When it comes to health, our spouses are just as important as our doctors.
Every few months it seems a new story pops up on how women need to be better advocates for their health. Doctors, these studies claim, just don’t take women’s pain or health concerns as seriously as they do men’s. Thus, if women don’t press for what their gut tells them, the potential to be mis- or under-diagnosed skyrockets. Same goes, actually, for our kids.
And then there’s the study about how married men are healthier than single men not simply because they eat and sleep better and take fewer physical risks, but because—get this—their wives nag them to get check ups. Say what you will, but nagging saves lives.
In fairness, it’s not just men who benefit from a little health-nagging in marriage, and a woman’s intuition doesn’t always save her life. Case in point: the harrowing and amazing story of Nashville attorney Sue Palmer and her terrifying encounter with “the widowmaker.”
When Sue woke at 5 a.m. feeling weird and rushing to the bathroom to be sick, she figured she was simply coming down with something. After returning her shivering self to bed only to rush to the bathroom again moments later, Sue again assumed she’d caught some quick-hitting virus.
But her husband, Tim, thought differently. A look at her pale face and a feel of her “cold, clammy forehead” scared him enough to suggest a trip to the ER. He told her he thought she was having a heart attack.
Though Sue appreciated his concern (Tim’s father had died at age 64 of a heart attack), Sue thought he was out of his mind. After all, Sue says, “I was 46. I just had a bit of a bug, probably a 24-hour thing. I just needed a little rest.”
Tim, Sue says, wasn’t having it.
Tim insisted, and they went. As she walked in the ER, Sue joked, “My husband thinks I’m having a heart attack.”
Of course, ERs don’t find that funny—and rushed her back to get hooked up to an EKG machine. After initial tests were inconclusive, doctors followed up with a bunch of questions, and a second EKG.
It was when a nurse returned with results of that second EKG, Sue says, that things got scary. Even though she still felt “fine.”
As nurses began removing her clothes and prepping her for surgery, a doctor came in to say they were going to take a look at her heart to see what was going on. The last thing she remembers was the white room with the bright lights—and feeling afraid, even as the doctor reassured her.
Sue awoke later to her husband telling her that she had indeed been having a heart attack—a “widow-maker,” as they call the type where the center artery (or LAD) is almost totally blocked. Two stents saved her life. As did, of course, her husband. And his intuition and nagging.
Turns out, Sue herself isn’t so keen on trusting our instincts. “I would tell you to trust your instincts—except in this case my instinct was to chalk up my symptoms to something else and to worry about whether the doctors and nurses would think I was crazy,” she says. “So I’ll say don’t trust your instincts, if your instincts are to wait and see what happens.”
However, Sue is keen on paying attention to when we don’t feel right. According to Sue’s doctor, “Nine out of 10 women with my symptoms would not have gone to the hospital,” Sue says. “I wouldn’t have gone either, if it weren’t for Tim.”
That said, we wonder if Sue’s gut wasn’t telling her something was wrong—and it was that fear, as she says, of looking like a fool or “overly emotional”—that could’ve killed her.
After all, experts say that we can trust our gut because our guts have “been cataloging a whole lot of information for as long as you’ve been alive.” Of course, that information extends to what others think of us. But as we see with Sue and Tim, it’s what our loved ones think—and push for—that matters and that save lives.
Read Sue Palmer’s original article She thought it was only a 24-hour bug. What she really had almost killed her in the Washington Post.
Note: It is a surprise to many that heart disease is the #1 killer of women in the US. Click here for signs of a heart attack — which often are different in women than in men.