Betty Duffy

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hole in My Heart (All the Way to China)

It seems I have a hole in my heart. The internist said, "I did not expect to see this," as he read me the results of my Echocardiogram, "A rather large hole with a left to right shunt. I'm going to refer you to a cardiologist."

Unfortunately I could not remember the clinical name for my hole as I clicked around the internet that night looking for my prognosis. Before long, I was duly convinced of my need for open heart surgery. The hole must be addressed. The doctor said as much. A cardiologist friend confirmed. But I had to wait a week for my referral.

During that week, my mother called the entire family to alert them to my health concern. I stoically requested that she not put my name on any prayer chains, as I did not want to be the poor lady on the prayer chain. No, I would suffer silently this meeting with my mortality. Only tell my closest friends.

I met with Pedge and Irene as I am wont to do on a Thursday morning, and after Pedge dared to voice her discontent with an ongoing renovation project in her home, I decided it was the right time to make her feel like shit. "Well, since we're dishing, I guess I should fill you in on my latest thing. It seems I have a hole in my heart..."

"Do NOT tell me you are dying," said Pedge.

"Let's hear it for open heart surgery!" said I.

"Shut Up!"

"No really..." and I filled her and Irene in on the many recent tests, the outcome of which pointed to the immimency of surgery. It was a "Beaches" moment; tears, laughter, poking fun at one another's mortality.

"You're going to die, and I'm complaining about my window...but what a great story this will be when you write it."

"It's perfect."

On the homefront, I made a selection for my husband's second wife, and put her number on speed dial on his Blackberry. "Just in case I croak, you'll know what to do."

"What did you say?" looking up from the Drudge Report.

I held up his phone, "Monica...I put her number on here, for when I'm dead next week."

"You're dying?"

"Yeah, next week, probably."


Next up was getting rid of baby clothes. Heart condition plus gestational diabetes yields "A GRAVE REASON" to avoid future pregnancies. "Be careful what you wish for," I thought to myself, suddenly saddened by the thought that my nine-month-old would be the baby of the family forever. I packed up the jolly jumper, the layettes and receiving blankets.

Then I began to see the other side of child rearing. Where it once seemed I'd been in this baby phase for a long time, it suddenly seemed too short, and indeed, nearly over. In just a few short years I'd have more independence, yes, but where would the kids be? On their way out the door. Then what would I do? A hint of fear twisted in my gut.

I took walks in the park at dusk, listening to moody music, looking up at the Heavens and contemplating my failure to prove invincible. I thanked God for this opportunity to suffer, though with honesty, I couldn't remember the last time my life was as easy as it currently is. And my ease felt intensified and enlivened by the intrigue of a medical dilemma, future doctor's appointments, the thought of my mother coming to take care of me.

Yes, there was a part of me that did want to be that poor lady on the prayer chain.

But it wasn't meant to be. My meeting with the cardiologist revealed that I'd done my internet research on a different kind of hole than the one I have in my heart. My shunt is right to left rather than left to right, an abnormality rather than a congenital defect. No surgery required.

There's a reason for medical specialists. There's a reason not to self diagnose on the internet. And there must have been some reason I needed to go through the motions of thinking I was going to have a near-death experience.

It is humbling to eat one's words, "Remember how I told you I was going to have open heart surgery? Well, just kidding. Turns out, I'm just a hypochondriac." And as cliche as it's become to get in touch with genuine feelings of gratitude at the thought of imminent death, I did just that.

What a good life I have. I can take heart in the little things, just like my little brother wrote in a recent email: "Glad to hear (as we've always believed) that you're just abnormal, rather than defective."


Emily J. said...

Did you take Monica's number off the phone?

I'm trying to think of some kind of chronic, slowly debilitating illness so that Mom will come and take care of ME. Anything likely show up in your internet research?

Jamie said...

Here is another little thing we have in common: I also have a cardiac anomaly that prompted me to prepare for my impending death with earnest stoicism, only to hear the cardiologist say that it was Not A Big Deal At All.

I hope you don't mind that I laughed aloud at this post. :-)

TS said...

I felt guilty twice while reading this post, once for laughing (particularly at "What did you say?" looking up from the Drudge Report) and once for envy (she can flat-out write). Good to know you're ok! (Well, as much as any of us are ok.)

Betty Duffy said...

Emily, How about something like adrenal fatigue (a 21st century stress disorder!)? It's virtually symptomless, no longterm damage, yet you can get a doctor to write your excuse just by claiming to be tired and overweight. Not sure if it would lure Mom to you--but you could throw out the bait and see if she bites.

Now that it's more likely again that Joe will croak before I do, I should probably replace Monica's number with my prospective husband replacements.

Jamie, I must admit, I've been laughing at your lice saga--until my sister-in-law, with whom we spent the weekend called to let me know that they have lice and that I should check my kids. Could be yet one more commonality. We'll see...haven't seen any evidence yet...

TS, do not feel guilty for laughing at my psuedo-misfortune. For the envy, on the other hand, you probably should feel guilty (you can flat-out write too).

mrsdarwin said...

Since it was clear from the beginning of the post that you were going to live, I sat back and enjoyed the ride. I'm glad that the ride will continue, unimpaired.

Melanie B said...

I've been there. Mine wasn't a hole in the heart. It was uterine cancer: 'The usual treatment is a hysterectomy.' Several tense tear-filled weeks and many tests and it turns out there was no cancer. But I faced the possibility that my first child would be my only. Seems funny now that I'm losing sleep with #3. Like you say, there must have been some reason I needed to go through the motions of thinking I was going to have a near-death experience. Gratitude is definitely up there. Also my empathy for the poor woman on the prayer chain. Having been her was immensely humbling and beautiful and now I actually stop to say prayer instead of irritatedly clicking Next. A little embarrassing when I had to announce to the whole world that it was a false alarm. But I think all the prayers did me a world of good. It's still grace.

Roz said...

Ditto to what TS said plus, I'm curious about Monica's reaction to this.

Internet research: blessing or curse? Discuss.

Betty Duffy said...

Melanie, you are right. I do not discount the many graces that have come from this--particularly from the Mass my friend offered for me (now in thanksgiving).

Roz, I'm trusting that Monica has no reason to connect this blog to me in real life--but just in case, I might have changed her name.