We are aware of different health problems, their causes and consequences. Mass media create favorable conditions in which we can find the required information and can be fully informed about our health. The information we get from television, newspapers, and online sources emphasizes the threat of heart diseases among women. We keep to the thought that heart diseases and strokes primarily hit men. Moreover, we cannot but admit that heart diseases are the major causes of human deaths. When reading the works of talented writers who lived earlier, we cannot but feel the impression of medical helplessness of that time.
Many of us understand that the diseases described in earlier literary works are no longer threatening to the contemporary reader. Certainly, this does not mean that the discussed works lose their relevance, but modern state of medicine makes it possible to look at such works from a different angle. In The Story of an Hour, Kate Chopin has depicted a young lady with a heart disease; she died of heart attack caused by extremely powerful emotions.
I am confident that our modern technologies and medicine could have helped Mrs. Mallard to avoid such tragic and evidently, too early death.
Mrs. Mallard’s heart disease
Kate Chopin was very distinct and explicit in her descriptions of Mrs. Mallard’s disease:
“Now her bosom rose and fell tumultuously. She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will – as powerlessness as her two white slender hands would have been.
When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: “free, free, free!” The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body” (Chopin)
Mrs. Mallard was young (Chopin). Her disease was well known and other family members were aware of her physical and emotional vulnerability. From the viewpoint of modern medicine and technology, Mrs. Mallard’s sister Josephine had been very cautious when she had to inform Mrs. Mallard of her husband’s death. At the moment of revelation, the words “free” uttered by Mrs. Mallard could either refer to her feelings towards her husband, or to the physical pain which was overwhelming and almost possessed her. Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with heart disease, and the coming doctors could only confirm she had died of heart disease. They were unable to do anything to save Mrs. Mallard or to prevent such tragic outcomes.
In this context, the issue can be discussed from the two different viewpoints. First, modern technology and medicine would have saved Mrs. Mallard from death which has become the result of the heart attack: modern emergency rescue techniques and transportation make it possible to save a person’s life even in the most serious life-threatening condition. Second, modern technology and medicine would have prevented heart attacks and would guarantee Mrs. Mallard long, stable, and relatively healthy existence with minor limitations. She would have been able to live a long life if contemporary medicines and technologies had been available to her.
“Women are at risk for heart disease and heart attacks, just like men. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death among women over 65. American women are 4 to 6 times more likely to die of heart disease than of breast cancer” (Family Doctor). The problem is that the majority of women still treats heart disease as the traditionally male problem, and does not realize the threats it creates to their health. As always, medical problems are easier to prevent than to treat.
This is why it is critical that the patients are aware of their health problems and are involved into the process of continuous medical care, which will prevent serious health complications and will provide a person with a chance to live. In her story Kate Chopin makes the reader aware of the fact that Louise was sick; however, was Louise herself realizing the seriousness of her heart disease? Probably, she was not. It is clear that her sister was more realistic in terms of Mrs. Mallard’s disease, and even if Louise herself knew her health problems, she did not care much about them. This was the biggest mistake she could make towards her health.
The internet and other sources of information offer sufficient information on the methods of treating heart disease and preventing heart attacks. From the viewpoint of the continuous medical care, Louise could take several easy steps to make her life easier. First she could control her blood pressure and the symptoms of heart disease (Wilansky & Willerson 54). The blood pressure control can take several forms, but in case with Mrs. Mallard she could keep to a healthy diet, minimize the salt intake, and address the doctor for medicines which would lower blood pressure. Modern technologies make it possible to measure the cholesterol level; this option would provide Mrs. Mallard with the full information about her diet, and possibly adjust it to her health needs.
There is one more essential aspect in treating heart disease: patients should be constantly alert when it comes to changes in their health or their perceptions (Orth-Gomer & Chesney 98). Patients are not to neglect the chest pain: “be sure to contact your doctor immediately if you suffer from pain in your chest, shoulder, neck, or jaw. Also notify your doctor if you experience shortness of breath or nausea that comes on quickly. If you are having a heart attack, the faster you can get to a hospital, the less damage will happen to your heart” (Family Doctor). Modern technologies and transport help reach the patient in the remotest area and provide the best medical assistance while the patient is being taken to the hospital.
To be objective, the discussed measures are also connected with significant constraints, and in order to guarantee the best health outcomes, Louise and her doctor would have taken these constraints into account. First of all, “women are more likely than men to have atypical heart attack symptoms such as neck and shoulder pain, abdominal pain, nausea, fatigue or shortness of breath” (Krantz & Mcceney 1013). It would be extremely difficult for Mrs. Mallard to identify the symptoms of a heart attack: it would practically impossible to visit the doctor each time she felt pain.
However, we can conclude from the story that Louise was familiar with the symptoms of her heart disease; moreover, they were always similar or even the same. This is why it would be easy for her to prevent health complications in case she reported her pain and other symptoms in timely manner. The major threat heart disease creates for a woman is the threat of silent heart attacks, which are more probable among women, than men (Krantz & Mcceney 1015). As Louise felt the pain was coming and was embracing her chest, she could certainly prevent her heart attack.
