I was about ten years old.
I have been sick for several days and my parents brought me to the family pediatrician.
I heard the doctor discuss to my parents about rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart. I didn’t really understand what they were talking about. I felt too sick to pay attention.
I remember coming home after the pedia consult. I was in my room, feeling so sick. My sister — who I used to fight with a lot — was in the same room with me, but she was active and healthy. Was even playing volleyball inside the room. Apparently, she also heard the “rheumatic heart” discussion and took the opportunity to be mean and used the issue to her advantage.
To this day, I can still remember my ten year old self sitting at the edge of the bed, watching my sister playing volleyball, thinking to myself that maybe I had a rheumatic heart… and that maybe I was going to die young.
I was scared.
~ * ~
It started with a regular check up. They all start with a regular check up. Since it’s my birth month, and it’s almost the end of the year, I decided to have the usual annual physical examination. It was a routine. A yearly thing. Though this year they added ECG (electrocardiogram)on top of all the other laboratory exams.
A few days after the exam, I called the clinic for the results. The guy I talked to said the results were out already and I told him I would just pass by for them sometime during the week. But before placing the phone down, I asked him to take a peek and to tell me the gist of it. I was expecting him to say “Everything’s normal. You may get your copy anytime. No need to rush.” Or something to that effect.
“Ma’am,” he says, “your ECG has some abnormal findings. You may have to consult with a cardiologist.”
Huh?! Did he say abnormal? “What exactly does it say?” I asked.
“Possible left atrial enlargement.”
I didn’t know what to say next.
~ * ~
I’m only 37. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t even go clubbing or stay out late at night. The only vice I have is I drink coffee. Maybe I drink too much coffee. But other than that I don’t abuse my health.
Okay, so maybe I don’t eat much (I’m always dieting)… and yeah, I don’t like sweating (who does?!), and I’m not exactly the active type of person. I move slow. I don’t really like being in a rush. I used to joke that even my heartbeat is quite slow.
I googled the enlarged heart condition and found out that it can be caused by hypertension. Me?! How can that be? I am one of the calmest persons I know. Heck, I don’t even get angry much. I don’t easily get worked up on something. It takes a lot to irritate me.
Could it be what I eat? But I don’t even eat much…
My research also says it can be caused by obesity (uhm, hello?!), or stress. Or it can be genetic.
~ * ~
I went to the clinic to get the actual results on that same day. I knew it wouldn’t make any difference since I didn’t understand what it meant anyway, but I just had to read with my own eyes what the findings said.
My sister met up with me to get the results. When she saw me, the first thing she said was, “So, your rheumatic heart condition recurred?” And that cracked both of us up. I never did let her forget about how mean she was to me when we were kids, and somehow this present occurence reminded us about it. It was funny because I NEVER had a rheumatic heart. My parents just didn’t explain what it was that they were discussing at that time.
Now I was faced with another heart issue. I told my sister not to tell our parents first– because they are the ones hypertensive and I didn’t want them to worry. I told her I would have a cardio consult as soon as I get the chance.
~ * ~
I kept myself busy during the days leading to my cardio consult. I tried to defer it a bit, what with all the things that are happening at this time of year. I went to baseball games, did more Christmas shopping… I even organized and hosted a birthday dinner for my mom and a Christmas dinner for some friends. I tried to act as normal as possible. Heart condition or no heart condition, well, life goes on.
And yet there were nights when I couldn’t sleep. I’d just lie awake thinking of what would happen if the cardiologist confirms that I do have a heart problem. My grandfather died of heart failure. My great grandfather had heart problems, as well. How will I deal with the condition?
And then the other questions… What if I’ll be needing an operation? Am I ready? What if I have to be on medication for life? What if I suffer a heart attack? Who will take care of me? What if I just suddenly die… Who will take care of my son?
Sometimes I get scared. A lot of times I felt like crying. But I never did.
~ * ~
I watched an old man on a wheelchair being wheeled in as I waited for the cardiologist to arrive. The old man was about 40+ years older than me. It seemed pretty funny that despite our age difference, we were lined up to consult with the same doctor.
As I waited, a lot of thoughts were running in my head. I thought about the things that I had to do. Thought about the things that I wanted to do. I thought of listing down the places I want to visit, the vacations I want to make. I thought about my still unfinished Christmas list. For a moment I was afraid that if the results turn out bad, I might not be able to finish my Christmas shopping for the year. I brushed that thought aside.
I thought that maybe I should have brought a friend or my sister along. No one should undergo this waiting experience alone. It can be scary when one is left with no one but his or her own imagination. But then I told myself I am brave enough to do this by myself.
Then the doctor finally called my name.
He looked at the results of my ECG and prescribed that I take another series of cardio exams. He explained the possible causes of heart enlargement, but said that the ECG results are not always accurate. He asked if I was feeling anything different, and I said no. He asked if I notice my feet swelling… and I answered yes, after hours and hours of shopping (which I think is normal). He said there’s no need to get ahead of ourselves. He advised me to consult with him again after the results of the next procedure.
I was quite relieved in a way.
It took me an hour to finish what was supposed to be a 15-minute procedure. The technicians said they were having a hard time getting a clear picture of the chambers of my heart. My heart, they said, rests right behind a rib and the bone is blocking the view, thus they cannot measure it fully. I do have a lazy heart.
~ * ~
Yesterday I went back to the clinic to get the cardio results and to consult with the doctor again. Unlike the day before, I didn’t give myself the chance to think of the what ifs and what woulds. I didn’t even try to make promises (Make me well and I promise to be a good person forever and ever) nor bargain with the Maker (Make me well and I will serve more in church).
But I prayed for healing. And I prayed for acceptance.
I told myself, too, that should everything come out normal, I will do my best to take good care of this body that I was blessed with. No more crash diets. No more caffeine overload. More fruits and veggies. Less sugar and salt, more water. I will smile more. I won’t get angry unnecessarily. I won’t even be too emotional nor stressed.
More movement. I need to walk more. I need to move more. I need to let my heart do its pumping, otherwise it might just grow larger or just wither away.
And I will do this not out of vanity, but because I want to prolong my life.
There are still so many things I would want to do, people I want to meet, things I want to experience, lives I want to touch. And I won’t be able to do that if my heart gives up on me.
~ * ~
It was a false alarm. My heart is still normal and healthy. The cardiologist said I just need to be conscious of what I eat and do regular check ups, but over all, nothing’s wrong with my heart.
As I was leaving the clinic, I looked up to the heavens and said a short prayer of thanks.
Suffice it to say that this whole experience has changed me somewhat.
*** *** *** *** *** *** ***
photo via google images