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Coping with Coronary Artery Disease 2


Coping With A Loved One’s Coronary Artery Disease - Part 2

Carla Ledbetter
continues her account

What's it like for the family when a loved one is diagnosed with coronary artery disease and undergoes a bypass operation? Carla Ledbetter explains in this second of a series of articles.


Since my husband has been the recipient of two quadruple bypass operations, we are well versed in the emotional ups and downs patients experience when dealing with this disease.

Strangely enough, cardiac patients experience emotions similar to those that people feel when they lose a loved one. Sounds strange? It really isn’t – they’re grieving for the loss of their feeling of invincibility. Whether we care to admit it or not, most people unconsciously think they are, to a certain degree, invincible. Bad things happen to other people – not us. Being diagnosed with coronary artery disease and undergoing a subsequent bypass operation shatters that illusion completely. For the first time in their life, the patient finds out he/she isn’t invincible. They are, in fact, vulnerable, and it’s a very frightening realization.

How can you expect your loved one to feel after being diagnosed with coronary artery disease?

The first emotion to deal with is denial and, to a certain degree, isolation. Patients think, "This can’t be happening to me. There must be some kind of mistake." Many people will get a second opinion to confirm the diagnosis.

Denial is a normal response to any loss -- you simply don’t want to believe this could happen to you. Patients usually feel very alone during this stage and wonder, "Why Me? What did I do to deserve this? Why can’t this be happening to somebody else?" The emotional support of a family member can be very beneficial at this time. Let the patient know you’re there for them, and you’ll help any way you can. Sometimes, just holding their hand and squeezing their fingers can be a tremendous help in dealing with the shock of learning they have coronary artery disease.

The next emotion a patient will feel is Anger. Unfortunately, this anger can be directed toward anybody they encounter - family, friends, co-workers and themselves. Depending on their personality, they can try the patience of a saint. Since a spouse or partner is the one they spend the most time with, the spouse is usually the one who bears the brunt of this anger. Even though you might be tempted to "reach out and choke someone", patience and understanding will generally get better results. Encourage the patient to talk about their anger – let them "get it off their chest" so they can move past this emotional phase toward a healthier attitude.

What’s next? Depression – to a degree they’ve never experienced before. Their entire world has been turned upside down by this terrible disease, and they can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes they feel like they have no future, nothing to live for. At this time, your emotional support is critical. It’s up to you to help them realize that the diagnosis of coronary artery disease isn’t a death knell. It is, in fact, the opposite! Being diagnosed means they can get a second chance at life. Try to help them realize that although they have this disease, at least they have the advantage of knowing about it, and can work on keeping it under control.

What if they hadn’t found out about it ? The consequences might have been fatal; they might not have had a future to look forward to. Knowing about this disease and keeping it under control is the key to their future.

If your loved one still has great difficulty dealing with depression, you need to contact their doctor and let them know. There are many medications they can prescribe for the patient to help them deal with depression. There are also professional counselors who can help the patient through individual or group therapy sessions. Sometimes talking with other people who are experiencing the same feelings can help them move forward.

The last emotion a patient experiences is Acceptance. This doesn’t mean they will become the cheerful, happy person they were before being diagnosed with coronary artery disease. It simply means that they've decided to adopt a healthier attitude toward their disease and have managed to come to terms with what’s happening to them. This is the point where they decide to move on with their life.


Dealing with the emotional aspects of coronary artery disease isn’ t a quick process. Some people take longer than others to move through these emotional plateaus. Even when you think your loved one has moved from one emotional phase to another, it’s not uncommon for them to re-experience depression, anger, etc. The key to helping them through this lengthy journey of ups and downs is patience, understanding and love.

We can’t possibly know everything they are experiencing because it isn’t happening to us. What we can do, however, is be there for them. Sometimes just listening to what they have to say can help them tremendously. The most important thing to remember is that they need not make this emotional journey alone.



View Carla's previous article in the series'



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