After a person has a heart attack and comes out of hospital, there is often an immediate period of feeling slightly anxious and upset, when there may be anxieties about another heart attack or whether or not life is going to get ‘back to normal’. This period is then replaced with a less stressful period where life does indeed seem to be becoming less challenging and there is almost an air of optimism about the future.
However, when undertaking research for an ‘ebook’ and talking to the wives and partners of someone who has had a heart attack, and from personal experience, it soon became clear that many people who have had a heart attack do not come out of hospital and have a straightforward recovery process. Often it is far from plain sailing and can seem like rough seas for those on the journey to recovery.
Caught on a Plateau?
Many wives and partners of heart attack survivors relate how they felt that there was a period of immediate recovery, followed by a period that didn’t seem to be leading anywhere; it was as if the survivor was caught on a plateau. They weren’t getting worse, but on the other hand, they didn’t feel like they were getting better.
This period often seems to bring new anxieties. There are fears that the recovery process will never be complete. There are fears that this period could be a precursor to another attack and there is also a sense of frustration over lack of progress. The anxieties and the fears then feed off the frustration and it can be a disheartening time for many, because they feel that they are never going to get better.
Somehow being aware that the road to recovery may not be a smooth one can help diffuse the frustration. Sometimes the immediate period after an attack is busy, with cardiac rehabilitation, practical considerations and many medical appointments. It is only after this period that the reality of what happened can sink in and around 1 in 3 people who have had an attack will have some kind of anxiety or depression and this can affect the recovery process.
Being aware of the risk of anxiety or depression and its affect on the recovery process can help you to feel less fearful if recovery is not wholly straightforward. We often assume that someone has a heart attack, gets better, end of story. Yet this is often far from the case and it is only through true understanding of what has happened and the risk of anxiety, depression, stress and so on that we can be equipped with the skills to support someone who has had a heart attack.
If you assume that the heart attack survivor will just come out of hospital and be ‘back to normal’ within weeks, then you will probably be disappointed. If you are realistic, aware and willing to be patient and understanding, then the road ahead may well be less difficult, so you need to simply accept that there may well be setbacks and keep your expectations down to earth. Take each day at a time and don’t expect miracles!