Beats: Writing Lessons of the Health-Care Kind

“The kids always know,” I used to advise my patients. “They may not know precisely what is amiss, but they’ll know when something’s wrong. Better to explain it yourself than have them fighting fictional monsters. Or worse, blaming themselves.”

No, you folks aren’t kids. Nor have I been in the position of sending you to your room. Nonetheless, some of you have retained your adeptness at tracking psychic spoor even within the medium of the Internet. I thought I was simply being quiet and thoughtful last week, but apparently there was a different quality to my absence, since enough of you have e-mailed, Facebooked and tweeted me to ask if I was okay. That’s why I decided to do this post and clear the air.  

I’m fine, thanks. Really. Last week I wasn’t, but that wasn’t due to any kind of crisis except an internal one prompted by my visit to the cardiologist.

Canine Holter Monitor

Image via Wikipedia

I have congenital heart disease (Tetralogy of Fallot) and a pig valve, which necessitate periodic health assessments. I’m supposed to go every two years so often, and I…haven’t managed for a while that would be five. If you’ll forgive a whine, doctor visits have the ability to make me feel sick and small to a degree nothing else in my life has ever approached. I feel psychologically bruised for days before I go and lose a period of time after in melancholy.  You know?

I sincerely hope you don’t.

Anyway, the good news: preliminary tests say nothing has changed. Oinkers (my valve) is fighting the valiant fight. My health care professionals were professional in that they only gently told me I need to healthfully drop a dress size. Any mentioning of words like “sudden cardiac death” and “heart transplant” were accompanied with brisk efficiency by words like “unlikely”.

See? Aren’t you reassured? I certainly am. ;) The proof would surely be that I took a writing lesson away from the clinical encounter. 

A little background first: If you haven’t done a 24-hour Holter, it’s essentially a day-long EKG. You get hooked up to wires and move around, doing most of your normal daily activities. At your side is a wee device which records your every heart beat. If you feel palpitations, fainting, etc., you are to record what your activity and body sensations at the time. Needless to say, certain activities — the ones which would be most welcome at stressful times, such as when fresh from a cardiologist — become less freeing when they are being micro-monitored… 

Anyway, when I wear this apparatus, I have no choice but to acknowledge the abnormal heartbeats I work diligently to ignore on a day-to-day basis. Depending on the the thoughts that accompany them, I might experience:

  • Relief — “At least the weird ones were captured and I’ll know what I’m facing.”
  • Anxious — Oh God, the weird ones were captured. Now I’ll know what I’m facing.”
  • Angry — “That’s not right. There are so many weird ones they will get a false impression.”
  • Embarrassed — “This is almost as bad as the moment you smell a fart in a wee exam room, your eyes meet your patient’s, and you know the wind-passer wasn’t them…”

You name the emotion, I probably experienced it — with one notable exception: gratitude. Yes, I’m sorry to say that, instead of giving thanks for every imperfect, fluttery, palpitating beat — the ones flooding my brain with blood and my vital organs with life-giving oxygen — I chose to be hypercritical and self-conscious.

Do you see the relevance to writing?

I’m paraphrasing here, but in one of her sessions on working with recalcitrant Muses, Holly Lisle says one should approach them like you’ve finally got a chance at a second date after blowing the first in spectacular fashion. You don’t say, “Are you going to wear that?” or “Are you serious? I hate Chinese food.” You say, “Whatever you want, babe. Any-thing you want. You are The Man.”

Now that I’ve got my head back on straight and my chest cleared from hardware, that’s how I want to live my life: one heart-beat at a time, no matter how imperfect. One laugh with the ToolMaster and kids. One blog post that possibly contains TMI. One more page written in my novel. A single step into gratitude.

By the way, I happen to love Chinese food and made plenty of rice. Chopsticks are on the sideboard and there’s green tea already steeped. Care to pull up a chair and join me?

30 thoughts on “Beats: Writing Lessons of the Health-Care Kind

  1. I don’t have anything as fancy as Tetralogy of Fallot (what a name!) – but I have had my fair share of doctor visits, mostly around the time that I broke both my arms and my head.

