A Beautiful Heart

Last month was "Let's touch base with everyone who's given me an anal probe" month.

Seriously, it was. It's been a year since my last visit with the urologist and I was due for a physical with my regular doctor. It's actually really convenient blocking it all at the same time. Only one trip to the lab for blood work.

I was a little disappointed that nobody did the digital rectal exam. I thought maybe one for old time's sake; just so I could prove that I still have no problem surrendering my dignity. I'm a big boy now! Nope, just checking the heart, lungs, eyes and nice chats with the people who took care of me. I guess that's what happens when you're a success story. The cancer hasn't come back. My weight is down. I'm fit. For a Kind of Old Guy, I look pretty good.

It was good to see Mandy and Dr. Eriksen again. We mostly talked around me. We talked about our vacations, we talked about Gil and how fast cancer took him away. We talked about survivor's guilt. We talked about being healthy. We talked about Carolyn's secret night fitness routine that uses a Pilates ball, some elastic, a couple of free weights and involves a lot of rhythmic thumping and the occasional crashing noise and always happens after I go upstairs to bed. I'd worry except she's looking really good!

At Dr. Eriksen's suggestion, I scheduled a stress test to see how the heart was doing. I had one maybe nine years ago. It seemed like it might be a good idea as I had a couple marathon bike races coming up. If you haven't had one, the basic routine is you go to a specialist, get a bunch of sensors stuck to your chest,  and then get a sonogram done while you are lying down. After that they put you on a treadmill and make you walk and then run until they have your heart rate up to a point that they consider "stressed". Then they lie you back down and do the sonogram again.

Running on a treadmill is a bit of a problem for me. OK, running at all is a bit of a problem for me. I  do most of my exercise sitting down and while I have pretty impressive quads for a Kind of Old Guy, they're not used to supporting my whole body weight while looking impressive. I'm also fairly fit so it takes awhile to get my heart rate up. The end result is I end up spending an enormous amount of time on an accelerating treadmill trying not to fall off the back of it while listening to my knees pop.  Some people run in place with no problem. I ran because my feet were going to fly out from under me and I'd end up face down on the treadmill for the half second it would take it to eject me off the back and into the wall of the office if I didn't. That's the wrong head space to be in on a treadmill. You'll always be just a half a shoe length away from disaster.  I spent most of the exercise in this awful sort of 3/4 superman pose hanging on the grab bar as my legs kept creeping backwards. To make matters worse,  I've reached one of those phases in life where I perspire from every single pore on my body when I exert myself even a tiny amount. I walk the garbage can down to the bottom of the driveway and sweat is pouring out my nose. Have you ever noticed how old people's noses always seem to be running and they don't care? I'm living it. Oh yes and the nurse nicked me a little with a razor when she was shaving my chest for the sensors. After 5 minutes I'm this gasping, soggy bloody mess doing a bad super hero impersonation. The nurse looked concerned but the doctor had a stethoscope on my chest and seemed satisfied that, while I wouldn't win any style points, I would probably survive.

After nine minutes they decided I was stressed enough. I assured them that my max heart rate was more like 180 bpm, not 160 (I checked with a heart monitor on a 20 percent grade climb this winter - it really doesn't go any faster than 180) but my flying sweat was beginning to soak equipment that wasn't even part of the test and while I'm sure they had seen it all on that treadmill - all manor of overweight, unexploded cardiac bombs - I was just getting kind of gross.

Once off the treadmill  they quickly put you back on the cot and look at your heart again. I managed to get myself positioned so I could see the screen. You have to stay very still through the process but as I lay there, I watched my heart beat. I mean, my actual heart. I could see it on the screen. I could see the valves open and close. I could see the movement. I had always sort of visualized the heartbeat as this constant spasm, constant compression and relaxing, but that's not it at all. It moves. It's passing blood in and out and the movement seemed more akin to a dancer than a pump.

The Cardiologist said everything appeared to be working fine. No surprises. I had a beautiful heart.

It is beautiful. It beats in me now. Two weeks later I raced the Capital Forest 50/100 and I sweat just as much and looked just as awkward stumbling through technical climbs and getting tangled up in my pedals. But I finished and faster than my last 50 mile race and inside me is this beautiful dancer keeping things running who made it happen and will keep it happening for years to come.


Thoroughly appreciate your humor Jonathan. My husband was curious as to what had me laughing out loud here :) You also have an astounding way of sharing in such a way that allows me to imagine I am sitting at a dinner table with you and Caroline enjoying a more intimate chat.

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