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….

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