Communicate to Live: Tell Your Story

I enjoy inspiring, empowering and educating my patients. Recently during one such encounter I had just such an opportunity. As I often say to those unfortunate enough to be in a situation where they have to hear me; “you opened the door so I think I will walk right in.”

Those encounters are usually in the setting of a diagnosis of heart disease. In the case heretofore, a young African-American gentleman had a heart attack early one Saturday morning. I went to see him to discuss coronary artery bypass surgery which was necessary to treat his multi-vessel blockages. As my PA and I walked into the room, I noticed three others there, his wife and two teenage daughters, one sitting in the corner with the obligatory cell phone in hand and earplugs in ears. I thought, “here we go”, great time to give “the speech”.

After the usual greetings, and salutations, I asked him to “tell me your story.” “What happened to you?”

“Well, they say I had a heart attack.” “Ok, so what happened”? He went on to describe the pain that woke him up at 1:30 in the morning and how he began to have difficulty breathing, sweat profusely, become nauseated, threw up and eventually passed out on the floor.

I asked him why he thought this happened to him. He responded, “I don’t know, I’m in good shape.” “I carry heavy furniture up and down stairs all day.” I looked at him with a discerning stare. He got the unspoken message, acknowledged by his response. “I guess that doesn’t count, does it?” I just shook my head to indicate the big NO.

Luckily he didn’t go into cardiac arrest. EMS arrived in a timely manner, brought him to the hospital where he underwent a rescue angioplasty to the blood vessel that was blocked. The angioplasty was successful at restoring blood flow to this “culprit” vessel but there were many other blockages that would need to be bypassed in surgery to completely restore blood flow to his heart.

Now back to the story. “That’s a great summary of the last 12 hours, but what about the last 55 years?”

We walked through his family history which was littered with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and heart disease. And by the way, his father died of a massive heart attack, you guessed it, at age 55! Also, a brother had a heart attack in his 50’s.

So let’s try this again, “why do you think this happened to you.” He gave me a weird stare and looked over to my PA and inquired; “do you work with this guy every day?” She replied; “every day.”

The wife and girls were now completely engaged. I went on to summarize the “why?” He had all the common risk factors the most powerful of which is family history. We talked about what this meant to his children and their children. They are all now at risk and should do everything in their power to prevent this from happening to them.

So, tell your story. It may not seem psychologically sound but if nothing else, talk to yourself and be honest about your health status, risk factors and the things that you are or are not doing to maintain health.

In the words of the great Howard Thurman, “there is nothing more searching in its exhilaration than the experience of meeting the need in another person at the point that the need is most acutely felt.”

This is month serves the dual purpose of celebrating black history and raising awareness of heart disease. Therefore, over the next several weeks, I will be talking about both on a weekly basis starting with this post and leading up to my debut on ATL CONNECT RADIO on Monday, February 29th at 7:30 PM.

Have a great Super Bowl Sunday!!!! GO PANTHERS!!

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