Heart disease is in my genes. But when still middle-aged, I was athletic, did (and still do) my own housework, and even when I taught in a local college, I climbed stairs rather than ride an elevator. I assumed I'd be “protected” from vascular trouble.
One must go through life with a sense of humor for Fate enjoys pulling pranks on mortals. When I was fifty-one, a consent form reminded me a stress-test procedure was not a game. Although I wore sneakers and shorts, this exam wasn't going to give me a tennis ranking. Electrocardiogram leads were placed in necessary spots, and I stood on a stationary but slanted piece of exercise equipment. "Why couldn't I walk downhill?" I muttered to myself.
The machine began to roll a rubber mat beneath my feet, and I had to walk. Nothing to it. The machine mocked me as it began to rush the rubber faster. My legs ached. The cardiologist heard “click, click, click” in his stethoscope – my heart sounds.
Dye was injected, and nuclear radiation traced it. Two days later, I was diagnosed as de-conditioned and told to take long, fast-paced walks to increase endurance, switch from doubles to singles tennis, use a pull-cart on the five mile long golf course. I was reminded that the body doesn't stay in cardiovascular fitness; skipping weeks slows the system to its pre-fit state.
I bought a stationary bicycle. Bored, I rode to nowhere.
Circumstance has patience. Pages flipped from calendars. Chest pain. Denial. Excuses. Ignore. Remember the stress test showed “typical woman's lack of conditioning” and a live-with floppy heart valve. Electrocardiogram changes. Hospital.
Back then, a hospital's coronary-care holding room had no clocks, windows, television. Time was measured by technicians' syringes and nurses' shifts. Body waste, eliminated in plastic carriers, replaced dignity with helplessness. My real possibility of dying was expressed by ridiculous statements such as “I can't die yet. I've never used my new golf clubs” or other thoughts I couldn’t share without seeming peculiar. Terror, really, raced through my mind, but social conditioning had me maintain a different mental appearance.
Are you fascinated with the unknown? Okay: I had to have a cardiac catheterization angiogram. The release papers for that made the first stress test form look like a kindergarten composition. Besides my physician spouse, my oldest is a doctor, middle offspring a nurse, so this made my technical knowledge and the mortality rate of this procedure different from the average patient. My youngest, a CPA, squeezed busy tax season hours around and waited, clutching a bud vase of violet mums. I was still only fifty-one years old.
Now that I have your attention and you're ready for the gory part, I'm pulling the proverbial shades. Bypass surgery, done on my mother, older sister, and stents put into my younger sister’s heart, was not yet my destiny, said that power named Fate. Women and heart disease back then were pooh-poohed and not the A.A. Milne version of Pooh.
Ah, old age arrived quietly on my still slender frame and non-gray hair. Happened silently, as that huge number on the medical form can’t be MY present age!
Current, 2023: exercise stress test was done via chemicals, and Holter heart monitors three times and then an echocardiogram were outpatient. Meds to assist the irregular heartbeats caused side-effects and were eliminated. I’m scheduled for a ‘loop’ ... not the sing-along childhood song "Here we go Loop de Loop." A little piece of metal will be implanted in my chest and record every heartbeat via a battery operated device; its ‘findings’ will determine whether I need a cardiac cath to ablate the ‘bad part’ of my heart. So, online I read: “Cardiac ablation is a procedure that scars tissue in your heart to block irregular electrical signals. It is used to treat heart rhythm problems.”
I’ve a scar where the smallpox vaccine was given in the 1940s, scars from surgeries along the way, scars from falls and healing, and I can see/touch those. I like ‘outside’ scars, not inside ones, especially inside my heart. Well, maybe Fate has a few more tricks and my implanted ‘loop’ will merely sing out the childhood song and say my heartbeats can just play out their time without intervention.