Unnecessary Fear?

A recent EKG came back with some “differences”. There was “evidence of a prior ischemic incident”, and a “T-wave inversion”. My PCP told me I needed to see a cardiologist. This was particularly worrisome, because my father had a history of heart disease, beginning at age 53. I am 59. So, continuing to be the ever compliant patient that I am, I made the appointment. I had a week to wait, so of course, I did what I do. I checked out the WebMD, Mayo Clinic and other cardiac clinic websites in order to better understand the terms I was given. By the time I was finished, I was convinced that I had a blockage, and would either need bypass surgery or at least an angioplasty in order to clear it.

Today I had my appointment. We drove the two hours, into the city, arriving right on time. I walked into the clinic, and the receptionist, standing, said, “Are you Sarah”? I said that I was, and she handed me the requisite forms, interrupting me several times with additional questions. She took me into the exam room, where my husband had been waiting, and looked at my chart via her computer. She confirmed my current medications, took my blood pressure, etc. Taking my completed forms with her, she said she “would find” the cardiologist. After a few minutes, she re-entered the room, indicating that he had requested another EKG to compare with the record he had received from my PCP. The simple procedure took only a few minutes. I watched as the waves were printed on the page, looking for a similarity to the ones I had seen before, but it was hard to identify just what I was seeing.

She left, EKG recording in hand, and within a couple of minutes, the cardiologist knocked on the door. He entered the room, and introduced himself with a big smile and firm handshake. He went over the questionnaire I had filled out, asking questions about my lifestyle, diet, and symptoms (of which I had few, if any). He did a brief physical exam. Sitting on the chairs across from his desk, he told us that the results from both of the EKG’s were “non-specific”. I wasn’t sure what this meant. Did it mean I would need additional tests/procedures in order to clarify what was happening? He went over recent blood test results, and told me that although some of the results were a bit high, he was not concerned with them.

He wheeled his chair closer to us, as his eyes focused on mine. “You know”, he said, “sometimes words are used that can be alarming, and they can be computer generated”. He continued, “To be honest, I don’t see anything that worries me one bit”. This was the first time such an appointment ended with good news in a very long time. My heart raced (not really, but it felt like it), and I felt like hugging him. He said that as long as I continue a healthy lifestyle and keep an eye on the borderline values we had discussed, there was nothing to worry about. He said he would write to my PCP and let her know that all was well.

What he also said, perhaps most importantly, is that when one makes a diagnosis of heart disease, or decides to schedule additional procedures, it is important to look at more than numbers and charts. It is critical to look at the patient, and whether s/he is in good health. The way a patient looks is more telling than even repeated and compared values from various tests. He told me that unless I felt poorly, had chest pain, became out of breath or faint, etc., that I had nothing to be concerned about. However, if such symptoms should occur, he would be more than happy to see me again.

I have decided to use today’s experience as a new start. While I have had several unexpected, even catastrophic health issues, I am generally a healthy woman. No longer will I begin to worry about potentially serious illness unless I have a concrete reason to do so. Today I received great news. Every sign has revealed that my heart is healthy. I will continue to do my best to exercise daily when I am able, eat only as much healthy food as I need for nourishment, and take time to read, meditate or just relax in order to reduce stress. Today was a great day. I want to remember that sometimes the news can be good. And I want to celebrate every day with energy and a positive attitude. Here’s a toast to my healthy heart!

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