July 2, 2012
“You’re way too healthy to be in my office.”
Well, yes. I think so too. But here I am. I’m consulting with a cardiologist, while the trip to Everest Base Camp weighs heavily on my mind. How did I get here?
It all started about a month ago, on a group hike, when I became dizzy and extremely short of breath on an uphill segment and just couldn’t keep up. Or maybe before that, even, when my ankles started swelling up like balloons after relatively short flights. The pollen count was really high the day of the hike, and since 2004 I’ve been diagnosed/undiagnosed with asthma a couple of times. Whether it’s actually asthma or just allergies seems to remain an open question. In any case, despite running and hiking and all that, I’ve been having trouble increasing my cardio fitness significantly. In fact, I sort of appear to be going backwards, able to increase my endurance but only at slower jogging speeds.
So I thought it might be a good idea to see my doctor. I figured I’d walk out with a new inhaler and maybe another prescription for Singulair. Instead, she took about 10 seconds to tell me that she was sending me to a cardiologist. Granted, I showed her these photos taken of my feet after a four hour flight. Plus there are other risk factors as well – I had rheumatic fever as a child – so I understand her concern. And I wasn’t exactly thrilled with elephant cankles either. (Compare this to the photo of my feet on Day 7.) Still, I didn’t expect the next words that came out of her mouth, “symptoms of congestive heart failure.”
I’m sure she saw the look on my face, and she quickly tried to reassure me by telling me that yes, it’s usually an old person’s problem, but she had a seemingly healthy 30 year old die in front of her from it once so young people can get it too. Um. Okay. That doesn’t exactly make me feel better. Now, I do medical sociology and conversation analysis for a living. Doctor/patient interaction is something I’m extremely familiar with from a research perspective. And let me tell you, that was just about the worst bad news delivery I’ve ever heard.
But there it was.
Later that day, I went to the lab, became a human pin cushion, dialed back the intensity of my training for now and…waited.
Today, the news is good. It is NOT congestive heart failure or any other obvious horrible heart condition rearing its ugly head. Still, there is a murmur and more tests next week should give us a much better idea of where things stand. In the meantime, I have not been exercising outdoors. I’ve been sticking to the treadmill at the gym, and to a nice, slow jog. My ankles are fine. Most days my breathing is fine. I still wonder if it’s just allergies or asthma, and if that ends up being the verdict I will be really upset that our medical system put me through this stress. The first day, I was in shock. The second, I cried. Now after hearing that all my labs are perfectly normal, I’m getting angry – at myself. I wonder if I should have even bothered to go to the doctor at all. I wonder why when I was a bit younger, similar symptoms were diagnosed as asthma and a low resting heart rate was considered a sign of fitness, not illness. I marvel at the lack of communication between my doctors and the lab and the insurance company. It seems like this process is taking so loooong and for the first time ever I feel like a collection of disconnected symptoms rather than a person. I wonder if a more holistic approach would feel any different, or have a different result. I wonder if something one doctor or another didn’t bother to ask could be important. I spent maybe 10 minutes with each of them, max.
All I can do now is wait, and hope that this was all for nothing. Hope that they freaked me out and caused a couple of weeks of stress for absolutely no reason at all. Because really, once the wheels of Western medicine are in motion, that’s the best case scenario. That I stressed out, took tons of time away from work, got pricked by phlebotomists who left week-long bruises, spent a lot of money, and in the end I come out the other side with all the tests negative and nothing objectively wrong, even though my ankles still swell and I can’t run faster than 4mph anymore. That’s the BEST thing that could happen. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
For now? Everest Base Camp is still ON! My cardiologist didn’t bat an eye, tell me to stop training, or give me any lectures on high altitude trekking. We’ll see what happens next week, but for now it’s a go and I intend to keep moving forward – even if it’s just at a slow jog!