I went to my doctor today. I have been putting it off for three weeks, knowing that I really should go in and get some reassurance, if not an actual diagnosis. I put it off for a couple of reasons. For one thing, I don’t want to be forced to think of myself as aging, or ill, or weakening in any way. For another, I have been through this before, and it was long, and scary and thoroughly depressing.
My medical odyssey begin in the Fall of 2003, when I suddenly began to experience a feeling of pressure and discomfort in my chest. I found it hard to catch my breath, and sometimes I was overcome with a feeling of falling, with the “butterflies in the stomach” feeling that comes with a sudden drop off a high perch. It was scary and unexpected, and I rushed off to the Emergency Room, where I was EKG’d and blood tested, and triaged over to a cardiologist. Over the next few weeks, I had a series of tests of my cardiac system and its related vessels. I ran on a treadmill, wore a 24 hour monitor, breathed into tubes and was generally poked and prodded for any possible health problem. The result? I was in excellent health for a 47 year old woman.
When it was over, I was bewildered and slightly confused. I talked the whole experience over with my dear friend, Deb, who is one of the most spiritual people I have ever known. We sat together, on a late September afternoon, beading necklaces and drinking wine on my deck. I described each symptom and each test, and ended with my sense of confusion. Deb looked at me with sympathy and understanding. Reaching across the table, she took my hand, and said simply, “Your heart hurts.” And it all became clear to me; my oldest child, my one daughter, the baby who had made me a mother, was in her Senior Year of High School, and I knew that I was heading toward the day when she would leave my house forever.
With that realization, my symptoms abated, and I no longer feared that I was about to leave this life.
And so we come to the past three weeks. If you have followed these posts, you know that I am deep in the throes of my grief over having sent my last child out into the big wide world. My writings here have been filled with my sadness, my sense of loss and my unwilling graduation from the ranks of the “Mommy” crowd.
How I missed the connection, I do not know. But three weeks ago, I began to once again feel pain, pressure, shortness of breath and a sense of falling. I was exhausted, no matter how much I slept. I felt aware of my heart and its every muscle movement in every moment of every day. Once again, I found myself tracking symptoms, counting my breaths, dreading a call to the doctor. After three weeks of this, I finally relented, and went today to see my favorite medical provider, a Nurse Practitioner who I consider to be a friend. She listened to my lungs and my heart, took my pulse, listened to my tale of woe and ordered some tests. And then she asked, “How are you doing emotionally?” I chuckled, and then I answered. When I got to the part where I said, “I think my heart hurts.”, I expected her to shake her head and laugh. Instead, she looked at me seriously, and told me that there is a bona fide medical condition called “broken heart syndrome”. With this syndrome, people become so sad that they experience chest pains and all of the symptoms of a heart attack. They go through tests and sometimes treatments, but ultimately find that the issue is emotional and not physical. She referred me to an article from Harvard University, of all places, describing this strange situation.
And so…. As I await the results of my blood tests, X-Rays and echocardiogram, I can’t say for sure that this new syndrome will fully explain what I am once again feeling. But I do have a very strong suspicion that, after all of the tests and studies, I will be told in the end that all of my symptoms are, in fact, “All in your heart”.