One of the hardest things I had to deal with in 2013 was that I had been diagnosed with a problem known as heart failure. Seriously? I’m a type A! How can I fail in anything?
But then just a year later I was referred to an advanced heart failure doctor. Seriously? I'm a type A! How can I fail in anything??? And if my heart really failed, wouldn’t I be dead? One way to look at it is that maybe the “advanced” part is to deal with overachievers like me. My heart failure isn’t just the normal variety, it’s advanced!
Of course, we also need to look at the fact that the term “advanced heart failure” could be considered an oxymoron. The use of “moron” within the word oxymoron is not to mean that the term is a stupid term. Rather, an oxymoron is a combination of two contradictory or opposite words. To me, the term “advanced heart failure” meets that definition because if your heart has failed, shouldn’t you pretty much be done for? How much more advanced than you get than that? Maybe it’s like the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz. The lyrics say, "She’s not only merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead."
This is where the adage “don’t believe everything you read” comes into play. Take a look at what the American Heart Association says about Heart Failure and Congestive Heart Failure: "The term "heart failure" makes it sound like the heart is no longer working at all and there's nothing that can be done. Actually, heart failure means that the heart isn't pumping as well as it should be. Congestive heart failure is a type of heart failure which requires seeking timely medical attention, although sometimes the two terms are used interchangeably."
So, with that helpful information in mind, I’m really happy to know that my heart is still functional, although not pumping as efficiently as it can. I am really relieved to know that I don’t have to fire my heart for poor performance and look for a better option. Knowing the true definition of the term heart failure, I don’t feel like I’m living on borrowed time, at least not for the immediate future.
Yes, I know I’m being a bit facetious. I hope my post isn’t viewed as being in poor taste. But the one thing that has been a constant source of comfort to me throughout the last three years is this: even in the worst of times, I kept my sense of humor. I admit that it may be a bit warped, but when I start to get my humor back, then I know my chances of beating this heart failure have grown tremendously.
I also hope that my post does not sound either critical or disrespectful of all the people who work on heart issues: the doctors, nurses, researchers, drug companies, device makers, the American Heart Association, among others. Every day they go to work, and every day they come up with new advances in heart treatment means that I have an even greater chance to live as long as my dear Mom, who just turned 91.
It has not escaped me that the treatment of heart issues is complex and wide-ranging. You have your heart plumbing problems and your heart electricity problems. You have heart attacks which are not the same as cardiac arrests. You have your valve issues, and your atrial fibrillation issues, and your high blood pressures and cholesterol issues, and on and on.
In my case, I have seen a number of different diagnoses for my heart issues over the last three years. Among the terms that have appeared on my medical charts are: cardiomyopathy, non-ischemic cardiomyopathy, dilated cardiomyopathy, heart failure, chronic systolic heart failure, congestive heart failure, arrhythmia-Sinus Bradycardia, conduction disorder-Mobitz Type II, and my all-time favorite syncope. The first time I saw the term syncope, I was intrigued because it sounded like syncopation. It seemed like it should be applied to someone who had a definite knack for rhythm. Maybe this diagnosis meant I should look into dancing the mambo and salsa. But alas, this term just mean that I was a patient was was subject to bouts of passing out.
Every time I look at a medical report after a doctor’s appointment, I am just awed as to how much is going in with my heart. No wonder I need a medical device and four different heart-related medications to keep it in line. I am even more awed by the people who have the energy and skill to treat patients with any one or more of the ailments that fall under the category of cardiology. I present a particularly unusual case for them because I seem to fall out of the realm of the ordinary patient. A prime example of this would be the fact that the normal heart patient would have issues with high blood pressure, which is why the majority of medicines tend to lower blood pressure. Of course, I’m not the norm. It is always a challenge to make sure I have the medication I need, but to re-evaluate my treatment plan periodically to make sure that the treatment is making my heart work as well as possible without zeroing out my blood pressure.
So just as much as my heart has not failed me, I am happy to say that my cardiac team has not failed me either. They are willing to undertake any challenge with me; they are willing to answer any question that I might have; they understand that there is both a physical side and an emotional side to heart failure, and they bear with me as I learn to cope with both; and they put up with all my jokes, even the bad ones.
So I hope they, as well as the American Heart Association and the medical research field understand my wish that someone find a better term for “heart failure”. Maybe even if it is just to modify the term to something like “heart pumping failure” or “weakened heart”. Because I still have a hard time relating to a diagnosis to make it seem like a very important part of my body has completely failed. I don’t want Advance Heart Failure to define me or to limit my ability to achieve miracles.
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.