Affairs of the Heart

Posted by Sharon Labels: ,

I don't believe there has ever been a time in my life that I loved my horses more. I begin each day looking out the window at them; I visit each one in the early morning sun; I breathe in their aura, their acceptance, their love. I tend to their needs throughout the day – fly masks, meds if needed, feeding in the winter - and I ride. I am "home" when I am on the back of one of my mares.

My view in the morning
A couple of days ago, when I caught Sapphire, I impulsively hopped on her bareback (with the help of a fence) and rode her back to the gate that way as I used to in the Chilcotin when I had to walk to the river field to catch her. Legs wrapped around her, I absorbed the oneness and the world slowed. "You," I thought, "Are my rock. All of you are my rocks. And my heart."
"You are my heart."
 My heart, the one that has been beating for over 75 years. The one that keeps me alive. The heart that, although it has done its job well, is now letting me down. I didn't see that coming.

It all began over a year ago with an echocardiogram as part of a routine physical. When the results of the echo came back, my doctor was on maternity leave and another doctor advised me of the results. Nothing alarming, he said. Good.
In January, with what I can only call "intuition", I asked my doctor, now back to work, to bring up the test results again. This time, I got more information. She said it showed a dilation of the ascending aorta but, although it should be monitored, it was not large enough to worry about - yet. To be on the safe side, though, she told me she would refer me to a cardiologist.
I was shocked at the diagnosis. I always thought my heart was strong. I did everything right. I had no risk factors - never smoked, not overweight, exercised, blood pressure had always been low, low cholesterol, ate healthily and prepared almost all my food. A doctor had once told me I would never die of a heart attack; another told me my cholesterol would be the envy of a twenty year old. Of course, the "age card" was a factor and maybe there were times I had not handled stress well. Still...
And then I waited. During this time and for a few years before, I had noticed and mentioned to my doctors (both BC and Alberta) a weakness in my legs but with no shortness of breathe. I had always thought it was as if oxygenated blood was not getting to them when I exerted extra effort like walking up hills. Still, it had not slowed me down much and I had got used to it. The doctors, I believe, thought I was expecting too much. One even suggested I was just out of shape. Really?
By June, it concerned me that the echocardiogram was now a year old. Had the aneurism grown? Finally, this month, I had an appointment with the cardiologist in Red Deer. I was booked for a nuclear stress test. How scary is that? Getting injected with a radioactive "tracer" seemed a little ominous...
I liked the cardiologist. He went over my history after the "rest" part of the test and said he did not expect to find anything and that he would only phone me if he did. He pointed out that I did not have risk factors, that my cholesterol was so good, etc, etc... I completed the exercise part of the test, made a couple of stops and then headed for home. A few kilometers from home, the phone rang. It was my cardiologist.
"This can't be good," I said. It wasn't, although it could have been a lot worse too. He said the test showed coronary heart disease and he was booking me for an angiogram. He was surprised, given my performance on the treadmill and blood test results but there it was, not an emergency situation but definitely an indication of a problem.
And so, on Tuesday, I will get the angiogram with follow up angioplasty if deemed necessary. I'm still upset with my heart, which I thought I had taken good care of. After all, it's a muscle - right? - and muscles need to be worked to stay in shape.  What damaged the arteries? Was it because of years of sleep deprivation? Or stress? Did I expect too much? Research turned up an interesting fact - physically demanding jobs can increase the risk of heart disease. Certainly my life style has been physically demanding. I will never know for sure but it's a fact to deal with now and I can thank my doctor for the heads up. It is my belief that many are going about their lives with similar issues but do not know.
This is when living alone is complicated. Since I will not be allowed to drive after the procedure, I have had to arrange for transportation. I also need someone to check on home (horses are on pasture but garden and plants need water) as I may be overnight. And, the biggest concern is Mischa, my Samoyed, who will be ONE WEEK away from whelping. My daughter will take her for the time I am in the hospital and I can only hope Mischa waits until we are both back home and settled for her big event. And the rest? A neighbor and a friend are stepping up.
And when it's all over, I will be back with my horses, living the life I love. Possibly the weakness in my legs will disappear if an angioplasty is in my future; if not, I can live with that. Because the important thing is to live...or, as I told the cardiologist, to live and do the things I love to do. My horses, once again, will heal me.
Update: Best news ever! The angiogram revealed no blockages! The coronary arteries are clear so no angioplasty/stents. Apparently sometimes a stress test shows a false positive.