Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Can Illness Break a Heart? by Dr Kirk Laman

Hearts can be broken. We all know this. Most of us have had our heart broken by a relationship that has fallen apart.

We know the incredible feeling of despondency, that feeling of being lost, that comes when our heart has been shattered. Yet, relationships aren’t the only thing that can break a heart.

Our hearts can be broken by illness. Heart disease is truly one way that our hearts can be broken. Not long ago, a 50 year-old man, who I’ll call John, came to me with congestive heart failure. His heart was failing to pump blood effectively. It was weakened because of blocked heart arteries. When the blood supply to the heart is cut off, the muscle weakens.

Imagine tying a very tight rubber band around your finger. If you tied it tight enough your finger would turn red, then white, and finally if you left it on long enough your finger would begin to die. It would eventually turn black and whither away. You wouldn’t be able to move your finger. As the blood flow was diminished it would cease to function.

My patient’s heart was being strangled. Cholesterol blockages were causing his heart to wither away.

His heart was being broken, literally being physically broken. And at the same time his heart was being psychologically tormented. Because his physical heart was being pinched, his emotional heart was also experiencing a feeling of pinching.

As a cardiologist, I have seen that this is a common occurrence. If a person’s physical heart is damaged, it also affects them emotionally and psychologically. We cannot separate what happens at the physical level with what happens at the non-physical levels. Physical symptoms incite feelings.

John was afraid. When his ability to climb steps manifested and he saw his world shrinking, he became worried. Anxiety began to come. Soon he became paralyzed with emotional dysfunction.

His heart began weaken not just physically but also psychologically. In this state he became too frightened to even seek medical help. He ignored his illness. He wrote off his inability to climb steps as being out of shape. This went on for many months. Soon his legs begin to swell as he retained water. He put this off as eating too much salt. After awhile, his physical symptoms became impossible to ignore. He collapsed and was rushed to the emergency room

Illness is like this. We think that illness is something that affects us just physically but our psyches are inexplicably intertwined with our bodies. We cannot separate the two.

Illness can break the heart on many levels. It can bring fear and uncertainty into our lives. It can make us doubt ourselves. It can paralyze rational thinking.

What to do if your heart is breaking? If you have the sense that your heart is breaking whether psychologically or just physically- you have to take action.

1. Don’t stick your head in the sand. If you think something is wrong seek medical attention.

2. Recognize that physical illness can create psychologically illness.

3. Take steps to heal your physical illness.

4. Seek out ways to minimize your psychological trauma.

5. Find a counselor. Take up meditation, yoga, or consider the Sufi Technique of Practicing Remembrance.

You don’t have to let physical illness overwhelm you emotionally. You can find safe haven even in the midst of stormy weather.