The Heart M.O.T

I had my 8 monthly check up the other week.  I have always likened it to my car being taken in for it’s MOT.  Even when I was a child it was known as MOT time. Of course the time in between MOTs varies to how well I’m doing.  A few years ago I was going up nearly every month, now it’s reached a nice plateau of every 8 months, I’m hoping I can get it back to an annual MOT very soon.

I am very lucky in the fact that I have been able to stay with the cardiac unit where I grew up.  They’ve known me since I was a baby, and yes there was a transitional stage where I was no longer a child and they didn’t know where to put me, but luckily enough GUCH (Grown Up Congenital Heart) clinics had started up, due to the fact there were more of us surviving into adult hood.  So,  I’ve been with my present cardiologist for 25 years!

Yes, it is a bit of a drag having to travel up to East Anglia, I have to schedule work holidays to fit it in, but it’s lovely to catch up with family and friends as well while I’m there.

So I went to my appointment with no expectations.  I arrive and have the usual tests; ECHO Cardiogram – I remember when these machines were first used for heart patients, I was in my teens, the picture quality was even more ropey than it is now, but if you imagine a scan on an unborn baby that’s what it looks like.  Except it’s your beating heart on the TV screen and not a baby. It works in the same way too, bouncing little sonic waves off your heart to get the picture, it’s a sonogram of the heart.

It can provide a wealth of information, including the size and shape of the heart, pumping capacity, and can show any tissue damage.   As well as creating an ultrasound images of heart structures, but it can also produce accurate assessment of the blood flowing through the heart, using pulsed or a continuous wave of ultrasound. This allows assessment of both normal and abnormal blood flow through the heart. To me it sounds like someone is slapping a very wet towel around by my head and I can make no sense of it apart from a little fantasy of it being used in the end credits to Dr. Who (remember in the 70/80’s that Schhshshgfthghshsoooso sound at the end of the credit music for Dr. Who – that’s what it sounds like…. )

The position you have to lie can be quite uncomfortable but the staff there do the best they can, I’ve had the same woman do my scans for well over two decades now and I’m sure she must be up for retirement soon, but she’s lovely, she knows me and knows how to get the perfect ‘picture’ of my heart with its chambers and valves.

The little ‘pen’ used to roll over your chest to take the pictures along with the cold jelly gunk on your chest (fnar fnar!!) 😉   Yes, I said ‘jelly’ and ‘gunk’  and you can smirk….  I know all the jokes about having cold gunk on my chest thank you, I think I wrote some of them…..

Anyway, the pressure that needs to be put on the chest to get the best picture can make me feel quite nauseous, but I can concentrate on the screen and marvel at my beating heart – I can just about recognise the 4 chambers of it and the flappy bits of my valves in motion.  When I was younger I would perversely try to stop my heart from beating by just willing it to stop and holding my breath, just to see what it would look like…. I don’t do that now, I’ve learned that it will beat beyond my willing it to stop and that my control freakery has met its match… the beating heart is a pretty wonderous thing.

Next up was an ECG Electrocardiogram.  More cold gunk on the chest along with the wrists and ankles and little electrodes are attached to the skin.  The ECG is used to measure the heart’s electrical conduction system, I think I mentioned earlier in my blog (here) that they think I have a slight heart block, that is, the electrical conductivity of my heart is a bit mis-wired due to the surgery I’ve had.  This used to be a torturous test when I was a kid, I would have to lie very, very still or the electrodes, that were little suckers at that time, would keep falling off if I moved or laughed, and I would always, always start to laugh during this test, at nothing.  So great big swathes of print-out would have to be binned as the electrodes would pick up the movement in my body.  Today, I still get the urge to laugh at nothing, but everything is so advanced now it doesn’t matter if I move.

In fact, I had a bit of a chat with the technician who was doing the ECG test.  She told me how feared my cardiologist was amongst the nurses and technicians in the cardiology clinic.  “You just have to hear her high heels clicking down the corridor and you get really tense!” she confided.  “She’s a bit of a dragon…..”  I just smiled.  She’s right, I have seen her shout down the phone and throw it down in disgust when my records got lost, but I have also seen her praise her team in theatre when she was performing an angiogram on me, especially thanking the theatre nurse who looked after me, and who had to hold her fist to my groin applying pressure for half an hour after the procedure so I didn’t lose too much blood.  I find the click of her heels down the corridor re-assuring, she’s an amazing woman, she knows what she wants for her patients, she can be critical of student cardiologists whom she mentors but only because she wants them to do well, she gives 100% every time and she expects everyone around her to do the same. I like her and we’ve had some very frank conversations over the years.

But I think this one was the most real and probably the most emotional. She is reading the tests results that I have had that afternoon, we have a brief catch up on how my health has been in the last 8 months – really well – something to do with not working I think 😉  I tell her my plans to become a counsellor for cardiac patients and all about my course and she smiles and says “Yes, I think you’ll be very good at that, at the empathy and understanding.”  “I think there is a real need for it.” I reply, and then I say something that I never thought I would ever say to her… “From my own experience, it’s not that I’m ungrateful for all that you have done for me, but my own heart ‘condition’ and the surgery has been the root of a few of my problems….” and our eyes meet and I can see that I have touched her, I have made her think and I think I may, for a second, have made her sad.

She finishes by listening to my heart, taking my blood pressure – different in each arm! But thats ‘cos of the many angiograms on my right arm as a child. Mentioning my weight… I know, I know, I KNOW!!!! Hell! I’m active 3 times a week, I’ve even started running!  She gives me a picture of my ECG to carry around with me and makes me take a picture of it with my phone, just in case my heart goes crazy and A&E need to see my normal, abnormal heart rhythm. I leave with an appointment to see her in December.

