Pretty Lady Chronicles: But You’re A Pretty Lady

A few months ago, I ventured out to do a little shopping at one of my favorite stores. I could walk with ease, was only experiencing slight shortness of breath and had no swelling. This made for the perfect time to try on new clothes or shoes. This was a good day!

A strange, familiar look

After deciding on a few items to try on, I headed to the fitting room. After the attendant counted my items, I walked towards the lone handicap door. It was occupied by a few teens at the time, so I went back to the front to wait for my turn. The attendant looked at me, stating there were other rooms available. “Yeah, I know, but I need to use the handicap accessible unit.” She gave me a strange, but familiar look. I decided to elaborate.

The invisible side of heart failure

Most people can't see that I’m overcoming heart failure. I described the implanted mechanical pump attached to my heart. Then held up my bag showing the driveline coming from underneath my shirt. 

More on this topic

I know, my friends have told me I don’t have to explain or share my disability; but I’ve learned to use these moments as opportunities for awareness and advocacy for heart failure and invisible disabilities. I continued to explain.  The driveline is a cord that comes out my side, leading to a controller, and two VHS tape sized batteries in my bag. All of these mechanical components supply power to the LVAD pump attached to my heart. Oh yeah — I’m bionic too! Lol!

But you're a pretty lady

At this point, I had finished sharing my journey, which is also my testimony. The attendant looked at me, and she completely blindsided me. The expression of pity on her face, as though I had one foot in the coffin, couldn’t prepare me for what she was about to say next — “But you’re a pretty lady.”

You see, my facial expressions tend to tell my thoughts. So I turned my head, looked at the wall, and thought 'What the hell, really?' I was in a momentary state of shock. I'm essentially walking around with portable life support. With everything I had shared with her, she threw me this sort of consolation prize because after all— I’m a pretty lady?

I immediately called my friends when I left the store, no longer in shock but able to laugh it off in disbelief. I wasn't prepared to respond, but how could I be? That moment was another harsh reality that comes along with living with heart failure. Not only is the condition invisible, but so very misunderstood.

Protect your heart, body, and soul

Heart failure can come with an array of symptoms that often occur as sudden onsets. You can’t always see when I am short of breath or experiencing chest pains. My fluid retention doesn’t always show as swollen ankles, legs, or eyelids. There are times when the inflammation in my chest is so tight, I can’t walk 20 feet, let alone lay flat at night. You can’t see anxiety and PTSD which can be brought on by a feeling. For example, the funny way I felt the morning I went into cardiac arrest. Yeah, don’t let the pretty fool you.

Thank you

Looking back though, today I would say, “Thank you. I appreciate the compliment, but I have a few requests. Tell your family & friends that you met this “pretty lady” who looked like the picture of health, and in speaking with her as she waited on a handicapped fitting room, you learned she is overcoming heart failure. She wanted you to share to be your own best advocate by taking control of your heart health!"

Learn your family health history, know your numbers, move at least 30 minutes a day, and try to incorporate heart-healthy balanced meals into your daily routine. I’ve taken a little joy in being dubbed the “pretty lady.” Despite my diagnosis, I'm living life. I understand that my journey is not just for me. Through advocacy and awareness, we can help impact change and prevention. Please continue to follow the Pretty Lady Chronicles, as I share my journey of overcoming heart failure through life stories.

 

Tina Marie

#PRETTYLADYCHRONICLES

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