An EKG? WTF?!

So I tell my doctor that I think my heart is fluttering, murmuring, skipping a beat or doing something wiggy that makes me worry I’m about to have a heart attack. I like my heart to beat to a steady 4/4 tempo — your basic rock beat — and not do paradiddles and drum solos. I want Ringo Starr keeping time, not Keith Moon. 

The doctor raises an eyebrow but is distinctly untroubled and prescribes me an EKG, or electrocardiogram, which goes like this: “An EKG measures the electrical activity of the heart. It tracks these beats and electrical impulses and tells how the heart is functioning.”

An EKG? I frown. But what did I expect? I whine about my impending cardiac arrest and suddenly I’m hooked up to an octopus of cables. Did I think the doctor would just check my blood pressure and stethoscope things away? (Yeah, a little.)

Like any sane person, I loathe medical procedures. They’re intrusive, worrisome, expensive, and they smell funny. But I quickly learn that an EKG is rudimentary health stuff, like a blood test, or a digital rectal exam (sorry). Of course I do it. 

This is what the whole thing looks like (that isn’t me, and that certainly isn’t my nurse):

The procedure is so fast and easy — 10 minutes tops — that I’d barely call it a procedure. More like a way to have some chest hair ripped out. 

Just doing it makes me feel healthier. I’m unaccountably certain the results will be peachy and I can go on living a questionable lifestyle. 

Later, the doc summons me. Things are suddenly not so glowing. Irregularities appeared on the EKG. She wants me to get an echocardiogram, which is: “a test that uses ultrasound to make pictures of your heart.” It’s what they do on a pregnant woman’s belly to see the fetus, but on your ticker.   

Terrific. Now I’m not just stressed, I’m nearly beside myself. 

And for good reason. The echocardiogram I eventually get bears unsettling news. Apparently my heart is in distress: I have a dilated aorta and a “bundle branch block” on the left side. The doctor tells me to see a cardiologist and gives me the name of one. 

I sigh, hard. What’s wrong? the doctor asks. Well, I say, you just gave me a pile of shitty news. She tries to soften the blow: At most, he’ll examine you and tell you to come back in a year, she says. I sigh again. I’m a big sigher. 

Convinced I’ll soon be getting a triple bypass, or a baboon heart, I nervously see the cardiologist, a man bald of pate and kind of soul. Why are you here? he asks right off the bat. Well, I was told I was about to die, I say, if not in those exact words.

Not even close, he says. The abnormalities that appeared are actually totally normal, nothing to worry about, now get the hell out of here and live your life. 

Amazing! I’m free! I’m healthy! My chest will not explode in the next six months! This is a huge turnaround. A new lease on life. I almost kick up my heels like a leprechaun.

And then a dark curtain drops and it occurs to me that good health is fleeting. We are all decaying, breaking down, each breath the beginning of the end. The cardiologist’s warm, mellifluous words become so much empty prattle. Sigh.

But I am undeterred. I will seize the good news and slap the heavens with a high-five. I will take it day by day, adopt a zen perspective, stay calm, reside in the moment. The proverbial bus may smoosh me, or I’ll die a shriveled twig under hospice care, age 101. Really, I don’t know what’s next, how this life thing will play out.

I know only one thing: I kinda don’t want my heart to stop. Hit it, Ringo …

Bedlam in the belly

I either have colossal gas or appendicitis. I am enduring fantastic abominable distress right where my appendix sits with, frankly, blatant purposelessness. (The medical world still hasn’t figured out the function of the troublesome caterpillar-shaped organ. It’s the platypus of human anatomy.)

Of course I’m a tad concerned. Now is not the time to rush to an urgent care center for surgery. A certain pandemic has priority over my sword-in-the-belly pains, even if appendicitis can, in rare cases these days, be fatal. Plus, you never know about what insurance will cover and, besides, hospitals make me woozy with multi-pronged dread. All I can see in my predicament is a hot mess, but in more profane language than that. 

Getting nervous as I seized my stomach, I phoned a doctor friend, whom I hoped would ease the angst. He sort of did, sort of didn’t. Ending the call, my face bore the glacial, expressionless visage of Michael Myers’ rubber mask. The good doc said the cramps and pain could be caused by constipation. Whew. Then he added that I might require a CT scan to identify the culprit. Oof. If the pain spreads I should worry, he said; if it decreases, I’m probably in the clear. 

thats not me. i dont have a goatee and im not quite at hugging a pillow stage.jpeg
That is not me. I don’t have a goatee, and I’m not quite at the pillow-hugging stage.

Good signs: I have no fever. While deep breaths hurt, I can walk with minimal discomfort. And, after chewing Gas-X and popping Advil, I woke today with far less pain than the excruciating night before.

But I’m not out of the woods, and there’s this reminder from one of those frightening medical sites: If you don’t get treatment for an inflamed appendix quickly, “it can rupture and release dangerous bacteria into your abdomen.”

So I remain in a wait and feel pattern. It’s a delight.

Déjà vu has smuggled itself into this picture. As a kid, I had unreasonable hypochondria, leading to near hysteria when, at 7, I felt a sharp pain in my left side that I swiftly self-diagnosed as appendicitis. For hours I curled up tearfully in my parents’ empty bed and envisioned horrors of surgery and gloom and, naturally, death. (Never mind the appendix is on the right side.)

This is different. This bears signs of something moderately serious. It’s painful and fraught with the unknown. I’m not sure where the symptoms point to: hospital, surgery, gastrointestinal earthquakes, the all-clear thumbs up? As I type this, pangs besiege my belly. Something must be done.

* Update: On Easter Sunday, I elected to go to urgent care and get a CT scan at the urging of the doctor friend. After blood tests, a urine sample and the fairly harrowing CT scan (aka CAT scan, all whizzing machinery and sci-fi shivers), it was discovered I indeed have minor, early-stage appendicitis. This normally requires in-and-out surgery, but the surgeon suggested I stay away from COVID-slammed hospitals and prescribed an oral antibiotic regimen, two pills a day for a week or so. The non-surgical treatment is increasingly common for appendicitis, he and my doctor told me, and quite effective.

I grinned widely. Hell, yes, I thought. Hell, yes.