Fixing My Heart
By Colleen Oakley
Read this and promise us you'll never whine about having a cold
When Amy Silverstein told her doctor she was having fainting spells, he
dismissed it as nerves. It was only after months of vomiting blood that it
became clear she needed a heart transplant. Immediately. At age 25, she was
given 10 years to live. Now, at 44, she has written Sick Girl, her
memoir of doctors, hospitals, her husband's coping strategies, and a near-death
MC: Ignoring a pounding heart and a few fainting spells is one thing, but I have to say that if I were throwing up blood ...
Silverstein: [Laughs] Well, that's what you say, but you have
to look at the context. I was in my 20s. I'd never known anyone who was ill. I
had one of the finest internists in New York, who told me early on that I had
low blood pressure and was stressed. I know it seems odd, but there's a part of
you that wants to believe you're okay. Besides, I was in law school — and what
first-year law student doesn't have a pounding heart? We want to believe in our
doctors' making little of our symptoms. It comes as a relief to hear that
you're a nervous hypochondriac.
MC: You ended up having a heart transplant.
Silverstein: About a year after the serious symptoms started, I had
congestive heart failure, which means the muscle wasn't working properly. Tests
revealed I'd had a virus in my heart, but the doctors thought I should be
better in six months. But six months later, my heart started to have lethal
arrhythmias that I'd have to be brought back from. At first, doctors thought
they could control them with medicine. But when they gave me a test to find the
right prescription, they lost me on the table. The doctor said that there were
no options; I needed a transplant. I was first on the recipient list but waited
in the hospital about eight weeks to get the transplant.
MC: It's not easy to live with a transplanted heart, yet your book is really the first time your friends and family had a glimpse of how hard it is.
Silverstein: Yeah. People don't recognize that it's hard because I'm
not toting around an oxygen tank, and I appear to be fine. I kind of live a
disguised life. When I get up from the table after a long dinner with friends,
they just walk to the door. I'm walking, and my heart is saying, "What are
you doing?" Most people take for granted that when you stand, your heart
speeds up immediately. Mine doesn't, and I get a feeling of "wrong" in
my body every time.