It was a day like any other day – until it wasn’t.

Rocking the elliptical to A Hard Day’s Night, I suddenly stopped. Did some invisible vice just clamp on to my chest? The Beatles still blared in my headset, I started to pump again . . . nope . . . can’t breathe. Off the machine . . . slowly out the club door into the sweltering day. I watched my feet in slow motion as the sun magnified everything. Sweat dripped through my pores. The elephant sitting on my chest was an unbelievable load. Takotsubo? The heart blows out in the shape of a Japanese octopus trap. Really? And everything slowed down to match the thick soup of summer’s oppressive heat. If you’re a woman who lives with stress, or has lived through stress, you should know the word: Takotsubo. I didn’t. Until I did.

octopus seeks its prey
eight suctioned tentacles grab and twist
latch on to suck out life


It’s haibun Monday at dVerse Poet’s Pub where Toni is tending bar. She asks us to write a haibun (one paragraph of prose followed by a haiku) that relates to hot hot hot — perhaps a memory from a hot summer day. This is my memory. My experience. I urge all readers to read about Takotsubo, sometimes called Broken Heart Syndrome. It is real and frightening. In most cases, women completely recover with no lasting damage to the heart. I am, fortunately, one of those women, although it took three months. We must all learn to handle stress in our lives. It is a matter of life and death. Photo on left is a Japanese octopus catcher. Xray on right  shows the left portion of the heart blown out like a takotsubo….the heart does not pump efficiently. Take care of yourself out there!

46 thoughts on “Takotsubo

  1. Victoria C. Slotto July 25, 2016 / 2:58 pm

    Wow, I’d never heard of this–but it’s so true. Stress, too much of it, it a killer even though we need just enough to get us moving.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian July 25, 2016 / 3:14 pm

      Surprisingly, many docs and nurses in ERs and hospitals are not familiar with Takotsubo. It is real and quite scary. I ended up 4 days in hospital at Mass General — and they brought in groups of residents/student/nurses etc to see my chart, look at my EKGs etc. They used me as a teaching tool 🙂 So, here you go. Hopefully my haibun will be a teaching tool this week! 🙂


  2. kanzensakura July 25, 2016 / 3:18 pm

    Excellent work. I checked Duke’s Cardiac Center and they are starting work in this area, in the Women’s Cardiac Unit. Thank you for this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian July 25, 2016 / 3:20 pm

      Hope it acquaints folks with this.


      • kanzensakura July 25, 2016 / 3:23 pm

        They are an excellent university learning hospital. Years ago, my father had a massive cardiac event and was in CICU for six weeks. they finally deemed him strong enough to do a septuple bypass – operation took 9 hours….they do a lot of pioneer work most northerners are not aware of. They are known as the Princeton of the South.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Karen July 25, 2016 / 3:48 pm

    I just read about this in my book on gender medicine. It appears almost exclusively with women. The author concludes: “The ‘broken heart’ syndrome is yet another example of the truth behind the folk wisdom that described heartache as a result of sorrow long before its scientific basis was discovered.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian July 25, 2016 / 4:55 pm

      Yes — but where I have a problem is the “nickname” they’ve given a serious medical condition. If this was a male medical condition, would they have nicknamed it “broken heart syndrome” or talked about it as a truth behind folks wisdom…or describe it as heartache? Or would they have simply called it Takotsubo? I do mention it in my explanation — because this is the “popular” way of referring to it and what is easily remembered. But I believe this trivializes a medical condition that affects primarily women.

      It is also referred to as stress cardiomyopathy – again – a medical condition with medical terminology. It happens to women who try to absorb stress — and the stress is not just from a “broken heart” or “heartache” as in loss of a spouse or child or divorce. The stress can come from other things as well. For me, it was an accumulation of stress — two major illnesses within our family, my getting hit by a car as a pedestrian, probably the job I had during its last five years….etc.
      Takotsubo — stress cardiomyopathy — is a serious medical condition.


  4. freyathewriter July 25, 2016 / 3:52 pm

    I’d never heard of this before – thank you for sharing it. I need to educate myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian July 25, 2016 / 4:56 pm

      It is a medical condition that I believe all women and men should be aware of — especially in this day and age when many many people live with high stress.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dr. Crystal Howe July 25, 2016 / 3:59 pm

    Thank you for sharing, Lillian and so glad you’ve recovered! This is very important; I enjoyed your haibun.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian July 25, 2016 / 4:57 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it and yes — it is an important medical condition folks should be aware of.


