Last week I had a health scare. I’ve had high blood pressure for over a year now and when I say high I mean 170s/120’s. I’ve been on medication for it this whole time Nothing has brought it down lower than 150’s/90’s. Usually I just get a headache and feel “off”. Last Sunday afternoon I woke up with severe chest pain and that scared me. I was also really out of breath and fatigued after getting dressed to go to the ER.
They ran all the preliminary tests, drew labs and asked me about my cardiac history. I don’t have any personal history except the hypertension but my dad had multiple cardiac issues and my brother and sister from his side have as well. I’m sitting there on the stretcher pondering how pissed my employer is going to be because I called in sick. I’m also pondering how I’m NOT going to punch the on-call person in the throat the next time I see him because of his insensitivity to my situation.
The doc comes in and says, “Everything looks great actually. No heart attack. Here’s an aspirin just to be on the safe side, it’s protocol and I’m going to consult the on-call cardiologist.” He spun on his heels and left.
Wait. Whaaaa? Why are you consulting if everything looks great? If there’s no problem why am I still here? I’ll just follow-up with my PCP tomorrow and we’ll work this out. Five minutes later the nurse comes in and says, “So he told you that he’s admitting you right?”
“He just went to consult the cardiologist!” “Well yeah. The heart doctor wants to keep you overnight for a stress test and other stuff tomorrow.”
<Groan> Now my heart is pounding because I’m scared. Scared shitless. I’m only 36. Sure my dad had a ton of problems but everything has shown I’m fine.
Three hours later, I’m laying in my hospital room five floors up and now the room is dark and all I can hear is the beeping of the cardiac monitor and the hum of the TV. Then I hear them call a code blue. For a moment my mind goes into nurse mode and I imagine the nurses running to a room with the crash cart, CPR being performed. I’ve been there. I’ve been that nurse. I never hear the code blue cleared, which means the person hasn’t survived. I’m not a nurse anymore. I’m a scared woman who hasn’t spoken to her son yet today.
Early in the morning the cardiologist comes in. He’s one of the best. I don’t have insurance and they know that I’m paying out-of-pocket. That to me is an indication that they are concerned in itself. He’s very nice and calm, asking me about my father and then about my own symptoms. I grew up with my dad being ill since I was 8. I know everything that was ever wrong physically with my father. Suddenly though I am my father as the words flow from my mouth.
Over the next several hours I go through various testing including the dreaded chemical stress test that almost killed me. (Actually it didn’t but when your heart races to 127 beats a minute in literally 3 seconds and you feel like you’ve been on a treadmill at the highest speed for over an hour all while just laying on a gurney…it’s an odd experience and pretty frightening.)
The last test is my echocardiogram. It’s a sonogram of your heart. They get to look at your heart at work in real-time. By now I’m starving after having been without food or drink because of these, for over 14 hours. I just want to be done. She turns the monitor towards me so I can look because she knows I’m a nurse. She figures I might find it interesting. Interesting is not the word.
As she begins to run the wand over my chest I immediately see the most amazing thing. My heart! Of course I know that my heart doesn’t look like the pictures we drew in kindergarten. It’s still amazes me as if I’m seeing it for the first time though. Actually, I am. I’m seeing MY heart for the first time. I watch as it pumps methodically. Every angle of it different from the last. I watch as the various valves open and close and mentally I’m reciting their names in my head. Colors are added now for the cardiologist. I watch as my blood flows through the right atrium through the tricuspid valve into my right ventricle. Then from there I know it goes to my lungs. I imagine my blood cells picking up the oxygen like little hitchhiker’s before it travels back to my left atrium. Then onto my left ventricle the blood flows. The colors are mesmerizing.
The technician is saying something, I’ve tuned her out by now. Not out of rudeness but because it’s AMAZING you guys. My left ventricle fills with blood and then it’s gone as quick as it has come, through the aorta and for a split second it’s like I can almost feel the blood rushing to my toes as it’s hauled off. “It’s like watching the sonogram of my son for the first time. It’s moving around so much,” I exclaim. I can feel myself smiling. I can’t get enough. The contours. The shape. The valves are so clear. The outline of my heart. It’s all so real. I start to cry. What!? Why am I crying she asks. So I tell her.
“I have been through so much in thirty-six years. You have no idea. This organ right here has been pumping life through my body since I was only 6 weeks old inside of my mother. That’s a long time. It’s never failed me. Last night I was scared that something was wrong with it, yet here it is, doing it’s job like it was created to do. It doesn’t care that I’m hungry, tired or scared. It acclimates to me. Acclimates to whatever is going on inside and outside around me. It’s a tireless worker. It doesn’t call in sick and it’s never late for work. It’s mine as well. It’s nobody else’s heart. I actually have something that is JUST mine. I’ve been so ungrateful so many times and thought that I was missing so many things in life and all this time I’ve had something that nobody else has and nobody else will ever have. My heart.” “I see on that screen, my life’s scrapbook. I see my first love in those beats. The day he broke up with me. I see the day that I discovered I was pregnant. The birth of my son and just a few months ago, his 17th birthday. I see the death of my father. I see the friends and family that have shunned and hurt me. I see my marriage in its moments of happiness and the day that my divorce was final. I see day that my son will graduate high school and move off to college. What I don’t see though are all the wounds I thought I carried all this time. All the cuts, scrapes and bruises that I thought were there that kept me from being happy. Maybe I half expected to see band-aids all over the damn thing. Except, I see my heart. Not just the anatomically correct heart either. The one I used to dot my I’s with in school when I was in love. The ones I draw on things when I’m hopelessly in love. You see I thought I lost part of it in my divorce. I thought I lost the other part a few months ago when the person I love so much, moved out. I didn’t though. It’s right there.”
She just stared at me. Not moving. The cold wand still pressed against my chest. I don’t know what she was thinking and she didn’t say. She was probably thinking I needed to be admitted to the psych ward right about then.
The thing is this. I saw myself for the first time that day. On that monitor was the essence of who I am. Everything good and bad about me and it moved me. Moved me so damn much that I am happier than I’ve been in a long time. It’s amazing that it took this long and a health scare and for me being put into the hospital and undergoing all these tests, and my GOD the sheer amount of that hospital bill that is coming, to finally see: I AM GOOD. I deserve better. I deserve better from myself. That no matter how much bad I think others have put me through…I’m still here. I still go on. If my heart is still doing it’s job, and not just literally, but metaphorically as well, then why can’t my brain? Why can’t I change my thinking?
And I’m doing just that. Divine intervention or coincidence? Right now I don’t believe in coincidence.
(Side note: I’m fine. My heart is really OK. No blockages no damage. Just time to change my lifestyle and that I can do.)