The Latest Dumb Thing to Happen

After the shitty year I had, I really didn’t need a health scare on top of everything. But as they say, you get what you get.

A few weeks after my D&E I started noticing that once in a while, my heart seemed to skip a beat. It was like: normal heartbeat, normal heartbeat, teenytiny heartbeat, giant booming heartbeat. I’d notice a few of those every few beats and think huh, that’s weird. Then they started happening more often. One Saturday night, they happened on and off for hours. I thought we might have to go to the ER but figured well, I haven’t died from this yet so I’m probably not going to die now, I hope.

So I made an appointment with a cardiologist, which of course first involved finding a cardiologist because it’s not like I had one waiting around. And it’s not like I have friends who have cardiologists because I don’t know anybody under the age of, say, 70, who needs a cardiologist. It was slightly reassuring that when I called to make my appointment they didn’t tell me I had to come in right away or I’d die. But still, waiting about a month for my appointment wasn’t that much fun. I kept thinking about stuff like last year, my dad went to the doctor with what he probably thought was a minor thing and a few months later he was dead. And about how both of my parents and all but one grandparent have had heart attacks or strokes. But then I’d be all how unjust would it be for a vegetarian who runs to have serious heart disease? But then I’d be all well how unjust has my life been lately. So it was a lot of back and forth and it would be safe to say I wasn’t the most pleasant person to be around for a while.

My first appointment at the cardiologist was pretty simple. He said he was pretty sure I was having premature ventricular contractions (PVCs), which are annoying but harmless. To be careful, they did an EKG, which was “abnormal,” but I was reassured it wasn’t a big deal and often happens to women with giant boobs. That made me feel better for like 5 seconds.

I had to go back a week later to be set up with an event monitor. With an event monitor, you have an electrode on your chest and one by your ribs. The electrodes are attached by wires to a device that is as technologically elegant as a 1980s cell phone. It allows people aboard the mothership to monitor your heart. When you feel an “event,” you press a button, select the event and your activity level at the time of the event, and it alerts the mothership, which records the event so your doctor can look at it later. This is so your doctor can see your events to determine what they are, because of course they never happen when you’re actually at the doctor.

I was supposed to wear the monitor for a month at all times I wasn’t showering. I did the best I could but DANG, it was hard. At first I was panicky because I was sure the mothership would call me because while monitoring me they’d noticed something dangerous. Fortunately, that never happened and you can’t sustain that high of a level of stress for long so eventually I felt pretty normal. Then the electrodes would fall off while I was running, so I’d just take the thing off. Then I got tired of having to dress like an Amish person. It’s really hard, as a woman who doesn’t wear super high-collared shirts or pants with dude pockets that can contain such a device, to wear this thing and keep it hidden. At home, I wore it in the super stylish “necklace” holster that comes with the device but in public and especially at work, I didn’t want anybody to see it. The good news is I got plenty of events recorded in the first week or two. I had tons of palpitations and even a few instances where my heart felt like, for no reason, it was beating so fast it would fly out of my chest.

My third cardiologist appointment was for an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart. That was fucking terrifying — not because I was afraid of an ultrasound because those are totally no big deal but because I was afraid they’d find something bad. My colleague Dr. Google assured me that heart palpitations, in the absence of heart disease or structural defects, are almost always benign, but I was just not at a place where I could presume to think that there was an absence of heart disease or structural defects. I spent most of the half-hour ultrasound staring at the ceiling and only taking quick peeks at the screen, trying not to hear the audio portion (they record the sound of your heart), and trying to read the face of the ultrasound technician to see if she was completely horrified by anything. She seemed pretty chill but of course told me nothing.

After the echo I was still wearing the event monitor and had a few weeks until my follow-up appointment. The ultrasound tech said the doctor would call me in a few days with the results of my echo, but he didn’t. I waited. I rode the rollercoaster of panic for a week an a half until I finally called the office to find out what was up. I talked to a nurse who said my results were normal. That was when I started to feel better, like it might almost be possible to feel like a normal person again.

I had my follow-up appointment on Monday. As suspected, I have infrequent benign PVCs. I’m supposed to keep my coffee and beer consumption at moderate levels, take magnesium, and that’s about it. The doctor gave me a prescription for some short-acting medication I can take if the palpitations are really bothering me, but I’d rather not. Now that I know I’m not dying and they’re not dangerous, they really don’t bother me. They only happen at certain times (in the shower, after running, more during the week or so before my period, never when I’m just chilling or sleeping). And there does seem to be a stress component. Now that I’m not super stressed about this, I’m having fewer palps. So that’s cool. It’s my goal to avoid bad stress situations for a while (if only!), so that should help.

And the awesome news is that after getting good news from the doctor, I felt like I was able to take a deep breath and chill out for the first time in just over a year. I spent the better part of a day doing that thing miniature pinschers do when they get really snuggled up and comfortable, a deep inhale with a relaxed sigh-like exhale. For now, I feel great and things are good. I don’t know if that’ll be true tomorrow but if there’s one thing I’ve learned recently it’s that you can’t really think about tomorrow. Today is good. And I am very happy to be back and feeling awesome.