Dec 12, 2019 Latest post:
Jan 15, 2020
I'm hoping that this Caring Bridge turns out to be relevant for only a month. That's my plan. Then again, you know what they say about best-laid plans. So here's the story of my heart. Not my metaphorical heart, of course--I'm not talking about the place where we supposedly feel love and other emotions. I'm talking about my actual heart, the muscular organ, inside my chest, that pumps blood so I keep living. I've never had heart problems, at least that I knew about, until this week.
My grandfather died of a heart attack when he was in his 60s. My dad had triple bypass surgery when he was 57 and died of heart-related problems when he was 71. That family history creates a risk factor for me. I decided to see a cardiologist this fall, just to make sure that my heart was healthy. I had no symptoms. I saw the cardiologist, Dr. Solomon, who is an icon of sorts in our family. He took my history, examined me, and listened carefully. He said my heart seemed to be fine. He did an EKG, which he declared to be "divinely boring." He ordered a chemical stress test in conjunction with a PET scan, just to get a baseline against which we would compare future stress tests.
That test was a kind of crazy story in itself. They had me lie down on a table that then took me into a machine that took photos of my heart. It uses radioactive tracers to produce pictures of the heart. The tracers mixed with my blood and were taken up by my heart. A gamma detector that circled my chest picked up the signals from the tracer and then the computer converted the signals into pictures of my heart at work. They got those photos for a few minutes and it was just a nice time for me to lie down, to meditate and pay attention to my breath. After about 20 minutes, they gave me a medication that increased the blood flow in my heart, similar to what happens during strenuous exercise. Then pictures were taken of how well my heart took up the tracer both before and after that medication. When they gave me the medication, I could feel it immediately. They told me to breathe deeply and I had no trouble taken deep breaths, but I found that it was difficult to empty my lungs before needing another breath. Still, it lasted only a couple of minutes. It was an interesting experience.
On Monday, November 11, 2019, the nurse called to tell me that they got the results of my test and it showed I had a "double defect." That didn't sound good. She said that I had Silent Ischemia as Thing One. Ischemia is a name for damage caused by decreased blood flow and oxygen to the heart muscle. That means that I have narrowed heart arteries, specifically in my case, around my right coronary artery. Normally this damaged heart muscle will cause chest pain or discomfort known as angina pectoris. It can also cause severe fatigue (which I don't have), shortness of breath (which I don't have), and weight gain (I've actually lost 55 pounds so far this year). Also people who have had previous heart attacks or those with diabetes are at high risk for developing Silent Ischemia, but I haven't had a heart attack or diabetes. I'm also pretty sure no one has ever applied the adjective "silent" to me before. But really the "silent" part just means that I have damaged heart muscle from narrowed heart arteries, but have none of the clinical symptoms of the disease. So that is Thing One. Thing Two is scarring of the heart tissue. Scarring can be caused by a heart attack or something else. There's no evidence that I've had a heart attack and it seems like something I'd remember. So I guess my scarring falls into the "something else." Scarring cf the heart can cause ventricular arrhythmias. So that's it. That's my double defect.
I am scheduled to have a Cardiac Cath on December 13, 2019. They will figure out how narrowed my blood vessels are. They will put in stents, if needed. Or if the narrowing is too severe, they will schedule me for bypass surgery. Two close friends have had this happen recently. I am not freaking out over this. At least, not yet. It's just something to take care of. I have good doctors and good family (both bio-logical and just logical) support. I'm doing this Caring Bridge just as a place where, as we find out what's going on, James and I can post so that those who care will know almost as soon as we do. If you've read this far, then you're one of those people. Love you, too.