Making a healthy recovery
If you are recovering from heart disease, help yourself heal by:
- Being a quitter. Take this time to review your old lifestyle choices and how they may have contributed to your illness. Cigarettes, daily fast food, endless snacking and lots of time parked on the sofa—you must hear your heart’s plea: Out with the old lifestyle, in with the new.
- Chilling out. Stress is a fact of life. How you cope with tension may need adjusting. Years of a hot temperament, merciless driving and taking no time off may have contributed greatly to your heart disease. Better to lighten up and live.
- Asking for help. Depression, though common in cases of heart disease, should never be accepted as a fact of life. Today, many treatments for depression are available. You should never feel “weak” consulting with a doctor for feeling sad. Feeling better emotionally is part of recovery, too.
- Believing it. You may be able to add years to your life simply by believing in your therapy and following it—and calling upon your human capacity for overcoming adversity.
- Rolling with the changes. Heart disease changed your life forever but not necessarily for the worse. Many recovered patients report a greater appreciation for living every day in full measure. And they’ve slimmed down, look and feel better and have stopped smoking.
Fixing broken hearts
Spiritual and emotional support following a heart attack is considered as important as proper diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes. Besides family and friends, recovery may include these other sources: pastors, ministers, rabbis or clerics; counselors with experience in family health issues; support groups; volunteer groups like The Mended Hearts, a national organization of coronary disease survivors with many local chapters; lectures and speakers’ panels at your local college or community center or library; and books and publications, especially on self-help topics.
When facing an uncertain future involving heart disease, it’s not just the recovering patient who wonders where life is leading. Spouses, children, family members and friends are doing it, too. Although the disease may not have struck them personally, these loved ones still feel its impact—both physically and emotionally.
Modern heart-disease care is a three-way intersection where doctors, patients and supporters come together to enhance the recovery process. There are ways the doctor’s office can help, but there also are limits. Likewise, the patient can do only so many things for himself or herself before turning to others. As a result, feelings of helplessness may ensue. For family and friends, the sudden burden of caregiving can be a challenge, to say the least.
Life on the mend
Fortunately, abundant medical resources, educational materials and support groups can provide vital help in getting heart patients and loved ones through the recovery process. At the root of all successful support is communication and understanding what each person at the “intersection” is capable of. For health practitioners, it’s providing medical guidance, prescriptions, follow-up therapy, dietary changes and the calming, reassuring influence of a professional point of view.
For family and friends, support takes on a daily, more personal aspect. If the patient must recover in the hospital first before going home, he or she may be agitated or angry about what has happened. Remember never to take a patient’s outburst personally.
If your loved one is recovering from coronary disease, heart attack or stroke, here’s how you can help:
- Put your normal routines on hold and coordinate visits, get-well-soon gifts and errands.
- Assist the medical staff with the patient’s meals, bathroom breaks and hallway walks.
- Reassure the patient that matters at home and work are under control. Solve problems yourself if at all possible.
- When words fall short, let your affectionate gestures offer love and encouragement.
- Help your loved one stay on a healthy track when he or she comes home. Support the rehabilitation process by making sure he or she follows doctor’s orders, including taking medication, eating a special diet and exercising.
In it together
Though the physical crisis has passed, it’s natural for the patient to feel that people don’t appreciate what he or she is going through. Don’t become defensive—instead, let your loved one express his or her feelings while you remain supportive, reassuring and calm.
If you must change roles and become the decision maker for a while, the recovering patient might begin to feel like he or she is “in the way.” Again, empathy and reassurance are key.
Listen carefully to the words your loved one uses to describe his or her condition: Was the experience “terrible,” “horrible,” “scary”—or was it “lucky,” “a wake-up call,” “a good lesson”? Is “life over,” or is he or she “happy to still be here”? How patients use language will tell you how they view their prognosis … whether they are surrendering or embracing their second chance.