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While working in the medical field for many years, I feel I have a built up a pretty broad sense of medical knowledge, but nothing jogs the brain more than real-life experiences.

My husband, son and I have made an effort to meet for breakfast every Thursday at 6:30 a.m. before we all go our separate ways to work. We always go to the same little Greek restaurant, have the same friendly waitress and order the same thing every week. We are so predictable that she has the order just about ready for us as we walk in the place every week. We even call ahead if something comes up and we can’t make it, so she won’t be looking for us and waste the food.

On a recent Thursday morning, we walked into the restaurant and found our table set and ready for us. But we noticed our favorite waitress was not acting like herself. Usually she started chatting the minute we walked in the place, but this time she was very quiet. We made small talk until finally we had to ask what was the matter. She looked pale and ill. She told us she was not feeling well, with pain in her neck, arm and back. She is in her 40s, has a busy family life and work schedule, and chalked it up to just getting sick.

We immediately told her she might be having a heart attack. Too many women ignore the simple symptoms of heart ailments. Unlike men, some women don’t have chest pain when they are having a heart attack. They can have jaw pain, headache, shortness of breath, arm pain, neck pain – all alone or all together.

It wasn’t long before we saw our waitress fall to the floor in agony and distress. Luckily, her husband, who works with her, was nearby and called 911.

We all tried to be of help, adding a cold cloth to her head and neck and being supportive in case she passed out. We were very relieved to see the ambulance arrive. The paramedics came none to soon, because she was rushed to the hospital and had heart surgery only a few hours later. It was lucky that she didn’t pass out while driving to work that day, and that we were all around to help her.

This should serve as a wakeup call for all women. So many times women are so busy taking care of everyone else – family, friends and co-workers – that they neglect the most important person of all: themselves. When people have symptoms that aren’t relieved in a reasonable amount of time, they should not ignore them. It is better to have a false alarm and check out that “indigestion” than to have a heart attack.

Today, more than ever, parents are working one or more jobs, and women can wear many hats during the day. We morph from caregivers to professionals to students to spouses all day long, and don’t have a chance to rest until it is time to go to sleep at night. Unfortunately, making ends meet is on many minds these days and it seems we do not have time to catch our breath and take a few moments for ourselves.

It has been proven that stress can be a killer. I am so happy that our friend was able to get help on the spot, and wish her a speedy recovery. It’s time to smell the roses. Listen to your body; if something seems wrong, chances are, it is.

When that little voice inside you is telling you something, don’t ignore it; act on it. It may save your life or someone else’s.

Judith Whitehead, who lives in East Amherst, urges women to listen to that little voice inside them.