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Imagine it’s 2:00 am. Heart is racing; feel the fast thrump, thud, thrump vibrating sternum at centre of chest. Sleepless due to pain in legs; up “crafting” but the thrump, thud is distracting. Not unusual: anxiety attacks quicken the heart; after eating, stomach screams for blood, more blood, and heart beats over backwards to comply.
Had been issue with a med (increased heart rate – up over 100), so added drug (beta blocker) to lower heart rate (down to the 70s). So, in habit of monitoring heart rate. As ease off these meds slowly, watch heart rate stabilize. Blood pressure rising. (Despite years of abuse and even when stressed bp usually on or under 110 over something in the 70s). Pain, stress, doc. appointments raise top number on occasion. But notice gradual creep; especially the diastolic (resting/bottom number).
Check blood pressure: 167/104. Heart rate, despite the racy feeling, 77. No symptoms of stroke or heart attack. Just the steady, unrelenting thrump, thud. (Earlier echocardiogram made heart beat sound like a pod of whales or a ufo; only slight anomaly on back pressure.) Scary for me. Dad was only a few years older when mistakenly given a heart stress test (his complaint was pain in his legs). Bang. Quadruple bypass. In the early 1980s when open heart surgery not so routine. Didn’t have chest pains til AFTER the surgery (cracked his ribs to get at heart!). Have natural high cholesterol like Dad. Though now look more like mother’s side (it’s the right side, just beside the mouth crinkle that gives it away), used to be told looked like Dad’s side. Great-uncle with angina.
THRUMP, THUD. Getting more insistent. 2:30 am take small piece of beta blocker, a generic xanax, lay down with my ninja blood pressure lowering squirrel and listen to hypnotic healing CD on listening to your symptoms. Imagine dykelands as safe, comfortable space. (On mind after happy place photo essay). Perhaps the images that follow when giving shape to my symptom – high blood pressure and thumper in my chest – result of dykes and familiar territory, family history, or . . .
Grande Pré National Historical Site highlights Acadian life, especially their expulsion by the British in 1755. The Acadians were mostly french peasants who immigrated to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (L’Acadie) in the early 1600s and bringing with them dyke technology and an independent spirit. As part of familial and communal efforts, they created and maintained a series of dykes along the salt marshes, particularly on the Nova Scotia side of the Bay of Fundy. These dykelands become rich farm lands. Wanting mainly to be left alone to grow their families and their farms, first inter-French fur trade rivalries and then larger geopolitical battles (mostly elsewhere) keep the area changing hands (France to England to France to England). Seen as a threat to British stability in the region, the Acadians were rounded up, put on ships, and sent to the far reaches of the first British Empire.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published the mostly fictitious poem Evangeline in 1847 having heard the story of the Acadian deportation (1755 from Grand Pre area) and diaspora, Acadian wandering (Acadian = Cajun = Louisiana), (listen to Acadia Driftwood by Robbie Robertson of The Band), and eventual resettlement mostly in fishing villages along the coasts. The dykelands in NS were occupied by New England Planters who had arrived, by invitation of the Governor in the 1760s. From farmers to fishers, the proud Acadians remade their families and communities despite the years of wandering and loss.
There is a bust of Longfellow at the Park. Longfellow had never been to Nova Scotia when he penned the poem. The bust looks just like my father (who is from the South Shore of Nova Scotia). In my imagining while listening to the CD, I see the shadow of my father standing beside the bust. What is my symptom telling me? Am I directing it towards the family heart issues, or is it directing me?
The symptom then morphs (as it is allowed to do) and re-establishes itself as the statue of Evangeline in the park. Supposedly, if you walk a 180 around her, you can see her go from young girl about to be wed to her childhood sweetheart (Longfellow was a romantic!) to the weary, old woman she becomes wandering North America looking for her beloved. (The women and children were separated from the men, Acadian houses torched, and because of extended family connenctions did spend years reuniting). Prominent behind the statue is the replica Acadian church and off to the side, gnarled, almost vertical willows supposedly dating back to the Acadian period.
Still listening to the CD, “changing, rearranging.” and in my mind’s eye, I sit of the steps of the church for a while, resting, before going inside at viewing the murals of Acadian life and the artifacts dug up over the years. I continue with the exercise. (Sometimes I fall asleep before I finish listening!) Struggling to understand what is me, what is my predisposed vision given the symptom, and what my unconscious/subconscious mind/symptom is trying to tell me. Go back to the past? Remember before the pain? Lose yourself in nature? Remember when you had dreams and aspirations? Spirituality? Heart issues? Keep life simple?
I did drift off, still pondering meanings. The next morning, my bp was down to 94/66 with a heart rate of 78. I’ve continued to take a small piece of the beta blocker everyday (though my pressure hasn’t been that low since the next morning. As soon as I feel the racy thrump, thud (not associated with anxiety or food) I take 1/2 generic xanax, and if I can, lie down for awhile. My sleep patterns are still disturbed, so I nap when I can. I bought some aspirin just in case I feel like it’s really a heart attack. I haven’t listened to the CD since that night earlier this week. I sometimes listen with a symptom in mind; other times, I let the symptom come to me. Seems like there is still a lot my heart and I have to talk about.
In general, women need to begin to dialogue with their hearts. See sites like the red dress campaign or the heart association to learn more about woman and heart health. Remember, the signs of a heart attack in women can be DIFFERENT than those for men.
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And August 15 is (inter)national Acadian Day! And, as a side note: Acadian french is not like Québécois french which is not like Parisian french which is not like Haitian french which is not like North African french which is not . . .