare before exertion and after. This part is really not much fun after you’ve worked up a sweat and are out of breath. Plus, I have asthma from years of being a former smoker so my face is now almost as purple as the stupid medical shirt.

Dizzy and catching my breath, I quietly whispered, “Did I pass?” (Please say yes, please say yes, I can’t tell what any of your War Games inspired screens mean) Although they told me my cardiologist would need to review and assess the reports, that overall things looked good. HOORAY! I did hear them whisper about something that my doc would need to take a closer look at in the results, but I’m guessing they’re just so impressed with how BIG my heart is that is probably what they were whispering about. (Insert winky face emoji here) AND, for now for the best news ever. Drum roll please!… I now have the heart of an 36 year old! I’m basically the Benjamin Button of Seattle and it’s for sure time to lower my age requirements on the dating apps I’m on. Younger men you better watch out, there’s a new cougar in Issaquah on the loose!

Benjamin Button
Alysse “Cute as a” Button

At my core, I’m a storyteller (with humorous undertones) and my best stories are my real life experiences. I hope to continue to share more about what happened around my heart disease leading up to it, how I’ve lived with in over the last four years, but for now, my 36 year old heart wants to get away from this screen time and go do something fun and wild. And by fun and wild, I mean a hot bath and a Netflix binge. My heart may be 36 but my body is still 44. Thank you for giving me a piece of your time and maybe even a little piece of your heart. Time is the most valuable thing we have and the fact you spent it reading my story, means the world to me. Especially if it helps you or someone you know.

American Heart Association – promoting healthy and regular walking tips

If you are someone you know are experiencing any heart related symptoms or want tips on how to have a healthy heart, please check out this page from the American Heart Association as a resource or go to your nearest hospital.

To read more about story, that includes a video of me speaking at the Go Red for Women luncheon for the American Cancer Association go here.

This wasn’t far off from my real life experience. I encourage all busy women to take 3 minutes and watch it,

1 Comment

  1. Nancy Smith
    August 29, 2019 / 11:14 pm

    Beautiful black & white photo. Interesting & entertaining story, Alysse!

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