By Alissa Butterfass
22 Jul

What's Your Excuse?

Friday, July 22, 2011

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!

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