On My Heart (A Series)… 6 Month Surge-A-Versary


The human body is incredibly designed. It can do amazing things. It holds all your working parts and keeps them out of the elements. You are covered entirely in skin so that your intestines don’t fall out on the floor. The body, at least the female one, is a beautiful thing to behold – a work of art. Given that the male body is mostly covered in hair which grows thicker as it ages, how can anyone dispute an Intelligent Designer?

Your body is able to take what you ate today and convert it into the energy you need to go out in public. Sometimes. But, then one day you are 45, and it decides that the pasta you’ve eaten your entire life is kryptonite and you need a nap immediately. Bread is now poisonous to your body and the next bite of it could kill you. Suddenly beans are no longer on the menu and anything spicier than cinnamon toast will require a 16-hour tether to a bathroom. Sugar makes you sweat.

My body is like a 1972 Cutlass Supreme or a vintage home. I fix one thing, and something else breaks immediately. My check engine light flickers in a threatening manner.

I bought this 1925 bungalow back in the early 1990s. I fell in love with the porch and all the lovely Craftsman-inspired details that remained throughout the many years, owners, and updates, but especially the porch. My dad warned me against the purchase “Old house, new problems,” he said over and over. “But I love it,” was my reply. After the official preclosing inspection, Daddy insisted on looking it over thoroughly himself, especially the plumbing. Plumbing was his specialty, and he knew he would be called into fix whatever plumbing issues he was convinced were in my future. He declared the plumbing “in surprisingly good shape.” He wasn’t a fan of the solar panels on the roof. Back then, solar panels were a relatively new thing and while he knew old houses could hide old problems that he knew how to fix, he was more suspicious of new innovations and the potential new problems he had no idea about. A car enthusiast, Daddy was also suspicious of “those foreign jobs” for the same reason.

After a perfect early summer showing and inspection, I closed on the house. The spring rains were gone, so the leaky basement wouldn’t show up until the fall. The main sewer line waited for a week of freezing rain in January to collapse, requiring the replacement of about 30 feet of line. The air conditioning was just a few years old and worked perfectly through the dog days of summer, but the pilot light on the older furnace tended to go out randomly and many mornings we would wake up to ice on the inside of the previously charming, original glass, single pane windows. We went away for the weekend in early winter and returned to find the house so cold that my daughter’s hamster seemingly froze to death in her north facing bedroom. But this mother threw a Hail Mary and put the furry critter in the oven for 15 minutes on warm and, to my daughter’s amazement (“It’s a miracle!”), he came back to life. He had just been hibernating, but for a while I was mother of the year. Anyway, as much as I loved the house, Daddy was right. Old house, new problems I could not afford.

I had cancer in the mid-late 1990s, and have been cancer free for nearly 30 years. But 10 years ago, around my 50th birthday, the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation showed up in my heart. Over the next few years, I changed my diet, stopped drinking, re-started my yoga practice and started walking long distances. I tried to limit the stress in my life and was able to keep my heart pumping along until last fall, when I had to have a valve transplant. Just like the 1972 Cutlass, sure you can drive it with bad valves, but not forever. Eventually, the entire engine will fail.

After surgery, I received an excellent prognosis for a full recovery and normal lifestyle.

However, during my 10 days in the hospital, I developed a rash on the back of my head. I assumed it was an allergic reaction to the hospital laundry detergent. But it got worse after my discharge. I changed shampoos with no relief. I did what most intelligent people do, I consulted Google. Google said it was a side effect to one of the myriad drugs I had to take until my new valve started dancing in rhythm with my old heart. The rash, psoriasis, continued to get worse, I was scratching my head until it bled. My cardiologist wasn’t convinced of the connection, so I stopped taking the drug on my own. As a result, my heart rate went up too high (resting at 125). My choices, if you can call them choices, were itchy rash or heart valve explosion. I clipped my nails and resumed taking the drug.

The drugs also make me lightheaded when I stand up, because my blood pressure is too low. But if I don’t keep it low, my heart rate will soar again. So, I deal with dizziness on the regular, a fun house effect when I get up from the couch. I started getting back spasms for which I now take muscle relaxers as needed.

In January, my left thumb malfunctioned. My thumb got jammed into place like the trigger of a 9mm Taurus handgun – no wonder they call it trigger finger. My choices were inconvenient and very painful steroid shots every two months, or a quick outpatient surgery under local anesthesia. I chose the latter and had surgery about 10 days ago. The thumb works perfectly now.

I had my annual physical and bloodwork done last month. I knocked 60 points from last year’s cholesterol number, and I have a plant-based diet to thank for it. BUT, the bloodwork also shows my thyroid function is abnormally low. “It could be a fluke,” my doctor said. “Let’s check again in a month.” Augh.

Tomorrow – March 25 – is the 6-month anniversary of my heart valve surgery. I had plans to climb a mountain, run 6 miles, or go scuba diving in Cozumel. But, I’m still retaining more fluid than is comfortable, and often have to resort to taking an additional water pill to get rid of the “cankles.” I still get a little winded sometimes when walking up the slope of my home or taking more than two flights of stairs. It seems that I am not yet ready for the highest heights, the longest lengths, or the deepest depths. I have to stay here on level ground for a bit longer. There is nothing as disappointing as not being able to celebrate a win.

I was having a conversation about this with an colleague, recently. She said, “I don’t know how you deal with it. You work so hard to be healthy. Don’t you sometimes feel like ordering a supreme pizza with extra cheese and eating it in bed? I mean, you’d still have the issues, but…. mmm pizza in bed!” She admitted that she eats like a college freshman and, while she takes thyroid, cholesterol, and blood pressure medicine, and is pre-diabetic, at least she is “enjoying life.” Translation: she eats whatever she wants.

I thought about it, but the answer is no. If I eat awful food, I feel awful and my performance is awful. Like the 1972 Cutlass I need premium fuel to operate to the best of my ability and keep my check engine light from flashing. My sister, 5 years younger than me, runs half marathons and eats like a bird, but she is also aware that her 100,000 mile service is due. Nevertheless, like me, she continues to make healthy choices while icing her knees. I don’t like the idea that we live a good life, and the reward is a body that is slowly (or not so slowly) falling apart. I plan to have a talk with the Intelligent Designer about that when I get There. But I hope to delay that talk as long as possible.

Anyway, six months down. Perhaps I will climb that mountain at the one year mark.

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