Heart attack: Denial can be deadly

One of my favorite movies is Something's Gotta Give with Diane Keaton. Why did she show up at the Oscars wearing her Annie Hall outfit? That is so '70s, and she didn't win the Oscar again in that outfit.

Anyway, Keaton's young daughter is dating old Jack Nicholson. While "fooling around" Nicholson starts to have chest pains, sweats, and shortness of breath. What does Keaton's daughter do? Not sure what to do, she calls for her mother– not 911. That's like from a bad horror movie: someone is coming at me with a knife and I'll just stand there and scream. (Anna Nicole Smith would take the sucker down!)

Keaton assesses the situation and realizes Nicholson is having a heart attack. She orders to her daughter to call 911– now! Then Keaton starts CPR on this man whom she despises.

Why was Keaton's daughter such a dumb-dumb that she didn't know to call 911 immediately?

Denial is more than a river in Egypt. Denial means, "This can't be happening. Oprah Winfrey really isn't singing her show's opening song. J Lo can't be getting married again. Liberace is just a nice man who lives with a nicer man."

It could be that Keaton's daughter wasn't educated like Diane, and so she didn't recognize a heart attack in progress. That's the whole point of CPR classes– they're more than just learning to do chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth respiration; they educate the public to identify heart attacks, choking on food, suffocation, heat stroke, etc.

Heart disease is the #1 killer disease in this country. It kills more Americans than cancer, AIDS, and bad breath. Myocardial Infarction (MI) is the medical term for an acute heart attack. The heart is a muscle that pumps blood to our body. The heart needs blood and oxygen just like the rest of our body. So the heart has coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood that contains oxygen.

If the coronary arteries get clogged up with cholesterol, blood flow to the heart slows down– kind of like how a sink drains slower when the pipes get clogged with bacon grease and hair. These cholesterol plaques can attract platelets and form a big clot to completely cut off blood supply to everything downstream. That is an MI: no blood supply to parts of the heart. In 20 minutes, the heart muscle suffocates and dies.

The symptoms of people who aren't getting enough oxygen to the heart include chest pains (a.k.a. angina) like an elephant standing on the chest (or a donkey, if you're a Democrat). People sometimes yell at me, "It isn't pain! It's a squeezing, pressure sensation." The "pain" can radiate down the left arm, and sometimes up the neck to the jaw. Sweating, shortness of breath, nausea, heart pounding, and lightheadedness all can occur as well.

It's important to get medical attention ASAP if these symptoms occur, because you want to open up the coronary arteries before heart muscle damage occurs. What happens if the heart muscles start to die? You can get an arrhythmia, which makes the heart stop beating faster than Mr. Peru stumbling at the Miss Universe Pageant. Also, you want to prevent heart muscle damage so that– should you survive– your heart will function like a Cadillac instead of an old jalopy.

Make sure you get your annual physical with your doctor, eat fruits and vegetables whenever you can, don't smoke, and get plenty of exercise to keep your coronary arteries clean and your heart in great shape.

The Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz will respect you for that.



Holiday 36