Silent whispers from our body come in many forms and may include aches or pains, emotions, gut feelings or just a sense that something is off.

It’s easy to ignore these signs, but by doing so we may be jolted to attention when, at last, our body screams.

Case in point. My Auntie Jean had many signs that something was wrong but waited to act. Thankfully, it did not cost her life. Many others aren’t as fortunate.

Auntie Jean is 85. I always enjoy visiting with her. She has a fun sense of humor, and we actually have a lot in common.

A few months ago she was cleaning the glass on the inside of her front windshield when she felt a sharp pain in her chest. She thought maybe she pulled a muscle and decided to head inside the house to take it easy.

As the day went on, the pain seemed to move around. It went from her arm to her shoulder and then her wrist. Her daughter called the pharmacy where Jean had recently received her COVID vaccine to see if anyone had reported similar reactions, but they said no.

Auntie Jean took Tylenol for the pain. She felt a bit of indigestion, too, but it was slight. The pain came and went, and sometimes in was in one arm and then the other.

With a nagging sense that something just wasn’t right, she looked up heart attacks on her iPad but did not feel the symptoms matched all that she was feeling.

She put in a call to her physician and explained her symptoms. The doctor told it that it sounded like she “overdid it” and to just rest and take it easy.

The symptoms went on for two days and she was not getting any relief from the Tylenol.

Finally, at midnight on day two, she was getting scared because the pain was not going away. She asked her husband to call 911.

When the ambulance arrived she walked to it and they put her on a gurney. After she explained her symptoms, they immediately did an electrocardiogram—also called an EKG or ECG—to check for signs of heart disease or a heart attack.

Next they gave her four aspirins and nitroglycerin and called ahead to the hospital’s emergency room to prepare for her arrival. In her mind she thought, I must be having a heart attack.

Auntie Jean was no stranger to watching loved ones who have suffered from heart disease and heart attacks. Her father’s seven brothers died from heart attacks in their 40s, and her own brother died of a heart attack in his 70s. But, she tells me, none of the girls in her father’s family had heart problems. It seemed the women had been spared.

Auntie Jean was alert and conscious on the ride to the hospital. When they arrived, she said, it was like a medical drama you might see on television—an entire team was waiting and descended upon her.

The team had just begun an echocardiogram test, which uses ultrasound to show how your heart muscle and valves are working, when she went into cardiac arrest.

She remembers waking up and asking what happened. They told her that her heart had stopped for two minutes and they used chest compressions to resuscitate her.

While my Auntie Jean’s symphony of whispers was not ignored, it was that one overwhelming feeling of fear (an emotion) that caused her to act and quite possibly saved her life.

Each of us is the keeper of our own health and well-being. Our bodies know what they need, and they know how to communicate with us. It’s up to us to listen to the whispers.

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