The heart of the matter

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

I watched the numbers on the dashboard clock change... 12:40pm, 12:41pm, 12:42pm. I was already officially late and was still at least 10 minutes away from my destination at the local hospital.

My mind began to sprint, along with my heart.

Why did I leave at 12:20pm when I know it takes at least half an hour to get to the hospital? Why did I agree to an appointment with a cardiologist? Is it possible for my heart to beat right out of my chest? Is this what a heart attack feels like? Will the painfully slow driver ahead of me notice when I slump over my wheel? I smell licorice. Calm down, calm down, calm down… 

Arriving 10 minutes late for my first ever meeting with a heart specialist, I was told by the nurse behind the counter to head to radiology and get an EKG before coming back to the waiting room.

There were at least four people ahead of me all staring at the Closed For Lunch sign. Like me, everyone in the queue was there to see the cardiologist. Unlike me, everyone in the queue had arrived an hour in advance of their appointments.

My heart was pounding.

The circumstances that led to my sitting with a group of senior citizens, discussing beta blockers in a cold hospital hallway staring at askew contagious diseases posters, may or may not have been brought on my tendency to exhibit irrational fears as evidenced by this fairly typical internal monologue.

Oh, what a beautiful sunrise. The sky is so intense this morning. Hmm, my left arm is hurting. I wonder why it aches so much. I don’t remember doing anything to bring that on. WOW my heart is really racing. I better check my pulse. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9………….. 10. HOLY CRAP my heart just skipped a beat! Calm down, calm down… ACK! It just did it again! This can’t be good. RELAX, relax, relax… Ok now my back is sore. That’s a bad sign. I better lay down before I have a heart attack. 

Ninety-nine percent of the time I’m a levelheaded person, not given to fits of unreasonable fretfulness. There was even a time in my life when I was blissfully unaware of dangers and death (case in point: the clog incident). But over the past number of years (since the birth of my daughter, the sudden death of my father and the arrival of my hormone-filled 40s) the sensible side of my brain has become mushy, not unlike my stomach…

"Andrea? Andrea Mulder-Slater?"

The EKG technologist was chatty and friendly as she instructed me to lift my shirt so she could stick electrodes on my chest.

“May I ask why you’re here?” she asked politely.

The truth was, I had become a well-informed neurotic, thanks to Google. My online research, combined with an uncanny ability to zero in on fear-provoking articles in Chatelaine Magazine’s heart-heath issues had turned me into a hypochondriac in training. All I was lacking was a mentor.

“I guess I’m just nervous.” I replied. “My family doctor thought it would be a good idea if I ruled some things out.”

http://people.rit.edu/rsb4660/jma3587.htm

“Have you ever had this test before?” 

I recounted the time, many years prior, when my love of caffeinated coffee resulted in having a holter monitor strapped to my body. The symptoms were alarming. I had palpitations, arm vibrations, full body jitters and an impending sense of doom. And it all went away, as soon as I followed my family doctor’s advice and stopped drinking 6 cups of caffeinated beverages a day.
  
“I’ve got the same problem,” she said, “but I just love my coffee too much to stop.” 

“I’ve been drinking decaf since February.” I explained as she began removing the sticky patches from my skin.

“Are you sure you didn’t drink a real one today because your heart is really beating fast!”

In spite of her kind smile and sweet demeanor, the technologist’s comments did nothing to ease my unease.

Back in the clinic waiting room, I tried really hard to think about unicorns and gumdrops as I listened to my fellow patients discussing who had recently passed away and which restaurant made the best fish and chips.

"Andrea?"

I was led into a little room and told to remove my clothes from the waist up. It was like the dermatologist all over again.

My heart was jumping. It might have been pole dancing.

Sitting in my hospital gown waiting for the doctor to arrive, gave me just enough time to glance at the sheet of paper I had been avoiding. I had no idea what I was looking at but I knew one thing for sure… it didn’t look good.

From what I could tell, there was a hole in my heart and I was pretty sure that it was beating backwards, rather than forwards – if that’s even possible. Also, because the words unconfirmed analysis and undiagnosed appeared on the page, I was certain I was dying.

Not my EKG results. I was too busy stressing about stress to take a photo of my own results.
The doctor arrived just in time because my heart was threatening to thrust its way through my rib cage.  At least I'm in the right place to have a heart attack, I thought to myself.


My examination was very thorough - albeit anti-climactic - with the words, “your heart is like a freight train” uttered more than once. In the end, talking with the cardiologist was as relaxing as drinking antihistamine tea (although I’m pretty sure that’s not allowed). He told me that my fixation on the area between my waist and my throat was completely normal - given my circumstances - and that my EKG and blood pressure results were completely fine. I was given a clean bill of health, but before I left, my new favorite medical professional said it wouldn’t hurt to have a cholesterol test and maybe – at some point – a stress test, just for his records.

Fast-forward two months. I’m feeling a little bit guilty about the French fries I ate two days ago. Also, the oven-baked hash brown I devoured yesterday and the sausage I just consumed.

The thing is, I still have yet to take that cholesterol test and ever since I received that yellow sheet of paper, I’ve abandoned my penchant for morning green drinks, afternoon salads and evening veggie platters (with almonds for snack time) and instead I’ve been eating like a glassy eyed, super-high fraternity brother on a weeklong bender.

Potato chips, pizza, deep fried vegetables. You name it. I’m craving it. In fact, a food psychologist would have a heyday with me right now. Which makes me wonder… are food psychologists for real? Because really, I think I can figure this out from here, on my own. No disrespect intended. And please pass the Cheezies because I need energy since, as you know, I'm in training for an upcoming stress test.

 No, really.

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