But really, shouldn’t it be every month, or every day? Regardless, there is one reason I’m bringing this up today. I know I haven’t been around, but the reason for that is simply, work. I’m just coming off of a short vacation and have some time to focus here, and it fortuitously coincides with Heart Month.
Back in March of 1999, I was going on 22 years old and just diagnosed with a mild heart condition. My doctor back then said that it was a mild, but common, issue; my risk factor was higher though because of family history on both sides of the family, and in the end he told me just to ‘keep an eye on it’ and keep track of oddities or instances as best I could – he knew that Mister Twister was only 7 months old – and to let him (any) physician know about at future yearly checkups.
I was in good general health back then. I worked at the airport and so was very active 5 days a week, so that was great as far as exercise goes. I ate pretty well too (balanced fruits & veggies with meat consumption), didn’t drink or do drugs, but I was still a smoker. I knew then as now that smoking would be bad overall but specifically for my heart. My doctor suggested I quit smoking, and I told him I would – but I didn’t until years later. Full disclosure here : I did quit in the fall of 2010, but life got the best of me a year later and I started smoking again in September 2011. Eleven months isn’t bad but obviously I can do better, and of course I know now that I *can* quit. It’s on my very short to-do list!
That doctor visit in ’99 was the first indication in my life that I could have issues earlier than an average woman, both because of the family history and my smoking habit. Dr. V had listened to my heart, heard a murmur (similar to Mom’s, and we were both patients of his at the time), and hooked me up to a 24-hour Holter monitor. When I went back to discuss what, if anything, the monitor found, he said that my issue had a name – premature ventricular closure, or PVCs. If you click that link, you can see that this is fairly common, but usually not noticeable in day-to-day life. Also usually not discovered at such a young age…. but, for me, there is was in black and white. Dr. V didn’t feel it necessary to give me any sort of medication or put me on an aspirin regimen or ask me to follow any specific exercise routines, which was totally fine with me. He only asked that I not donate blood because it could cause my blood pressure to drop dangerously. (This was the most disappointing thing he could have said – I’m O+ so I used to donate often!)
In the last 14 years, my heart has ‘skipped’ only a few times each year that I know of, and never with any indication that it would happen; it also seemed to happen “just whenever” it wanted to, and I could be doing anything from watching TV to walking to dancing in the kitchen. It didn’t seem connected to any activity or lack thereof. Only once can I remember feeling a skip, and it made me think I was going to pass out. Especially scary at the time, because I was home alone with newborn Miss Hurricane and didn’t have a vehicle – Mister Twister was at school, and Ardeo was at work, and it was around 9 a.m. – and leading up to the skip, I was literally watching a TV show and crocheting while waiting for the baby to wake up. Since that day, I promised myself I would be more aware and vocal about this heart condition, and I kept a paper updated quarterly with information about it, myself, family history, Mom’s phone number, everything I could think of. And since that day, I probably have had less than 50 skips total.
Until about two weeks ago. I truly have no idea what may have changed, but I was at work one Saturday and noticed that in the first two hours of my shift, I felt 5 skips. I told my closest coworker about it, since she and I would be off by ourselves but working together that day. The rest of that day, nothing else. I thought it was just me overworking or something.
The next day, Ardeo and I went grocery shopping, and I felt one ‘long skip’ while driving. I told him when it happened (he knew the above history) and that there was no pain; I hadn’t yet had any pains accompany any of these heart skips, ever. Just for my own peace of mind, that night I found an app for my phone that would allow me to keep track of everything associated with it. This condition is the reason I keep my phone on my person at work, even though upper management frowns upon that (I’m not a teenager, I’m certainly not using the phone while I work, ffs.).
Monday, Feb 3, I went to work as usual and was able to note each skip throughout the day. Looking now, I see that I wrote down 5 skips between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. and noted what I was doing at each time. Tuesday, 5 skips again, but I was off work that day and didn’t notice (or track?) any skips until dinnertime – the first one I have down was at 5:38 while I chopped some celery.
Wednesday, off work again so I cleaned up some fallen branches in the yard. No skips while I was out there, but 4 ‘big’ skips, the first one being 2 hours *after* I came inside. So …. not during strenuous activity.
I won’t bore you, but suffice to say that it has gotten worse in the last week. I’m tracking at least 20 per day, and every so often there is a very mild pain. Still, each skip is only enough to make my breath catch and never lasts more than one second.
I have not had insurance since my baby was born – she turns 11 in May – and I have only kept up with my gyno visits because his office allows me to make payments, so I can take 3 months to pay the bill. (Side note: I also have sketchy family history here. Mom’s mother, aunts, and sisters have all had something or other go wrong with female parts, up to and including cancers. Not so much on Dad’s side, but I have talked to his sisters about medical history too, so I have all of that on file with my gyno.) Not having insurance is what has stopped me from seeing a cardiologist or even finding a PCP. I have been looking over all the things that go along with the Affordable Care Act and will finally be able to sign up this month. I will quit smoking too, and soon, but have not yet set a final quit date. I do have nicotine gum in the house though, so that’s a start!
All this to say that I am truly worried (and, don’t get me wrong, pissed too!) and a little scared regarding my heart health right now. I know I have made stupid choices that exacerbated this issue, but my kids are still young and dammit so am I! I am not finished living and I am a little afraid that I’m running out of time.
Take care of your heart. Seriously.
I’ll update again when I can, but until then, namaste.