This Friday, February 3, 2017, is National Go Red Day. My family will participate, as we have for the last eight years. Here is my story.
I am an only child. I grew up not far from where I live now, in the outskirts of Boston, with my mom and dad. When Dan and I got married, we moved into an apartment in their three family house. When my son was born, and I returned to work part-time, my mom came to our house three days a week to watch him. We were close.
When my son was 18 months old, the stomach bug hit our house. Hard. First my son, then me, then my husband. We were in a fog, for sure. My mom ended up getting it, too. And then she just felt, as she said, lousy. Her 65th birthday was Valentine’s Day, and she wasn’t feeling well so we postponed her birthday dinner. President’s Day was that week, and my dad offered to take her to the ER, but she refused. She thought it was just the fact that she had been sick earlier in the week, because her shoulders hurt, and her jaw hurt, and she said it was probably just from the stomach bug.
The next night, my dad called me. She had a low grade fever, and wouldn’t be able to watch our son the next day.
My cousin offered to help that day, so I went to work and called her. She said she felt better. She would call the dentist about her jaw, she told me. She was fine. She would see me in the morning.
My father called at 3am. He had woken up in the middle of the night, and discovered that she wasn’t breathing. He called 911. She was gone.
My mom. It was completely surreal. I had just spoken to her. I had just seen her two days before. I didn’t get to say goodbye. That was it. My mother, the woman who brought me into the world, was gone.
It was truly the biggest shock to everyone we knew. My mom hadn’t been diagnosed with heart disease. She seemed, from all accounts, relatively healthy. I remember talking to my neighbor the night she passed and telling her all of the things my mom had complained about in the proceeding days — jaw pain and shoulder pain being her major complaints, and she told me those were the signs of a heart attack in women. I had no idea.
Turns out, the signs for women are totally different than they are in men. Jaw pain, vomiting, and shoulder pain, along with pains that mimic heartburn are all common signs in women. Heart disease is the #1 killer of women in the U.S.
Every year, I tell my story. To friends, on Facebook, whereever I can. If we had known the signs, maybe we could have convinced her to see a doctor. She would have seen my son grow, she would have met my daughter. I would have had my mom.
Please share my story with the women you love. To read more about this, you can check out the American Heart Association.