It goes pitter-pat. It skips a beat. If I were a romance writer, I’m sure I’d find other ways to describe what my heart does. When my heart fluttered while looking at my husband I’d say, “When I look at you, my heart skips a beat. Oh, wait. It does that.” The official diagnosis was mitral valve prolapse with moderate regurgitation, which basically means that the valve that regulates how blood flow from receiving blood from the lungs was loose and floppy. Since it didn’t close properly, there was some back-wash. This, I learned, was not an efficient use of my heart, and according to the cardiologist after my first visit, I would probably need valve repair in “10 to 15 years” and put me on blood pressure medication, not that I had high blood pressure, as was always assumed when I ended up in the ER with a finger cut needing stitches.
My first visited the cardiologist 15 years ago. I learned the routine of checking in, talking to the nurse, and getting set up for an EKG. I learned not to wear pantyhose because EKG leads are sometimes attached to the ankle. I learned this was an office where the doctor was on time, and I needed to be as well. Every year, often twice a year, I had regular echo-cardiograms for him to monitor how floppy the valve was and how much regurgitation was occurring. Occasionally, I’d feel something and he’d have me wear a Holter monitor that recorded my heart activity for 24 hours. A couple of times I had a stress test where I spent four hours in the doctor’s office for 15 minutes on the treadmill. Once I had chest pains and spent 24 hours in observation at the hospital, but that incident had more to do with the stress of my job ending than anything else.
I’d like to say I took all this in stride, which is not to say I sailed through as if nothing new happened. For the most part, life when on as it always had, yet in one 20 minute appointment I discovered I was not who I thought I was. I felt physically the same, but my heart was off and I was given a new identity. In addition to being a wife, step-mother, sister, aunt, daughter, friend, pastor, I became a heart patient with open heart surgery in my future. I entered a kind of limbo land because surgery would only happen when the valve reached the tipping point of bad enough for repair and before symptoms occurred. How did I deal with the blips, upheavals, and feelings when I started overthinking?
- I researched and read. Fortunately, nothing I found was overly frightening.
- My brother, who has a different condition that will require open heart surgery, and I entered into a competition with just a single rule, the one who had surgery first won. Spoiler alert; it was me.
- I used art and made a quilt.
I started the design with a printout of my echo a technician once gave me for the shape. I relied my memory of watching the echo when they turned on the Dopler for the crazy patch of the heart’s four chambers, that part of the test always reminded me of impending thunderstorms I’d seen on the Weather Channel. Once each of the chambers were completed I sewed them together into one heart using black piping to accenuate the division of the heart chambers.
I created a loop-gap the mitral valve since prolapse means the valve wasn’t closing properly and appliqued the heart to the background.
I used a copy of my EKG in the border showing the irregularities I sometimes felt. I once shared a photo of the quilt with a nurse who immediately identified the cury bits as PVC’s. I finished by quilting the words, “my heart does that sometimes” into the background.