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Heart and soul: life after a heart disease

Find out how illness can be an opportunity for growth, a rebirth for a new way of life.

Roberta Dell'Acqua – 6 June 2023

In terms of health, there is increasing talk of the need to humanize medicine and the need of patient-centred care.

What does patient-centred care mean?

In my book “Cuore e anima: una nuova vita dopo la patologia cardiaca”, a dream has come true: to put the person at the centre in the narration of the experience of illness and health.

In this essay I wanted to share my emotions as a person and as a psychologist in the cardiology departments. I wanted to talk about heart disease, the main cause of death in our country, from the patient’s point of view. They are the main character of this story, which requires a narration and a careful and profound listening.

“It’s strange, how bypass surgery changes you. I’ve done many, but in the heart, it has a completely different meaning. You don’t see the heart; you don’t realize it’s getting sick. With a heart attack, everything stops and everything resets” says a patient at the end of his hospital stay.

Not only does the event frighten, but also returning home, it is precisely the return to everyday life that generates ambivalent feelings and emotions in people: there is the joy of being home, but also fear, anxiety and the concern about the future.

After surgery, how will my life change? Will I be able to do the things I used to do? Existential questions arise in people, and they deserve respect and attention. You go home and, if you really want to, you change your way of life, your way of behaving, your way of being. You have another chance. Changing the lifestyle, the way of being in the world does not mean putting on a mask but taking it off and showing one’s true nature. Because in illness people feel more, as if the body stops and the soul can take a step forward.

Dott.ssa Roberta Dell'Acqua

The experience of the last ten years in the field of health psychology and in cardio-psychology, has led me to an ever more deeply rooted awareness that mind and heart cannot be separated. The myocardium is not just an organ that pumps blood, the heart is the core of emotion, of vital energy and it is recharged through our lifestyle, through our way of being with others and with ourselves.

I strongly believe that people are the architects of their own change, and that the disease can be an opportunity for growth, rebirth for a new way of life.

Through my work experience I have tried to talk about illness in a holistic and integrated way, going beyond diagnosis and clinical labelling but, above all, through patients’ experiences, I have talked about the heart as a wound of the soul, in need of attention and of care. It is therefore important to help patients process the traumatic event they have suffered to regain confidence in themselves and in their possibilities.

The experience of illness affects not only the body, but also a more internal part, the soul.

“The disease helped me understand what is important in life…now I’m a new, better woman…” says Anna, a young lady returning home after hospitalization for bypass surgery.

This book was born above all thanks to them, to the people I met in the hospital over the years and who helped me understand what “taking care of yourself” really means.

It doesn’t just mean quitting smoking, exercising and being careful with nutrition… it means, first, to have more time for yourself and to try to love yourself a little more.

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