So here it is, if you can read it, please let me know as I have long forgotten how to…. enjoy the ‘art‘ my heart makes….







I’ve recently been in contact with ‘Your Voice Counselling’ a service in Bristol.  They were looking for guest bloggers and I asked if I could be involved and to write about my experience on why I wanted to be a counsellor….

So here goes….

I was coming up to graduation in 1996 and I made some offhand comment about maybe wanting to become a counsellor.  I was a mature student so a good five/six years older than my friends and sometimes I felt very motherly to them, and I  listened to their problems, ideas, worries and concerns.  Though maybe when I look back at that time, I was probably far too judgemental.

Looking through my phone notes recently (I use my phone to record notes for my blog, my journal for my course, anything that pops into my head that I may refer to or use later).  Anyway looking through my phone notes recently I came across a note dated 9/9/2012 ‘Research Counselling for Cardiac Patients’  I remember where I was when I wrote that note, I’d been to the zoo with friends, we were in a pub garden, one pint down, hot weather, good mood, my tongue gets a bit loose and I start chatting about therapy and that’s when I come out with it.  And that’s where it stayed, on my phone.

This time last year, I knew I was leaving my job, I did not know what I was going to do when I walked out of the door of my office for the last time, but I knew I could not, just could not, work behind a desk in an office again.  EVER.

I asked for some Careers Counselling, I had two sessions.  The counsellor with whom I worked with was amazing, we did some exercises and pulled out from that my strengths and weaknesses, what I enjoyed doing not necessarily in the working world  but also in my world of hobbies and fun.  From that we pulled out words such as nurturing, communication, dance, caring, organised.  It was the counsellor that suggested Dance Therapy.  I wasn’t so sure, but I did some research and found a summer school.  A few weeks later from that first session I woke up one day and really knew what I wanted to do.  I wanted to be a counsellor, and work with cardiac patients. That slightly alcohol fueled statement I made in the beer garden over a year ago suddenly made perfect sense.

But how??

I love the internet, love it! I can find out so much stuff, never let me loose on a Wikipedia page, I’ll be jumping from one thing to the other for hours on end.  Anyway, I applied for the dance therapy summer school as a taster into something therapy related.  I found courses at UWE and Bristol college for counselling but they required but all were full for Sept 2014.  I stumbled upon the Bath Centre for Psychotherapy and Counselling (BCPC) quite by accident, but as soon as I read the website I just knew that this was for me.  I applied, got a late interview, and just over 2 years to the day from that note tapped into my phone I paid my fees and started on the Foundation course for Counselling and Psychotherapy at BCPC.

And its been?

Hard, wonderful, life changing, emotional, traumatic, challenging, draining.  I’m just coming to the end of my second term.  I’ve completed an essay that I thought I’d never be able to write.  It was enjoyable and frustrating, there were days when I wrote as little as 100 words, but I had to keep telling myself that they were 100 words more than what I had started with.  I have no-idea if it’s good or not.  A fellow student likened the process to knitting a jumper and was wondering what sort of jumpers we had all knitted.  Well if my essay was a jumper it would have 3 arms and be slightly longer than asked for…..

I have had to be in supervision, as we were told, the course has brought up stuff and issues that I didn’t really know I had.  I have had face up to some unpleasant things about myself, face my fears, re-live my second operation, look at my life and the choices I have made.  Its made me examine my relationships with friends, family and a loved one.  It’s not easy, I know I am changing, how many of those most close to me will be able to deal with that and expect me to be the person I was a few months back, a year back even.  Relationships have already ended, some cut loose, others have become so much stronger and supportive as I move forward.

I have grieved and mourned and celebrated and panicked and raged.  I’ve spilled much of myself on the floor and spent a good many months wondering how the fuck I was going to mop myself up and replace everything in any kind of normal functioning order.

And then there are the practicalities, of money, of bills, of being a killjoy as I can’t afford to go out, of trying to find a job that I can do whilst I study, without being seduced by the ‘dark-side‘ of having a disposable income at the cost of my soul, being a desk monkey.

And that’s just the first two terms of the first year.

At the moment I need to decide if I’m going to carry on and, if I am what direction I will take.  I am at the fork in the yellow brick road, and there is no friendly scarecrow to help me decide the way.  This is my decision to make.

Do I take the counselling route that could take up to 4 more years or do I take the psychotherapy route that could take up to 6 more years……. Do I have the financial resources to do this?  More importantly.  Do I have the emotional strength to do this?

This week I’ve been feeling that I’m punching above my weight, that me, from my council estate background, should really go back home and work in a shop.  That I’ve been silly for ever thinking that I could do this, because look, look at the worry and the stress you are putting on your family as you scrabble around wearing 6 jumpers and three pairs of socks as you don’t want to turn the heating on more than necessary, eating waffles and baked beans cos its cheap, it can’t be healthy.

I’ve worried about not being any good at this career path I want to take, a fear of falling at the last hurdle, of dedicating years of my life to be told, sorry you don’t cut it, you can’t be a counsellor/psychotherapist at the end.

I’ve raged and despaired that I feel that I’m doing this on my own.

And then I remember why I’m doing this, I’m doing this because I BELIEVE there is a need for this sort of support for EVERYONE not just cardiac patients, but everyone who feels alone or anxious or scared, for anyone who feels that they don’t belong, that are looking for their place in their world.  The joy I feel in my skills practice when someone has said, you really understood me, you really helped me.  The discussions I have with fellow students, the learning about Jung, Rogers, Freud, Gendlin.  The way my mind had been opened and expanded, the amusement that I’m finding I’m quite political and have been all along, that there is a feminist within me and always has been.

‘All You Need is Love‘ sang The Beatles….. I’d agree, but make it therapeutic love….