Nurse Jane Drucker’s dream job as the Wellness Director of an assisted living facility turned into a nightmare when stress and unhealthy life choices overtook her life. One day at work, she suffered a heart attack. Drucker talks to Scrubs magazine about the moment she hit rock bottom and how she turned her life around for her heart.
Scrubs: What was your workload like before your heart attack?
JD: I was the Wellness Director of an assisted living facility. I was working under an enormous amount of stress. In the beginning I thought, “This is going to be my dream job.” Then I soon learned that many individuals enter assisted living facilities very debilitated, needing extended rehabilitation services or long-term care. As Wellness Director I was under constant pressure. I was on-call 24-7, and was called even through the night for multiple problems ranging from staffing to constant issues with the residents. The stress from work took its toll on my health.
Scrubs: What was your lifestyle like outside of work before the heart attack?
JD: My lifestyle several years before the heart attack was very unhealthy. I rarely exercised. I tried to eat the right foods, but not in the right amounts. I suffered from insomnia and got very poor sleep, if any. About three months before my heart attack, my husband and I woke up and knew we had to change our lives to reduce weight and our stress levels. We both made it a point to get home at the same time, on time, so we could walk before dinner. Some nights I really raced out of work, looking forward to our walking trail and unwinding from a crazy day.
We walked every day for two months straight. We felt great and started losing weight and eating better. August started getting very hot, so we slacked off a bit, but still managed to get some miles in. We were up to walking five miles a day. Then at the end of August 2009, at work during a morning meeting, I had my heart attack.
The doctor said since I didn’t have a family history of heart disease or high cholesterol, what might have happened is I had a spike in my blood pressure, which sheared off a clot and sent it moving. The clot lodged in a small branch of a major artery. The artery was too small to stent or do angioplasty, so they left it alone.
My body created collateral circulation—circulation around the blockage also called an auto-bypass. They said my other blood vessels were in great shape. I was told it was a good thing I started a healthier lifestyle a few months prior to the heart attack or the situation might have been much worse.
Scrubs: How did your lifestyle change after your heart attack?
JD: I continued to lose weight and get in shape through cardiac rehab and then bought an elliptical trainer in January 2010, which helped during the winter months. I took part in a couple of weight-loss contests at work and eventually lost a total of 23 pounds and got in the best shape of my life. Not going back to the job that was killing me helped, and I continue to manage my stress by recognizing it and not letting it take control of me.
A big stress reliever and reducer is playing with my dogs, walking my dogs or just walking it off. I try to keep track of my calories, eat multiple small meals and find the time to exercise. Now, a year and half later, I am still down 23 pounds and working on taking off a bit more weight. My blood pressure remains low and I was able to cut my BP medication in half with weight loss and exercise. My cholesterol is under control and I am not on medication to lower it.
After the heart attack, I changed jobs and am now working as the coordinator for HELP (hospital elder life program) on a unit dedicated to acute care of the elderly at Ocean Medical Center in Brick, N.J.
Scrubs: What’s your advice to other nurses about being heart healthy?
JD: Listen to your body and take good care of it. My problems quietly crept up on me and I did not heed the warning signs of migraines and insomnia, and then my blood pressure slowly started to rise. At the same time my weight started to slowly go up. All these things together spelled disaster.
I now look at food as fuel. Only eat what you absolutely need. Make smart choices, and if you want to indulge now and then, take a very small bite of something or split a dessert with someone. This can be just as satisfying. Then push the rest away and you will feel very proud of yourself instead of miserable for overindulging.
Eat simple foods and avoid processed items. Stick to a Mediterranean-style diet. Increase the fiber in your diet. Don’t go crazy over what kind of exercising to do. Just get moving. I think nurses are in a mind-set as the caregiver and don’t think a lot about illness happening to them, because they’re always in the role of treating and caring for the patient. But it’s easy to become the patient if you’re not taking care of yourself, and I’d much rather be the caregiver.
Jane Drucker started her medical career 32 years ago as a medical assistant working for many different kinds of specialists including Internal Medicine, Orthopedics, Pulmonology and Urology. After a short break, she went back to school, obtaining an AAS degree in Respiratory, and worked 11 years as a Registered Respiratory Therapist. She returned to school to obtain an AAS in Nursing, and has been working as an RN for 12 years. She is currently enrolled at Kean University in the RN to BSN program. She is ANCC certified in Gerontology, is a Reiki Level III practitioner and currently works for Meridian Health at Ocean Medical Center in Brick, N.J.