Is it proper protocol to high five your doctor When you finally get a diagnosis – even if it is a little scary?
Hallelujah! A miracle occurred that provided a diagnosis and solution for my problem!
On the Thursday morning after I had the holter monitor test, there were messages on my work phone, my home phone, my personal cell phone and my work cell phone to call the office that conducted my holter monitor test. I talked to a nurse who asked if I could come in early Friday to talk about the results. I said yes, and asked if there was anything I should be concerned about in the meantime. She told me to avoid doing anything like the activities that caused me to note a reaction in my diary. Oh great, that would cover basic living activities! I said I would be careful and I would definitely be in the office early the next morning to learn what was causing my black-outs and lightheadedness.
I went home and I decided to do a little research on the office website. After reading about various heart tests, heart conditions and heart treatments, I found that there were issues regarding the "plumbing" of a heart versus issues regarding the "electrical system" of the heart. I concluded that my issue might be with the electrical system of my heart, and I wondered if the treatment for this issue might involve the implantation of a pacemaker.
When I showed up the next morning, I met with the doctor, who was an electrophysiologist. He showed me the printout of the holter monitor report. It was like a graph with wavy lines showing my heart activity. It was really interesting because there were some periods where the graph seemed to show regular heart beats. But it also showed stretches of time where my heart was beating very, very slowly. Each time my heart beat slowly, it matched up exactly with an instance in my diary when I noted feeling dizzy or weak or just very odd. Sure enough, the doctor told me that he thought I would feel a lot better if I had a pacemaker implanted in me. He indicated that the device would regulate my heart so that it would beat at a normal rate.
I was impressed not just by this doctor's knowledge, but by how compassionate he was. He looked directly into my eyes and I felt that he understood the distress I had been going through. I was thrilled that this doctor showed much concerned about my well-being, and that he also offered a diagnosis and a solution. I said yes, let’s put the pacemaker in. The doctor indicated that before he could schedule the procedure, I would need to have an echocardiogram.
After that test concluded, the technician told me that I needed to wait in the examination room to speak with the doctor again. When the doctor came in to talk with me, he asked me if anyone had ever told me that there was damage to my heart. In fact, I think he asked me this question three times. I said no each time. He then advised that I definitely had experienced damage to my heart. I asked him what could have caused the heart damage. I was particularly concerned because I had an eating disorder when I was in college, and was afraid maybe that had strained my heart. The doctor told me he would not even go there if he were me. He said that there were a variety of causes to include family history, the process of aging, viruses, etc. He said the important thing was to fix the problem. I agreed and we scheduled the pacemaker implantation procedure for the next week.
The doctor said that before he could perform the implantation procedure, he would have to conduct a test to see if I needed a device with just a pacemaker or one that also included a defibrillator. Wow! I had not looked at the information on defibrillators when I researched the office website the night before. But I decided that if the problem with my heart’s electrical system turned out to be more complex than just a slow heart beat, we had to apply the proper fix, whatever that might be. I was a little nervous given the heart damage finding and the possibility of living with a defibrillator inside me, but I was still happy to have an answer and a solution.
The procedure was scheduled for March 21, 2013. I contacted my sister who said that she would come and stay with me for the procedure. I was scheduled to stay in the hospital overnight to make sure there were no complications related to the device implantation. We agreed that my sister would stay with me the next night to make sure I had recovered enough to be able to stay by myself going forward.
Again, while I was a little scared about the prospect of having a medical device or devices planted inside me, I was so ecstatic to finally have an answer to a problem that had dogged me for months. I went back to my office and told my supervisor that holter monitor report had shown that my heart beat too slowly, and I needed a pacemaker. He asked me if I was going to get a second opinion. I know I looked at him as if he had two heads. As far as I was concerned, I had examined the report, and had observed with my own eyes the instances on the report where my slow heart beat matched to the second with the instances my diary noted that something was wrong. So I just answered “no” to my supervisor’s question. Trust me, when you live through four months of increasing weakness, light-headedness and hell like I just lived through, you don’t need more proof than this. And if you haven’t lived through what I did, I am not sure there is any way that you could relate to the relief I felt.
You may ask why it took so long to get an answer? Why didn't my annual EKG in the fall, or the heart test in December reveal the problem, or why hadn't a doctor asked me to do a holter monitor test sooner? While these questions initially popped into my mind, I quickly dismissed them. I knew that all the doctors who had examined me since my original black-out were concerned about me and were intent on finding the cause for my deteriorating state. I had come to realize that the body is a complex thing, and my symptoms could have been the result of a number of different conditions which needed to be considered. Additionally, if the cause was something like a virus, well maybe the damage had not yet occurred by the time of my annual EKG and the first heart test.
All I knew was that my frustration had disappeared, and I was resolved to fix the issue and get on with life. I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders, and I was delivered me from the need for taking anti-depressants, as well as the seizure medication.
While I didn’t give the doctor a high five for getting me a definitive answer, I know that the look on my face and the spring in my step (or at least what sufficed as a low-energy spring in my step) was all he needed to see to know that I was thrilled to be finally moving forward.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. She spent the next 7 years learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth. Then in October 2020, she received a heart transplant. This blog is about her journey of the heart.