By Clare Almand
30 Nov

Can We Laugh About This?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

As an avid TV and movie watcher, I often think of how I would apply my experiences with CHD to the cinematic arts. Instead of a two-hour film filled with tears, laughter, heartache and triumph, I’m leaning towards TV sitcom. While an hour-long drama seems more appropriate given the subject matter, my experiences usually lean toward the comedic side.

After getting a mechanical aortic valve and then a pacemaker in elementary school, I had a nine-year break from surgery. Initially, I was always afraid of getting sick and going back in the hospital. Every skipped beat and every beat that was too fast or too slow was magnified by my valve; I believed each one meant impending doom. But I was always told that I was fine. So eventually I accepted that I would have the occasional irregular beat and I was able to spend middle school and high school focused on important things like being popular and not getting fat.

When I awoke that fateful March day sophomore year of college to a heart rate that didn’t seem to increase when I was mobile, I didn’t think too much about it at first. I was late to class and while jogging up that hill to the quad, it was difficult to breathe and I felt like I had a weight on my chest. But when I sat down in my seat and took my two midterms that day, I felt fine.

I didn’t have time to think about my heart. I had to finish class, go back to my dorm and pack, because I was going to Cancun the next day for spring break! But I called my mom anyway just to let her know what was going on. She suggested I go to the ER. So I did. But first I got a manicure, pedicure and a bikini wax. Clearly, I had my priorities in order.

And yes, it was devastating to hear that my pacemaker was dead and working on reserve battery power and I would not being spending spring break in Cancun, but in a hospital. But now that a few years have passed, I think it’s pretty funny that I took two midterms (I got a 104 on one of them) and got all pampered for my trip with a dead pacemaker.

Several months later, I was just sitting in my apartment when I realized my heart rate was in the 140s. When nothing had changed fifteen minutes later, I had my roommate drop me off at the ER. She was so confused. She asked, “Do you want me to wait with you?” I told her, “No, it’s cool. This happens all the time.”

After a pacer check and some blood work, the cardiologist told me I had atrial fibrillation. A-fib being another condition that I had no idea was a possibility for me, I wanted to know why. He wasn’t my regular cardiologist and he only saw patients with acquired heart disease, so he said, “The main causes of a-fib are alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, cocaine, diet pills and asthma medication.”

Without missing a beat, I replied, “Well, I’m on all of those.”

He didn’t even crack a smile. Come on!

Only focusing on all of the negative things in our lives can really get us down, so I try to find the funny, the unusual, and the ridiculous. When I tell those stories about getting a new pacemaker or finding out I had a-fib, it’s not just one more bad thing that happened to me. It’s “guess what I did before I went to the ER?” and “guess what I said to the cardiologist?” Because we should be able to laugh about our whole CHD situation as much as possible.

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