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What's Your Excuse?

Jul 22

Posted by: ACHA
7/22/2011 8:18 AM  RssIcon

By Alissa Butterfass

I did something yesterday that I almost never do and that I am not entirely comfortable with: I used my heart condition as an excuse.

The weather forecast had called for near 100 degree temperatures, and a heat index of 105. In other words, really really HOT. Usually on Thursdays I work in the city at my company’s corporate headquarters (on Tuesdays and Wednesdays I work from home). But the thought of commuting by rail, subway and foot to my office while carrying my laptop and a change of shoes, among other things, really was unappealing and was, according to “Dr. Mom,” dangerous (note: my mom is not a doctor but claims she has learned enough over the years to be one).

My initial thought was to ignore Mom’s two phone calls and two emails imploring me to stay home—she tends to over-worry—but then I decided to look up heat-related health warnings online and there it was… dangerous for elderly and people with chronic health issues such as a heart condition.

Even my husband, an actual medical doctor who tends to under-worry, admitted he thought that I should stay here and work from home. So, feeling like the decision was medically advised (and not just my being lazy and wanting to avoid a 90-minute commute each way), there I was at home yesterday. I had an excuse….

Don’t get me wrong. There are times when I use the heart condition excuse—validly, I think. The difference is that today I had to give someone else (i.e. my boss) the excuse whereas in most of the other circumstances, the excuse is limited to my own internal thought process as I make my own decisions as to what I think I can safely handle. For example, I tend not to take exercise classes like aerobics or zumba, where I often get out of breath trying to keep up with the others. My rule for taking the staircases at work is “one up, two down.” Otherwise I take the elevators. And, I’ve never tried any recreational drugs (alcohol doesn’t count, does it?) thinking that on the off chance it did set off a cardiac problem, I know I’d regret taking the risk.

There have been times when maybe I should have really rethought my actions in light of my heart condition. My three-day trek in Chiang Mai, Thailand, comes to mind. Within hours of departing, I was panting and sweating. My friend and travel partner Megan encouraged me by saying “Alissa, you can’t die here ‘cause I’m not making that call to your parents.” Instead, one of the tour guides took my pack, which he continued to carry for me for the entire trip, along with his own pack and all of our group’s food. Yeah, I probably never should have gone on that trek, though it was incredible and, now that I’ve lived through it, I am so glad I did.

There have also been times when I have wanted to use the heart condition excuse. While on a crowded NYC subway, it would be nice if I could wear a big sign that said “I have a heart condition and I am carrying my laptop”—much the way I stuck out my belly rather obviously when I was pregnant—in the hopes of someone offering me his seat. Instead, I’m usually left standing like the other straphangers.

I also remember back in high school, after spending three weeks in three different hospitals with cardiac problems, my cardiologist refused to write a note excusing me from the dreaded gym class. So I was forced to participate, while all the girls who had recently had nose jobs were able to sit on the sidelines. Huh?!?!?

So, here’s my excuse to ask all of you…What are your thoughts on using your condition as an excuse? Do you ever do it? Do you hate to do it? What kind of reactions have you gotten? I’d love to hear your stories!

Alissa Butterfass was born with Transposition of the Great Vessel, which was corrected with a Mustard procedure at age 2. In addition to being a mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend, wanna-be author and chocolaholic, she works part time as a senior marketing manager at a Fortune 500 company and volunteers as the Co-President of her local chapter of a nonprofit organization.

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7 comment(s) so far...


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Re: What's Your Excuse?

Growing up I would go between hiding it or using it. I did try to run the mile in gym and ended up getting very ill...after that any gym teacher was afaird to make me do anything, which at times I used to my benefit, my parents quickly picked up on when I was sick or wanting a day off. As an adult, I rarely have to bring it up due to my desk job. Sometimes we have to carry boxes and I will just use the weak girl act not the I have a heart condition problem. I do hate when people catch me out of breath and wish I could have a sign.

