The definition of body language is, “the process of communicating nonverbally through conscious or unconscious gestures and movements.” But, I’m thinking of something different. I’m here to discuss how your body speaks to you. If you are sick, your body might ache, and your temperature rise. These are straightforward messages from your body. However, sometimes, the language is more subtle. Let me tell you a story to illustrate what I mean. It’s Martin Luther King’s birthday, 2016 about 12:39 am.
I awoke in extreme pain. I had a toothache. It’s the kind of pain you feel when you require a root canal. I got out of bed, walked into the kitchen and got a drink of water. As I wandered around the house, the pain began to subside. I was exhausted and asked myself, “Did I really feel that?” I finally convinced myself it was my imagination and went back to bed.
A few hours later, the pain returned. I’ve undergone a root canal, and I know the pain doesn’t come and go. I was also aware that when having a heart attack, one can experience referred pain. Instead of feeling pain in your chest, it can be in your head, neck, arms, or back. I figured I’d better check this out — and I did. I went straight to Dr. Google. I looked up angina. There’s stable and unstable angina, the latter indicating a heart attack.
Not having graduated from medical school, but considering myself an excellent diagnostician, I determined I did NOT have a heart attack. Mind you, I had just read on the Mayo Clinic site that unstable angina occurs even at rest (I was asleep) and often is unexpected.
My doctor’s office would be open in a couple of hours, and I decided to call her. In the meantime, I took a shower, dressed, and worked in my office.
I explained to the receptionist I believed I might be having angina. The doctor got on the phone and asked for my symptoms. I told her what had occurred and she said, “Go to the Emergency Room.”
I countered with, “Well, I thought I’d just come to your office.”
“I don’t have time to drive you to the ER. Go to the hospital … and don’t drive yourself.”
After some blood tests, chest x-rays, and EKGs, a young ER doctor came to the room I was in and said, “You’ve had a heart attack.” Quite frankly, he looked to me to be about 19. What could he possibly know? Apparently, more than I. Within minutes a very tall cardiologist walked in and said, “You’ve had a heart attack. We won’t know the severity until you have a cardiac catheterization.”
Ten hours had passed since I felt the first pain. Also, I’d experienced fatigue, another symptom of a heart attack. What did I do as I was having a heart attack? I went back to bed, diagnosed myself, worked in my office, and yes, took a shower! Had my occlusion been in a different artery, those decisions could have been fatal.
Like many victims of a heart attack, I looked at the event and my quick recovery and figured, that’s it — I’m well. I actually thought, “Is that all there is to a heart attack?” What I didn’t consider is the cause and effect aspect. The heart attack was fixed with a stent. However, the underlying cause, cardiovascular disease, was still with me.
Almost one year to the date of my event, I was exercising more rigorously than usual in Cardiac Rehab when I began feeling some pressure in my jaw. No pain, just pressure. I stopped and asked someone to take my blood pressure. It was elevated from exercise, but nothing concerning. So I continued my routine. As I was leaving, I mentioned what had happened to a nurse. She said to call my doctor. I did and was told to come right in. My doctor, in turn, called my cardiologist and within a week I was back in the cath lab.
I had somehow avoided a second heart attack. However, my Left Anterior Descending Artery (a/k/a WidowMaker) was 95% occluded. This event was potentially worse than the earlier heart attack.
Your body speaks to you. I pretty much ignored my first cardiac encounter. Fortunately, even though the second message was much more subtle, I listened. Quick action saved my life.
Here are my rules to live by. First, listen to your body. Second, know your numbers:
Blood Pressure: The new “Normal” is less than 120/80
Triglycerides: Normal is less than 150mg/dl
Cholesterol: LDL less than 70 (it was 100); HDL more than 40
Third, get some exercise. You don’t need a gym. Go for a walk in the park or if the weather is not conducive, go to a mall. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of exercise daily.
Oh, and if you’re still smoking, STOP!
Our bodies speak to us when something is wrong, in a language that is sometimes confusing or subtle. In our busy worlds, we tend to ignore the message or pull a Scarlett O’Hara saying, “I just can’t think about this now. I’ll think about it tomorrow.” But here’s the rub: tomorrows aren’t guaranteed.
Editors Note: This was a speech given at Miracle Mile Toastmasters on March 7, 2019.