An Affair Of The Heart

Photo by Susan Crossett

Why, I ask, do we associate love with the heart?

It’s an emotion. Blame the mind part of the brain (not the seeing or, even quite frequently, the thinking part of the brain). Love frequently has no relationship to rationality.

We all know the image of Cupid, the Roman god of love: beautiful winged boy who carries a bow and arrows. I did not know he was blindfolded. Shakespeare echoes Chaucer: “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is wing’d Cupid blind.” (I will quote freely from a number of sources throughout this chapter.)

And Valentine? There were two St. Valentines martyred way back when but “the ancient custom of choosing valentines has only accidental relation to either saint, being essentially a relic of the old Roman ‘Lupericalia,’ or from association with the mating season of birds.” I suspect they were not thinking of western New York when they picked that date.

Permit me then to push all thoughts of love back to the mind while we concentrate on the heart.

Is it a heart attack or cardiac arrest? If one doesn’t get medical attention, it probably doesn’t matter because you’ll be dead. For the rest of us, let’s check definitions. Cardiac arrest is an electrical malfunction. The heart stops and blood cannot get to the brain, lungs or other organs. The victim cannot breathe or can only gasp until becoming unresponsive. According to the American Heart Association, cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death.

Rather than an electrical problem, a heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked. Some heart attacks are sudden and intense but most start slowly with mild pain or discomfort in the chest or in other parts of the upper body. Shortness of breath may or may not occur with chest discomfort. The victim may also break out in a cold sweat or experience nausea or light-headedness. I think most of us know that women’s symptoms can vary wildly. While a woman may experience shortness of breath, light-headedness, and nausea/vomiting, she may also feel lower back and/or jaw pain. Women are more apt to ignore or misinterpret the symptoms causing a lower rate of surviving a first heart attack. With a heart attack, symptoms begin slowly and increase in intensity over days or even weeks.

Nearly 40 percent of heart attack victims never make it to the hospital. Many — 120,000 a year — will die, largely because they didn’t seek help in time. “People will still sit at home and take antacids because they think it’s indigestion, or say ‘This can’t happen to me because I’m a woman.'”

There are things you can do to increase your chances of survival. Know the symptoms. Call 911. Please. It may be a false alarm. I’m sure the medics have seen this before. But at least you’re alive. And, while waiting for the ambulance, chew an aspirin. It would also be an immense help to be able to provide the attendants with a list of medicines you take. Obviously, this should be done in advance and kept up to date.

Better still of course to work to prevent heart disease all together. Women who don’t smoke, have a normal body mass index (BMI), get at least 2 1/2 hours of exercise a week, watch an hour or less of TV a day (that surprised me), ate a healthy diet and limited alcohol to a drink or less a day had a 92 percent lower rate for coronary heart disease.

Besides these stipulations, of course there is the need to watch one’s weight. Dave Barry had a good test to see if one was overweight: if you live in the United States, you probably are. Whittle your middle. Waist size should be less than 35 inches for women, 40 or under for a man.

If you’re taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) for chronic pain, consider an alternative. Acupuncture, hypnosis and chiropractic adjustments are only a few of the suggestions given.

Then there’s noise. Every 10 decibels of added roadway traffic noise near your home increases the death rate by 10 percent. Laughing out loud causes your blood vessels to dilate which helps improve blood flow. And stop stewing: forgiveness also helps reduce blood pressure. Cuddle more. Floss your teeth. Exercise until you sweat and get enough vitamin D.

Lots to work on here. Here’s wishing each a healthier year to follow.

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. “Her Reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” following in 2014. Both novels are now available at Lakewood’s Off the Beaten Path bookstore. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at