Muscle, Bone, Tissue, the Like.


This last week, I found out I had a heart murmur. I went to the clinic on a Wednesday. It was just like any old day: cold and bright, very blue, trees with no leaves, and the normal amount of traffic. I was thinking about meeting Amy at the gym after and about what I was making for dinner later---a grilled sandwich with roasted chicken, apple, cheddar, and spinach. It was just a yearly checkup, a physical that I had forgotten

to schedule for, ah, a couple years. I felt the normal amount of anticipation---will they draw blood? Shots? Something else?

During my physical, after a thorough listening (a bit longer than usual) of the thumps and rushing sounds in her stethoscope, the doctor pronounced that I had a heart murmur and promptly scheduled me for an echocardiogram on Friday.

I didn't even know what a heart murmur was except that it didn't sound like something healthy. Heart problems were not an issue I had struggled with before. This was strange. Amy and I decided to skip the gym that day, and I went home and googled murmurs and ate my planned sandwich. I found out that they are this:

"...abnormal sounds during your heartbeat cycle that are often caused by defective heart valves or leaks. A valve may be unable to close completely. This leads to regurgitation, which is blood leaking backward through the valve when it should be closed."

tumblr_m4lksgWdPv1qg47lno1_500I guess over 90% of people have mild heart murmurs (according to the internet), so I was more intrigued than worried when I arrived at my echocardiogram appointment at 7:45am on Friday morning. I skipped coffee on the way as I assumed caffeine might speed things up a bit and make me jittery. It wasn't until after checking in, after the waiting room, when I was lying down, staring at my heart on an ultrasound screen, that I started to feel a bit anxious. The technician zoomed in and out, highlighting the width and length of atriums and veins, took screen shots of sound waves, and recorded snapshot after snapshot from different angles. I didn't feel like that was actually my heart that she was looking at. It was strange to see the organ that keeps me alive in such a scientific state. I could see valves opening and closing and heat waves where my blood was flowing. I suddenly felt fragile and very real.

After thirty minutes, I began to notice that the technician was repeatedly zooming in on one particular area of my heart. Now, let me assure you, most of the time, it was pretty much the same as when you're looking at an ultrasound of a baby and you're like, "I see it! .....Wait.....nope. I don't. Looks like nothing." But after watching her enlarge and highlight the same picture over and over again, I thought, that's it, there's a problem.

"So, uh," I managed my most casual voice, "How's it lookin?"

"I can't report any findings to you as it can turn into a liability issue. Only the doctors can diagnose." She continued drawing graph lines and taking snapshots.

"Oh, okay. Makes sense." I stared at the ceiling.

"But," She looked at me after a minute or so, "I'm not seeing anything here that's making me run out of the room screaming to the doctors."

"Oh." I felt a bit more calm, "Well, that's good I guess."

After forty-five minutes, everything was finished, and she let me know that it looked like I had a small leak in my pulmonary valve, but nothing was certain until the doctor called. I was hugging my hospital gown to myself because, as we all know, they never seem to put the ties in the right places.

'You'll hear back in a week," she said as she pulled off her rubber gloves and washed her hands.

Drew was waiting for me in the waiting room when I was finished which was a real consolation the whole time---just to know that another body was present and knew what was happening. We stopped for coffee and then went on our separate ways to work.

I was lucky, because instead of waiting a week like the technician had said, I ended up only having to wait four hours. It was such a comfort when I heard the words normal and benign come through the receiver on my end of the call. I was free and clear! Nothing was wrong. Nothing would be affected, and I could continue on living my life just as I had before. There was great rejoicing via text message and phone call with multiple people after I heard the news.

I still felt fragile, though. I still do. Truly delicate because the abstract way I had always thought of a heart, and heart rates, and blood in valves and atriums, and the way it travels in and out is now very actual to me. It scares me how tangible I feel after all of that, but in a good way---I feel very, very alive. I feel rather amazed that God put organs and muscle and tissue inside of me, and they are just things, objects I could hold in my hand, yet they keep me living and thinking and feeling grand emotions. I can yawn because of them and hear people whisper or sing, and I can watch rain on a dark street or feel cold sheets in bed. I am very aware of most everything right now.

This is just a story of what happened last week, and I thought you should know.