  6. Misky July 25, 2016 / 4:24 pm

    I’ve never doubted that a person can die of a broken heart, my mother-in-law died within a month after her husband died. I had no idea that there was proper terminology associated with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian July 25, 2016 / 5:00 pm

      Do read my reply back to Karen. While it is true that this can happen with the stress of a loved one’s death, it is the stress — and for some this is cumulative — for example being a caretaker of an elderly parent or a spouse with dementia — or the stress of a high power job. It is mainly with post-menopausal women. I was referred to the Benson Mind Body Institute — and learned meditation and relaxation techniques which I still do daily. There is a reason why “mindfulness” is becoming very popular, used with athletes, in schools, etc.


  7. Grace July 25, 2016 / 6:59 pm

    How terrible this can be Lillian. Thanks for the information and link as well. I do know stress is a major blow and can wreck havoc to my health. I am taking it easy in between work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian July 26, 2016 / 8:55 am

      This post is so different from all my others. “Near and dear to my heart” comes to mind. Good to hear you take some time for yourself.


  8. Victoria Young July 25, 2016 / 8:35 pm

    Easy to think it’s not going to happen to me – until it does! Glad you’re now well writing. This is a really good reminder for everyone – especially in this heat. Written so well!

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian July 26, 2016 / 8:57 am

      Thank you, Victoria. Yep – the heat really is a cooker – in many ways. Thanks for reading! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  9. jillys2016 July 25, 2016 / 10:33 pm

    Yikes, Lillian! Stress is certainly a monster and you wrote this so well. The short lines add a punch to the subject.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian July 26, 2016 / 8:58 am

      Thanks, Jilly. The subject, as the saying goes, is near and dear to my heart!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Charley July 25, 2016 / 10:52 pm

    Great haibun. Scary haibun. Scary reality! I’ll pass this one on….

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian July 26, 2016 / 8:59 am

      Thanks, Charley. A good one to pass on to the women in our lives. Too many are totally unaware of this medical condition.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. katiemiafrederick July 26, 2016 / 1:11 am

    SMIles.. to
    use another
    woman’s phrase..
    it used to be an
    old wive’s tale that
    stress would kill.. it does
    kill.. not just with this interesting
    and somewhat frightening disorder
    of Woman’s Broken Heart syndrome
    in cardiomyopathy way.. but also auto-
    immune disorders.. including Fibromyalgia..
    respiratory problems that are of course
    pArt and parcel of heARt problems
    too.. and i dealt with Dysautonomia
    for 66 full months.. from constant
    fight or flight stress for two years
    at work before 19 total
    stress associated
    illnesses came
    very close
    to killing me then..
    anyway.. in that
    condition the nervous
    system would not properly
    control the autonomic function
    of blood pressure and heart rate
    together in synch.. ugh.. faint from
    just eating a meal.. blood not getting
    to the head in heat.. all the environment
    was oppressive then.. and body ice cold
    in Winter too.. anyway.. i fully recovered
    like an Olympic Athlete at age 56 now..

    Stress kills
    like literal acid
    on the brain in
    stress hormone way..

    And sure i am a little high
    as the doctor’s say..
    after escaping
    hell in stress
    way then..;)

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian July 26, 2016 / 9:01 am

      Ah, kindred spirits we are Katie! Survivors both. Thanks as always for the thoughtful read.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. kim881 July 26, 2016 / 2:31 am

    I’m so glad that you’ve recovered and are able to write about this. I’d never heard of Takotsubo and I will be looking it up later. Your octopus metaphor haiku is impressive and really effective, Lillian.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian July 26, 2016 / 9:03 am

      Do read about it Kim. All women should be aware of this condition. Interesting – you’re one of the few who commented on the haiku part – the prose section is where the “message” is for all . I struggled with the haiku and then decided to shift to the sea creature itself…to give a different perspective. Glad you enjoyed.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Sumana Roy July 26, 2016 / 3:54 am

    chilling…any kind of stress Is a killer….and thank you for the link…

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian July 26, 2016 / 9:04 am

      You’re welcome, my friend. ❤️


  14. sarahsouthwest July 26, 2016 / 7:54 am

    Wow, amazing. A colleague of mine had this condition, and it pretty well destroyed her life. We separate “body” and “mind” far too distinctly in the west – it’s not a helpful distinction at all, as far as I can see. I love the clarity of your haiku, very well done. And I’m glad you are OK.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian July 26, 2016 / 9:10 am

