Reader alert: This post is intended to be more light-hearted and humorous than a number of previous posts. Sometimes I think the best treatment is to have whatever fun you can have with your chronic illness.
I have watched “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” many, many times in my 59 years. I often wondered if Dr. Seuss was really a doctor. As I began to evaluate the impact of my heart failure, the question about his medical pedigree, if any, grew in my mind. If he was a doctor, how much did he know about the heart? I ask these questions because as I know more about heart failure, the story of the Grinch has what I believe is a huge disconnect.
Some background information may be helpful to those who want to understand my view. I have had congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathy for the past 4 years. For part of that time, I had dilated cardiomyopathy. As with everything related to my heart health, I was curious regarding the definition of that term. After some time studying the various websites, I concluded that having an enlarged physical heart is not a good thing.
Why is that you ask? According to the American Heart Association, dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease that frequently starts in the left ventricle, the heart's main pumping chamber. The heart muscle begins to dilate, meaning it stretches and becomes thinner. Consequently, the inside of the chamber enlarges. The problem often spreads to the right ventricle and then to the atria.
As the heart chambers dilate, the heart muscle doesn't contract normally and cannot pump blood very well. As the heart becomes weaker heart failure can occur. Common symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath, fatigue and swelling of the ankles, feet, legs, abdomen and veins in the neck. Clearly, an enlarged heart is not a good thing.
At the beginning of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, the Grinch is a bitter, grouchy, cave-dwelling creature with a heart "two sizes too small". He lives on snowy Mount Crumpit, a steep high mountain just north of the town of Whoville, home of the merry and warm-hearted Whos. By the end of the story, the Whos have thawed the soul and heart of the Grinch. He realizes that "maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more" than just presents and feasting. The Grinch's shrunken heart suddenly grows three sizes. So his two sizes too small heart is enlarged three times, which by my math gives him an enlarged heart.
But instead of looking puffy from water retention, the Grinch looks better than he has in the entire story. Plus, he doesn’t show any signs of shortness of breath or fatigue. In fact, the Grinch finds the strength of ten Grinches plus two! Wow – I’d love to see the Grinch’s echocardiogram. Maybe his diet and exercise regimens are better than mine, and he must be on some powerful heart medications. Whatever the reason, he certainly doesn’t seem to suffer from the effects of dilated cardiomyopathy.
When I was at an appointment with my advanced heart failure doctor a few years ago, as always, he saved some time to respond to my questions. While I usually have a number of serious questions, I always have a smart-aleck question as well. So I asked him this: If having an enlarged heart is not a good thing, why do we have an annual Christmas cartoon that celebrates the point that a character’s heart has gone from two sizes too small to three sizes too big?
Of course, the doctor laughed because he enjoyed watching this classic cartoon with his child during the holidays. Obviously, the doctor did not have an answer to this question, especially as he does not treat cartoon characters. However, he has in the past told me that if you have to have cardiomyopathy, the better version to have is the one where you heart is not dilated (i.e., your heart is not enlarged).
I concluded that Dr. Seuss was not a cardiologist. Otherwise, would he have written about a character who eventually suffers from dilated cardiomyopathy but is happy about it? Not only that, the character seems to thrive from it. It just defies reality.
So I looked up Dr. Seuss, also known as Theodor Seuss Geisel. I found that Geisel was not educated as a doctor of any type. However, in 1956, Dartmouth College awarded Geisel with an honorary doctorate justifying the doctor in his pen name.
I found it interesting that Dr. Seuss wrote “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” in 1957. I was born in 1957. I also developed dilated cardiomyopathy later in my life, just like the Grinch. But that is where any resemblances seem to end. I don’t have a dog named Max. While I live near a town that may seem sometimes like a cartoon town with eccentric people, it is too big, too sophisticated and too political to be
a Whoville. Plus, I hope my fashion sense is a bit more evolved than that of the Grinch.
To be honest, I like the fresh and humorous perspective of the Grinch. My hope is that my blog posts can be more than just a sobering view of heart failure. I like to have some posts that present a fresh and humorous perspective as well.
So is there anything else that I could take away from a fellow heart failure patient who is going on 60 (aside from figuring out where he gets those miraculous heart meds he seems to be on)? Well, I do not know what Dr. Seuss had in mind. But what I take away from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is this: the material gifts that tend to monopolize the holiday season are not the important thing. The important thing is family, friends, and faith. And if you have all of these things, you will have a strong heart regardless of its size. This is something I have committed to keep in mind as the rest of my life journey unfolds.
So maybe Dr. Seuss qualifies as a heart doctor in his own special way.
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.