On My Heart (A Series)… Round Two.

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I had an angiogram Friday, June 14. It wasn’t good but I knew it wouldn’t be. My cardiologist thought my mitral valve was only moderately leaking and, therefore, a perfectly good valve. Remind me never to buy anything used from him off Marketplace. However, yesterday’s test proved it was severe and validated my symptoms and my belief that it should have been replaced last September with the aortic valve. But what do I know? I’ve only been dealing with heart failure for 11 years, now.

My cardiologist’s “Cath Lab Team” (short for the less cool sounding “cardiac catheterization laboratory team”) are a great group of young people. The last time I had an angiogram, a year ago, the prep person was a male in his 30s. He very politely told me that he was going to “prep the area” and when I asked what that meant, he said “Uh, well, ma’am, I’m going to shave you.”

“Oh,” I said, “already done. Next!”

You would have thought he won the lottery. He actually said “Thank you, Jesus!” For a 30 year old man, shaving the lady bits of a 60 year old woman is probably not high on the list of favorites. But, I’m just guessing.

Yesterday’s prep person was a female, somewhere between 25 and 30. I stayed silent and let her make the discovery of my pre-prep work herself. “Oh my gosh! How did you know?” she said upon pulling the drape back.

“Not my first rodeo,” I said.

“You are officially my favorite patient of the day,” she said, scrubbing the shaved area with betadine.

“It’s only 8:00 a.m.,” I said. “You might want to wait until you’ve seen more naked private parts.”

She apologized for exposing me. “It’s OK,” I said. “I stopped being modest a long time ago. It would be hard to find anyone working in this hospital that hasn’t seen my business. The valet counts his blessings, but everyone else not so much.”

I was mildly sedated, but awake for the procedure. I heard the doctor narrating as he stuck a catheter up the larger artery in my groin up to my heart. He gave me the verdict while he still had me on the table, with my business still exposed. He had expected to find clogged arteries causing my symptoms (extreme fatigue, breathlessness, dizziness, chest pains). My arteries, however, are perfect, clear as a bell. I mean, for gosh sakes, I don’t eat anything that would clog an artery. As Piglet pondered, “What did he expect to find, a whole carrot stuck in your vein?”

My little sister is not a fan of my cardiologist. She is pushing me to find another. But, the thought of going through this entire process again with a complete stranger is exhausting. I can’t expect a human doctor to be infallible, right? I want to, but I have fired a great many cardiologists in the last 10 years, perfection is hard to find. Plus, I did call another one and was told that, after the referral process and reviewing all my records and yadda yadda yadda, it might be six months before I was actually seen.

The angiogram took no more than half an hour. I laid on a long table the width of an ironing board beside a monitor the size of every man’s dreams, upon which the path of the catheter through my circulatory system was displayed in high resolution.

“Bev,” (he calls me “Bev” although every other person in his practice calls me “Diane”) he said. “We are done, and your mitral valve regurgitation is a Grade 4+.” There are only four grades, Grade 4 being the most severe, so the plus sign isn’t a good one. He said he would review it with his team on Monday, and call with a plan. He told me he would tell Charles because “you probably won’t remember any of this.” Wanna bet, Chief?

I was taken back to recovery, tears leaking from my eyes. I fell asleep and started dreaming about scorpions crawling all over me. I was screaming in my dream and woke up to my nurse asking if I was OK. Charles said I had not moved or made a sound, but the alarm on my vitals monitor went off.

I had to lay on my back for two hours to allow the wound to clog, then sit up and eat something. After I proved I could walk on my own, they said I could go home. Charles went to get the car while I dressed and waited for the discharge papers.

As I was dressing, I started thinking about Mom and Daddy, and how many times we had been in this hospital with them. How many times did we help them get dressed to go home after a round of tests or a procedure of some kind or another? When did all that start? Mom had gotten breast cancer the first time in 1994, she would have been 54 years old. It came back with a vengeance 18 years later and she fought hard until she died in 2018. Daddy’s health started failing in his 60s, liver trouble mainly, passing quickly on a Monday. He had worked a full day the Friday before. It took my breath away to realize that I, being 60, am in the same age bracket my parents were when things started falling part for them.

There was a point during their final years that I came to the realization that they were on the downhill slide of their lives. I knew that the cancer would eventually take Mom’s life, and that liver disease would likely be Daddy’s final illness. My siblings and I made sure to be at all holiday celebrations and birthdays, trying to make each one special. In the backs of our minds “this could be their last one.”

I wonder now if that is the way my children see me. Do they say to their friends, “well, my Mom is getting older and having health issues” the way I did with my parents? Are my kids trying to get used to the idea of life without me?

Did my parents know they were nearing the ends of their lives? Mom was agreeable to every treatment her doctor came up with. She was the willing guinea pig to the experiments he had no faith would work, but would do them because Mom had good insurance. Although Daddy often said he was ready to go be with Mom, he insisted on being taken to the hospital when he was in distress. Did they know they were dying? Was it real for them?

Bigger question… should I know? Am I there yet? How many surgeries can this poor heart take? When will it give up? Then I have the risk of infection every time I go to the hospital. Hospitals are dangerous, you are more likely to die there than pretty much any other place. I’m painfully aware of all the risks “however slight” that I have to sign off on before they wheel me into the operating room. Can I count on always waking up?

Last night, I thought about writing my eulogy. I’m pretty good at writing eulogies. I could spare my survivors the angst of trying to do it and I’d be sure to get all the facts straight. But… that’s weird, right?

When Mom was going through all the cancer treatments, I wondered why she fought so hard for her life, when her life was so hard. How many more treatments would she endure? What else were they going to remove from her body? Why did she keep doing it? During hospice, when all the treatments were stopped, she was bedridden, and the pain was overwhelming, she just kept hanging on. We had wonderful conversations during the months she was in hospice, and I feel blessed to have had them with her. But, I stilled wonder why she kept fighting.

I know the reason. She wasn’t finished. She had more to say and she said it, until the morphine took away her voice. Even though Daddy professed to be ready to go, he did whatever he needed to do to stay alive until there was nothing left to do. The survival instinct was strong in both of them.

I understand, because it is strong in me, too. While I said I couldn’t take an other heart surgery, I know I will. I may not survive it, but I will do it. I acknowledged to my doctor’s nurse last week that I am aware I can be a real pain to deal with, but this is my heart, my body, my illness. There may be AMA rules to obey, and insurance policies to navigate, but the ultimate decision is mine as it should be.

They say 60 is the new 50 and, in my opinion, 50 is too early in the game to cash in my chips. I’m not finished and I will not go without a fight.

Ding, ding! Round two!

02 comments on “On My Heart (A Series)… Round Two.

  • Kathy A Towry , Direct link to comment

    I’m so sorry that once again you are having to deal with ongoing issues with your heart. Since last year I have been having heart issues, I haven’t really shared them with others but I know the frustration and stress it can cause. I went in for a heart procedure which was supposed to fix an issue, only to have others spring up. What the heck? So now I am deal with blood clots in my heart, taking warfarin every day, and trying not to eat anything that contains Vitamin K. The struggle is real.. Will keep you in my prayers, and I’m so sorry that you are having to deal with this. I look at you as a youngin, and here I am on the downhill slide, and I know it. But we fight for another day, and another one. On and On we go. Prayers that your healthcare providers can offer you the expertise advise and things that will heal your heart. Hang in there, as I know you will because you are loved by many.

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