    They are depressing people to be around. Especially when they’re talking about anything like a “prognosis” – even, somehow, when it’s neutral or good. (How do they do that?)

    I can only imagine how paranoid wearing an EKG monitor thinger all day would make me. Kudos to you on surviving it. Glad to hear Mr. Pig Valve is doing his job.

    • Yes, the name is impressive, but I think breaking both arms and your head sounds perfectly dramatic in its own right. How did you manage that?

      Maybe the most depressing thing is that I used to be one of those people depressing others, despite expressly wishing to be the opposite. ;)

  2. Just a fly-by but hugs to you, Jan – I miss you when you’re not posting. Take care and I’m glad oinkers is still treating you relatively well :)

  3. As someone deathly allergic to any and all pork products, I’m glad you found good use for the little critter. I choose to live somewhat dangerously, don’t carry an ‘epi’ but I do ask about any food I’m not sure of. I play wind instruments and control my breathing, even in the face of accidental exposures. Carbonated drinks seem to cut the reaction but I still end up sick for a few days. Life on the edge…

    I can relate to… Well, actually, I have an intense hatred of all things hospital related. It was a very rough delivery when I was born and they failed to realize I’d been injured. I was two before an x-ray revealed my hip socket had no ‘ball’ in it. Thanks to a bone graft I can walk and run (though not very fast.) I do get to tell people I’m so tough I was my own donor; no strings on me. But I suspect it contributed to an already warped sense of humor. When I’m exhausted or chilled I tend to limp. I tell myself even then I’m a force to be reckoned with.

    So sometimes you end up talking about these things, even when you’d rather not. My choice is to control the pain through exercise, not surgery. Humor helps, as does the occasional bit of venting. So go ahead and vent when you need to.

    • Phyllis, I will be the ying to your yang in terms of pork valves. And you’ve had good reason to develop that intrepid spirit of yours. I wonder how many people with health issues as kids grow up to be avid readers and determined writers.

      • Probably quite a few. It passes the time when medicine makes you wait, it takes your mind off your own problems and, perhaps most important of all, it feeds your creativity and character development skills. The problem is, you being to recognize plot lines. It gets to the point when it’s a rare treat to close a book and say, “Wow! I did not see THAT coming!”

  4. Yikes, Jan – but I also I believe that spending time with the wee exam room folk entitles you to a wee bit of moodiness. I’m glad you’re okay now. Write on!

  5. I’m so glad that everything’s okay.

    I feel psychologically bruised for days before I go and lose a period of time after in melancholy. You know?

    I absolutely get this. It’s one of those clubs that you just hope no one else ever has to join.

    But you’re right — we’ve got lovely spring days now, and new asparagus and the promise of strawberries and breezy days when spending an hour outside ends up being so much more productive than that same hour would have been trying to eke out the pages. And the work is there, too.

    • “It’s one of those clubs that you just hope no one else ever has to join.”
      Egg-zactly! That’s another bit of my gratitude: my kids didn’t get handed membership at birth.

      And I love asparagus and strawberries!

  6. 1) That is one of my all time favorite lolcats

    2) I really don’t think you can go wrong with hypercritical and self-conscious. It’s certainly my go to emotional combo. Heh.

    3) I am glad the valve is doing its job!

  7. I don’t know how I missed this post the other day, Jan. But I’m ‘grateful’, that both Liz and Christi posted reminders on FB today. I’m also humbled by your realization. I’ve been moping all week, and for no real good reason. I fear if I was in your shoes, I’d be far less admirable. Finding the writing lesson, hence life lesson, in this situation is truely inspirational. But, of course, you would be the one to take lemons and make zesty lemonade, right?
    Wishing you all the best, Jan: ongoing effectiveness from oinkers, and ongoing appreciation for each day, each moment spent with a loved one, and each page. And thanks for snapping me out of it. I’ll strive to live up to my citrusy friend’s example.

    • Hey, Vaughn, no judgment on my part about moping! I often move from her, to coping, to hoping, and it’s almost always in the order, too. And thank you for the wishes and kind words! The reason I say these things in public is that I often work harder to live up to them — sort of a self-kick in the pants.

      Hope your week turns around!

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