Friday, January 20, 2012

A Matter of the Heart

With just 17 days to go until I leave for New Zealand, I can't believe how few things I have left to do. In particular, I've checked off nearly every health-related task on my to-do list!

I'm happy to have completed all of these tasks from a Meet, Plan, Go! travel checklist I picked up at an event a few months ago:


Last week, I had one last teeth-cleaning at a new dentist's office. Some commenters suggested their favorite dentists, but none of them were covered by my insurance. Check out the killer view of Shilshole Bay that I enjoyed from my new dentist's chair, though!

Great place! When can I move in?

I also had an annual physical exam with my doctor and everything checked out fine. I did, however, mention my concern about a possibly genetic heart condition, and my doctor said I should definitely have an echocardiogram before my trip so that I'd be aware of any problem I may have.

This freaked me out a bit, but considering I just intensely trained for and ran a marathon with no symptoms of a heart condition, I wasn't too worried.

Until I showed up for the appointment.


FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN

An echocardiogram is a sonogram of the heart, and the process is similar to what pregnant women experience during an ultrasound. I knew I'd get to see my heart live and in action onscreen, and I thought that would be pretty cool.

It wasn't until I lay down on this bed that I realized it scared the shit out of me.

I much preferred the view at the dentist's office.

I've been very lucky so far and have had quite a healthy life. I've never even broken a bone.

Unlike a broken bone, though, a genetic heart problem is not so easily healed. As I settled onto my left side and my beating heart popped onto the screen, I couldn't stop thinking that there was something wrong with me.

To make matters worse, the room was dark. The ultrasound technician was stone-faced as she captured measurements and pictures of various parts of my heart. It's such a powerful organ, and yet it looked so terrifyingly delicate. 

I watched the screen and thought that it was pumping much too quickly, and that the valves were flapping around too wildly. I had no clue if what I was seeing was good or bad, and I was convinced that the technician's silence meant something horrible.

There came a point when I could no longer look at the screen, and I just stared at the wall behind the technician's head with silent tears rolling sideways down my face.

She must have noticed because she said that she wasn't supposed to tell me much — a cardiologist would have to look at the pictures and write the official results — but that I shouldn't worry. I wiped away my tears and continued to stare past her for the next 30 minutes as she captured nearly 100 images of my heart from all angles.

I had a good cry in my car after that.

***

My friends and family assured me that I would be fine, and logically I should have believed them. I tend to go into some situations expecting the worst so that I won't be caught off guard if the worst actually happens. That way I'll be pleasantly surprised by good news, and, in theory, have a bit less wind knocked out of me by bad.

A few days after the test, I was thrilled to read these four sweet words in an email:

"Your echo was normal."

Immediately I felt silly for overreacting about the whole process. But good health is so precious and so fleeting. I've watched people's lives change in an instant on TV, on blogs and in real life. It is always heartbreaking and sobering.

I was prepared for the worst, and somehow I got the best. 

It makes me appreciate what I have. It reminds me that one day — maybe soon, maybe 50 years from now — I will no longer have it.

***

Sorry for a bit of a depressing post, but I've spent much of my week thinking about this. I now know that I'm going to start off on my RTW trip completely healthy, and I continue to be so grateful that I decided to travel.

Once I started running regularly, I realized what a waste it was to let this body of mine remain motionless on the couch for so many years prior. And once I quit my job, I realized what a shame it was to park it in a cubicle for 40 hours a week.

Very soon, I'll be running, jumping, hiking, swimming, dancing and otherwise flinging this body around the world because I can and I should. My heart can more than handle it.

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10 comments:

  1. So glad your echo came back normal. :-) And that view from the dentist's chair - fierce!

    So excited for you & all the great things you'll experience this coming year!

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    1. Thanks, Jen. I know — the dentist's office was right next to a fancy restaurant and shared the awesome view! Food wasn't as good at the dentist though... : )

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  2. I had to go to a cardiologist a few years back as well. I had been passing out, so they made me wear a heart monitor for 24 hours and get an echocardiogram. Everything came back normal, but it wasn't a very pleasurable experience. Glad everything turned out alright! And that dentist has some prime real estate ...

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    1. Wow, that's scary! Glad you're OK and ruled out a heart problem.

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  3. I so enjoy reading your blog and am super excited for your RTW trip (and a bit jealous as well)! Congrats on getting things done and knowing that you are in the best shape possible to go make some amazing memories!

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    1. Thank you! It's certainly a relief : )

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  4. I can not wait to read about your around the world adventures! So glad you found out everything was okay with your heart and health. Best wishes on your trip!!

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  5. I, too, have a heart condition. Every five years or so I go in for an echo that [knock on wood] always comes back fine. But I can't ever watch the screen and see what my heart is doing. I think it's a little unnatural and it is unnerving for sure.

    Congratulations on your clean bill of health and happy traveling!

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    1. Thank you! I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels squeamish about seeing the heart onscreen. Glad your echoes are normal and hope they continue to be! : )

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