Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Heart Broken: Pink Ribbon Envy


I’m lucky my heart isn’t broken—because, if it was, I’d be a lot more likely to die of it than my husband. Cardio vascular disease (CDV) is the number one killer of women in North America. In 2000, CVD killed over half a million North American women, more than twice as much as all cancers combined, yet only 8% of women polled identified CDV as a major health concern for XX genotypes. Even more shockingly, another study revealed abysmal ignorance on the part of American primary care physicians—only 1 in 3 knew that CDV was the leading cause of death for their female patients.

If I am lucky enough to know what heart attack or stroke symptoms feel like (back pain, numbness, headache, nausea, chest pain, etc.), and do make it into an ER or my doctor’s office, I’m statistically less likely to get the same set of diagnostics, surgical interventions, and follow-up medications as someone with a penis. Which is why I’ve got a 12% higher chance of dying than my husband does.

If you’re an African-American woman, your odds of dying are even better (and it doesn’t matter whether you’re rich, middle-class, or poor—the guy with the scythe is keenest on harvesting you). Good news for middle-aged men, though; your middle-aged wife is twice as likely as you are to die from CDV between the ages of 45-54 (it equalizes after that). I suggest carrying a nice insurance policy on her so that you can assauge your grief with a Porsche and a professional blonde.

There’s a highly visible campaign for breast cancer (it seems that at least once a month I’m forced to detour because a bunch of people in pink ribbons are running to raise money for breast cancer research and awareness) but very little for CDV in women. This despite the fact that a woman is 10 times more likely to die from CDV than breast cancer. Is it because the spectre of mutilation accompanies breast cancer--women turned into involuntary amazons, despite their lack of archery skills? Is it because breast cancer treatments affect a woman’s perceived sexual desirability? Did breast cancer just get a better media campaign? Or is it because all the good colours for ribbon campaigns have already been claimed?

All this to say—stop thinking of your heart as that cute cartoon character that cracks when a relationship goes south. Instead, ask your doctor what she or he knows about CDV and women. If they don’t know the facts, feel free to share the stats. If they get pissy about it, seriously consider finding a new physician. You’re reading this online, so Google women and heart disease and learn what the warning symptoms are. At least that way you can demand an ECG at the ER and threaten a lawsuit if no cardiac catherization is on the service menu. Ditto for follow-up appointments and medications with your doctor, should you be lucky enough to survive that moment when the heart breaks.

Death and taxes. We all like to do our level best to delay their arrival for as long as possible. So, if you’ve got a vagina (or care about someone who does), pass this on. Especially if, as Henry James so delicately and witheringly put it, they are of a certain age.And remember, “The heart has its reasons that reason knows not.” Pascal

23 comments:

august said...

Random impressions -- not entirely topical

One of my history teachers called it "the mighty triumverant" -- race, class, and gender. His point was that studies that try to differentiate along just one of those axes (man vs. woman, rich vs. poor, black white, etc) are much less convincing, and yet adding other measures (urban vs. rural, for example) seldom adds quite so much to the picture.

That being said, it often amazes me how much plain old seventies-vintage feminism has to say. I'm not saying that I want to go preaching the gospel of Dworkin, but some pretty fundamental inequalities are often ignored. Another thing that might interest you -- on bloggingheads tv (a Robert Wright project) there are periodic discussions of why there aren't more women bloggers.

That Pascal quote is one of my favorites.

We aren't good at calculating risk. We get more worried about terrorism than car accidents. We think of cities as dangerous, and yet New Yorkers tend to live longer than most Americans. On cars, my best guess is that we feel we have control (or responsibility), and so they are less scary than terrorists. But with a number of medical issues, I don't understand why we aren't better informed. In the U.S. (I'm assuming you're from the Great White North) at least, maybe it has to do with science education, or lack thereof.

Visigoths -- they are always around. It's actually not so much a separate group, as a set of behaviors that each of us sink into (often exacerbated by failure to go for a walk). I think the upside is worth the occasional barbarian invasion. Sooner or later, if you hang around, you will channel your inner Visigoth. It's unpleasant at the time, but, I don't know, I guess educational.

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