      Thank you, Sarah. Feel free to pass this time on to your friend if you feel she would want to write it. I was deeply affected by it for three months and thought I would never be the same. I am normally a very active person and this slowed me down to a snail’s pace, literally. The walk in front of our building has a very very slight incline – so slight I’d never noticed it. The first time I went outside and had to walk back up to the building I stopped in my tracks – it looked and felt like I was walking up Mt Everset! The idea of meditation each morning – slow breathing – “expect the best” – not ruminating – and just taking 20 minutes each day to let go — all help the body and mind so much. Thank you for the read, Sarah.


  15. kaykuala (@hankkaykuala) July 26, 2016 / 9:38 am

    Takotsubo is a weakening of the
    left ventricle as a result of severe
    emotional or physical stress

    That’s what it says.Somewhat like a heart attack but not quite. It is good to be forewarned so as to be prepared. Thanks for highlighting it Lilian! It is an education.


    Liked by 1 person

  16. little learner July 26, 2016 / 11:24 am

    So well written. I love the way you compare the disease to an octopus.

    Thanks for sharing. Awareness perhaps will save someone else.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian July 26, 2016 / 3:18 pm

      Thanks for letting me know. Many many people should be aware of this!


  17. Misky July 26, 2016 / 2:39 pm

    Yes, I did read it. With interest. God help a woman depending on the NHS for help with this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian July 27, 2016 / 8:46 am

      Thank you. So glad you liked it and found it informative too.


  18. Bodhirose July 26, 2016 / 8:15 pm

    I had never heard of this either, Lillian. I lived through some incredible stress many years ago (while still married) that included chest pains and somehow I survived it. It’s amazing what the human body can withstand…until it can’t. Thanks for sharing this important medical information and glad you recovered. I’m wondering now what was your treatment during those three months?

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian July 27, 2016 / 8:54 am

      Treatment at the time: because it presents as a heart attack, including a rise in a particular kind of chemical in the blood, I was rushed into the catheterization lab to insure there was no blockage etc. No blockage — in fact, all very clear and in good shape except for the left ventricle as Hank mentions above. 4 days in hospital — recovering from catheterization and dealing with anxiety attacks (hyperventilation — which in turn put even more stress on the heart — it doesn’t pump efficiently during this condition — so lack of blood flow is a concern). Then three months of “listening to my body” — not too hard since walking up and down the hallway here in our condo building was an exhausting “exercise.” Some medication for hypertension — checking blood pressure at home — and prescription to see folks at the Benson Henry Mind Body Institute (google it) here where I learned more about stress, how to control it, meditation, and deep breathing. It took three months — usually takes less. Walked with cane and slower than you can ever imagine. The good news is that the heart usually goes back to its normal condition — evidenced by echocardiogram at end. If you read accounts of folks with this, they get very discouraged, feel their lives will never be the same. For some, I believe there is damage and it can result in death. For the greater percentage, it will “right itself” and hopefully never occur again.


      • Bodhirose July 27, 2016 / 12:31 pm

        Thanks for the added information, Lillian. It’s a miracle that this didn’t happen to me as I have suffered from anxiety and panic attacks since I was a child. More stress for me equals more anxiety and panic…medication when needed has helped immeasurably. I’ve had several echocardiograms through the years because my heart does tend to palpitations when especially stressed. Everything was fine though. It’s good that you spread the word when you get the opportunity. Why haven’t we heard of this before?? I hope you never have to go through that again too. What an ordeal!

        Liked by 1 person

      • lillian July 27, 2016 / 1:04 pm

        Check out the CD Ten Minutes to Relax: Living the Love Response. It is by Eva Selhub M.D. and contains guided imagery relaxation segments with accompanying music. Her voice is wonderful — there are 10 min segments followed by 10 more minutes of music…so you can choose to either do a 10 minute relaxation or the full 20. I started with her 10 minute voice, lying on floor, eyes closed in darkened room. Every morning. It is truly helpful! You can get it on Amazon and just download to your phone or laptop. I highly recommend it!!!


      • Bodhirose July 27, 2016 / 1:18 pm

        Thanks very much, Lillian. I’ve been meditating (on and off) for over 40 years. It definitely helps and I like those guided meditations.

        Liked by 1 person

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