By Melissa on   7/22/2011 9:15 AM
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Re: What's Your Excuse?

When I was 13, I completely blew off a major school assignment. On Sunday night, realizing that there was no way I could complete it in time, I got the great idea to hyperventilate and tell my mother my chest was pounding so that I could stay home the next day. Less than an hour later I found myself in the pediatric ICU at Cornell Medical Center. It turned out that my pediatric cardiologist was travelling, and no one else felt comfortable clearing me in her absence. So there I sat, IV stuck in hand, for four days until she returned and told everyone that what they were seeing was "my normal" and I could go home. That was the first and last time that I made up heart symptoms to get out of anything!

By Amy Verstappen on   7/22/2011 10:42 AM
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Re: What's Your Excuse?

Personally, I don't think that staying home on a very hot day that requires strenuous activity is an "excuse". I think it's totally valid not to push ourselves and our hearts and know when to take it easy. I also don't think it is an excuse to take a day off to relax becaouse of our heart. I think we deal with a lot of day-to-day difficulties and it's important to take time off and for ourselves sometimes. For me, having a condition/disability (what ever people prefer to call it) that is invisible adds a whole other layer of pushing myself and second-guessing my own needs because they are usually not the same as other people. It has been a huge learning curve to just accept that I have the heart I have and that sometimes I need to take time off, take it easy, do less things, do different things than other people, etc. and that it's both O.K. and not an "excuse" .

By Kaitlin on   7/22/2011 11:43 AM
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Re: What's Your Excuse?

I too, have TGA mustard procedure, and my "excuse" is no heavy lifting/strenuous activity/exercise. As far as my job goes, I do not take care of bedbound/stroke/"heavy" patients. (Cardiac RN) Basically anything that requires me to lift more than 10 lbs I don't do it. I find that if I do lift, (because I want to help and feel bad) I get chest pain. So it is a completely legitimate "Excuse", plus my cardiologist said so. Other than that I've used the "excuse" of my heart on many social occasions involving alcohol, sports, or just being out late at night.

By joanne on   7/22/2011 1:36 PM
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Re: What's Your Excuse?

To add, I once went "hiking" in hawaii and that was a mistake. I had shortness of breath just a few minutes after starting. The incline was just too much.

I also participated in Tennis in high school. which I didn't think was going to be bad. My chest was pounding and it was really HOT. It wasn't the tennis that was bad, it was the warm up run around the court. Never again haha.


Last year I did an american heart walk in the summer, and ended up in the hospital for chest pain the next day. (I felt fine during the whole walk) Me and heat are not a good match....

I've learned that I shouldn't push myself when it comes to physical activities. I need to trust my judgement and not second guess myself. It's not about excuses, its about knowing your limits and what your body can handle.

By joanne on   7/22/2011 1:43 PM
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Re: What's Your Excuse?

Copying my comment from the FB page:
yes, i agree this was a valid excuse = reason, but i still felt strange actually using this reason/excuse yesterday, as usually my heart condition doesn't impede my activity. Also note, it's not like I skipped out on work.... I just worked from home like I do on other days. Still, felt weird enough to me to be inspired to write about it....

By Alissa on   7/22/2011 2:30 PM
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Re: What's Your Excuse?

Can't say I've really noticed that much of a difference with heat/humidity. My issue has always been stairs, which made for a fun four years in a 3 story high school, built in the 1920s with a chronically broken elevator. Oh, and a principal who didn't get the "good days" and "bad days" concept. As a result I was pretty much forced into saying that I could never climb the stairs, even though I probably could have on most days if I was given a couple of extra minutes. Since most of my classes were not on the first floor, I got to spend most of my time in the library from Thanksgiving to Christmas of my freshman year while they got a part flown in from Switzerland...supposedly. Of course this didn't exactly help my social status, which was already on the low side since I'm a "nerd" and couldn't play football/basketball due to my condition.

By Wuggazer on   7/25/2011 11:55 AM

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