Second, “women are less likely than men to have the typical findings on the ECG that are necessary to diagnose a heart attack quickly” (Orth-Gomer & Chesney 35). Yet, the mere awareness of the fact that the person has heart disease will lead medical professionals in the correct direction. They will know how to interpret the symptoms, and what to do to save the life of the patient. Women’s heart is unique both physiologically and emotionally, and even when it comes to science, medical specialists fail to explain the majority of the processes which take place in a woman’s heart. For example, “women are less likely to survive heart attacks than men. No one knows why. It may be that women don’t seek or receive treatment as soon as men, or it may be because women’s smaller hearts and blood vessels are more easily damaged” (Family Doctor).
In any case, heart attack and heart disease is more threatening for a woman than it is for a man. This does not mean that for a woman to have sick heart means to be dead. On the contrary, numerous preventive measures are aimed at creating favorable conditions for those whose heart is vulnerable to emotions, stresses, physical exercises, and other related activities. If we take into account the extremely stressful situation in which Louise was, and neglect the reasons for which she had not addressed the doctors earlier in her life, she could have been saved.
“Emergency percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA) or coronary stenting for acute heart attack is as effective in women as in men; however, women may have slightly higher rate of procedure-related complications in their blood vessels (such as bleeding or clotting at the point of insertion of the PTCA catheter). This higher rate of complications has been attributed to women’s older age, smaller artery size, and greater severity of angina. The long-term outcome of angioplasty or stenting however, is similar in men and women, and should not be withheld due to gender.” (Consedine, Magai & Chin 215)
Taking into account Mrs. Mallard’s young age, she could have avoided the majority of procedure-related complications and would evidently have survived her heart attack. It is doubtless that Louise would be able to live a long life. Modern technology and medicine would supply her with several options. First, she would be able to go through the extensive medical investigation to discover the causes, implications, and possible risks of her heart disease. To be aware means to be alive when it comes to treating heart diseases.
The results of investigation would provide Louise with the knowledge about possible measures to prevent heart attack or other related complications of her heart disease. Second, such investigation and medical analysis would help Louise adjust her daily life to the needs of her sick heart, and avoid significant stresses which have led her to death. Any extreme emotion is the stress for a weak heart, no matter whether it is sadness or joy, and a sick person must control such emotions to prevent the negative health outcomes (Consedine, Magai & Chin 214). Mrs. Mallard would have had access to preventive therapeutic solutions, which modern medicine offers.
Preventive measures would significantly decrease health risks for Louise. Third, modern medical science possesses profound knowledge about the mechanisms of heart diseases and heart attacks; contemporary surgeons have numerous instruments and techniques available to restore the sick heart, and to guarantee long and full life to the patient after a heart attack. When combined with modern means of transport and emergency rescue, these instruments become invaluable in saving the lives of those who have suffered acute heart attack.
In Kate Chopin’s story, Mrs. Mallard has died of heart attack, “of joy that kills” (Chopin). People may hold various opinions about her heart disease, but one thing is evident: Louise could have been saved in case she could use the modern achievements in medicine, technology, and science. Even if we assume that heart disease and heart attacks remain the major reasons of human deaths, more and more people are saved and receive timely medical assistance due to the latest advances in medical technology and science. Chopin has not presented us with all circumstances and objective conditions in which Louise’s disease had developed.
The information in the story is sufficient to predict that the outcomes could have been much more favorable in case Mrs. Mallard could use telephone, transport, and medical equipment which are available to us. Heart diseases still create the majority of life-threatening complications, but the extensive scientific research has created vast opportunities for saving the lives of patients after a heart attack and other related health problems.
The case of Mrs. Mallard was not connected with any other health complications: she was young, and her age would have made her recovery easier and faster. Female heart is extremely complex both physiologically and emotionally, but even such complications would not create serious obstacles against returning Louise to life. However, even if Louise had survived, no one knows how her family relations and continuous moral and emotional pressure would have impacted her future life. In certain conditions death can be viewed as savior.
Chopin, K. “The Story of an Hour.” 1894. Washington State University. 17 February 2008.
Consedine, N.S., Magai, C. & Chin, S. “Hostility and Anxiety Differentially Predict
Cardiovascular Disease in Men and Women.” Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 50 (2004): 214-18.
Family Doctor. “Heart Disease and Heart Attacks: What Women Need to Know.” 2007.
FamilyDoctor. Org. 17 February 2008.
Krantz, David S. & Mcceney, M. “Effects of Psychological and Social Factors on Organic
Disease: A Critical Assessment of Research on Coronary Heart Disease.” Annual Review of Psychology (2002), pp. 1012-1024.
Orth-Gomer, K. & Chesney, M. Women, Stress, and Heart Disease. Lawrence Erlbaum
Wilansky, S. & Willerson, J.T. Heart Disease in Women. Churchill Livingstone, 2002.