Tag Archives: Doctors

Courage at Twilight: Supraventricular Tachycardia

During gym class, playing volleyball—that’s when it happened. My heart started to flutter and I became weak and light-headed.  Sitting on the sidelines with my fingers pressed to my jugular, I managed to count 300 beats in a minute.  Then it stopped, and I was fine.  I was 17.  My doctor trained me to stop the runaway heart-beat using vagal maneuvers, bearing down while holding my breath.  Normally, lying on my back was all it took to slow the beat.  Fully 40 years later, the vagals would not work, and my friend took me to the emergency room after two hours at 180 bpm.  My cardiologist explained SVT—supraventricular tachycardia—a condition in which the electric circuitry of the heart becomes confused momentarily and takes an unintended and incorrect short cut, sending the heart racing.  He thought low-dose Metoprolol would do the trick, and it did.

The roofing inspector had come to examine the 25-year-old shingles, and Mom watched from the back yard, seated on the rock wall.  She began to feel funny in her eyes and head, stood up, became dizzy, and collapsed.  The mortified inspector helped Mom to a chair.  Her lip had glanced on a rock and was swollen and red.  A brain MRI showed no stroke, no tumor, no inflammation, nothing but a very healthy brain.  But the halter heart monitor revealed repeated episodes of rapid heart rate.  Mom’s doctor, a neighbor, called me to explain the test results, the textbook symptoms, and the treatment.  Knowing all about SVT, I jumped in to inform him of my condition and treatment.  We chuckled in astonishment and excitement at the genetic coincidence.  “Looks we know now where you got it from,” he said, amused.  Chuckling felt appropriate, because Mom’s condition is not a heart defect, just a minor electrical short, and easily treatable, and because after four weeks of tests and consultations and worry, we both felt so relieved to have the answer, and such a positive one.  Mom took her first dose tonight, and is already back on the stationary bicycle, albeit slowly and carefully, her fear ebbing, on her way to renewed strength.

Courage at Twilight: Waiting to See the Urologist

Mom received a letter that Dad’s urologist had retired, and to call for an appointment with the new urologist.  She called in July for an appointment in September.  Arriving home late from work, I saw immediately how exhausted Mom and Dad both were after their appointment.  They told me they had waited for over an hour to be seen by the doctor.  I felt immediately furious that people who were old and feeble and sick were made to wait an hour past their scheduled time.  The exertion of waiting, compounding the exertion of getting to and from the office, left them spent and sick.  I sent a complaint to the practice, telling them it is negligent to make such patients wait so long to be seen, the wait itself worsening their conditions.  I have prevailed upon Mom to make future appointments for a day and time when I can take them.  I am going to have to demand they be seen promptly and not made to wait.  Being fragile, the last thing they need is the irony of their care providers jeopardizing their patients by leaving them waiting in exhaustion for their care.  I am curious to see if the practice will be defensive or will acknowledge they could have and should have done better, and will do better next time.  Fortunately, the care they finally received was acceptable.  And a next time may not be necessary.  The doctor said to Dad, “Look, you’re 86.  If you don’t have prostate cancer by now, you never will.  You don’t need to see me again unless something changes.”  He renewed Dad’s prescription in perpetuity.  True to their character, Mom and Dad did not complain but graciously accepted the blessing of that being Dad’s last visit to the urologist.

Courage at Twilight: Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Roger to his neurologist ten years ago: “I had a brain MRI two years ago.”
Neurologist to Roger: “Really? What did it show?”
Roger: “Nothing.”
Neurologist: “Really?! Well, I’m sure it showed that you have a brain!”
Roger, soto voce, Oh, you are just so clever, aren’t you?

Mom describes her brain MRI as a horrifying experience, one of the worst experiences of her life. And this from a woman who had her childhood cavities filled without Novocain. Despite the standard-issue ear plugs, the rhythmic clanging banging of the MRI machine smashed past the plugs and into her cranium and rattled around tortuously. While I fell asleep during my last MRI, she did not know if she would survive hers. She was so spent and disoriented after the scan, she found walking implausible and opted for a wheelchair, and was never happier to be home in her recliner. I will see to it that her next MRI is preceded by a dose of valium.

Her MRI report has come in, with its “supratentorial” this and its “intraparenchymal” that, showing conditions “not unexpected for age” but otherwise “normal in appearance.” No signs of stroke. No tracks of tumor. No inklings of inflammation. Mom wanted to jump for joy, but settled for a grinning cheer and a shaking of upraised hands. She felt so relieved! So did I. But the mystery of fainting and abrupt general decline remains. Still, with nothing now to fear, Mom has resolved to resume exercising on the stationary bicycle and walking to the mailbox and back. Get well cards arriving by U.S. mail all look forward to her quick and total recovery. And her name is being uttered in many a fervent prayer.