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Don’t Be Still My Beating Heart

October 2nd, 2007

My heart beats funny.

I was diagnosed with arrhythmia when I was in college, nothing much to worry about, the doc at student health services told me. “Just remember, if your doctors notice something, later on, be sure to tell them you’ve been diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat.” OK. I remembered. My heart does a little skip, sometimes adds an extra beat. It has its own funky rhythm. I don’t know if I was born with it or not; my family doctor never mentioned it.

That “later on” the student health services doc mentioned? It’s now, apparently. When I was 18 and he said “later on,” I was thinking, “80 or 90.” I wasn’t thinking 43.

Three of my four grandparents died — all three in their 80s — because of strokes and heart disease — high blood pressure, heart attacks. My fourth grandparent (my Granny, who will be 88 next July) had congestive heart failure a few years ago and has been struggling ever since. She’s not happy. She’s not ready to go yet, she says, but she’s not happy.

My daughter was diagnosed with a little arrhythmia, in utero. The doctors were freaking pretty bad when they heard it on the monitor. “We’ll need to do a c-section, then take her right to neo-natal ICU for heart tests. Possibly surgery!” I was all, damn. They kept stressing, then telling me not to stress, which honestly? Stressed me out. No duh. I finally said, “I have a mild arrhythmia, so does she, we’re fine!”

It corrected itself at 38 weeks gestation. She’s fine! I’m fine! Well, I thought I was fine, anywho. Huh.

Do you ever think about how you’ll die? I didn’t at age 18, but since I’ve had kids, yes, it crosses my mind. Too much, probably. I really need to be here now. I get bronchitis or bronchial pneumonia just about every year, sometimes twice a year. Once in awhile I don’t get it for a year or two. On those years, I am grateful. The rest of the time, I think, “Pneumonia’s gonna kill me someday.”

But now I learn, no, it might be my heart, instead, not my lungs. Huh. I had no idea. I mean, a little funky beat, whatever. Nothing to worry about. But now, it beats and it goes crazy and it feels like a bird someone has thrown a net over, and she’s trying to fly free. It feels like that.

The doctor had me wear a portable heart monitor around for 24 hours. It recorded all my blips and flips. It’s PAC ad PVC. Which is what?

Oh, wise Internet, what have you to say?

“Premature Atrial Contraction (PAC) and Premature Ventricular Contraction (PVC): PVCs are usually considered minor arrhythmias, in which the person may feel a fluttering or pounding in the chest caused by an early or extra beat. PACs and PVCs are very common, and are what happens when it feels like your heart “skips” a beat. It doesn’t skip a beat — an extra beat actually comes sooner than normal. Occasional premature beats are common and considered normal, but in some cases they can indicate an underlying medical problem or heart condition.”

So. Nothing to worry about. Unless it’s something to worry about. Which it isn’t. Unless it is. Oh, and reduce stress. Right away. I mean, like yesterday, not “right away now, this second.” Like ten years ago I should have started with the stress reduction.

Are we clear? (Yeah, which now that I type that, makes me think of the 8,000 images I’ve seen — all on TV and in movies — of people getting the paddles to the chest in the ER or on the street. No more “Grey’s Anatomy,” I’m through.) (Please let me live a super-long life, God. Please let my ticker just be a little bit quirky, not bum. I am worried I have a bum ticker now.) (That’s what old people say, right? “Yeah, doc told me I got a bum ticker.)

Doctor’s orders: No caffeine (maybe 1/2 a cup a day is OK, maybe not); weak black tea is OK (but not more than one cup); no booze (maybe 1/2 a glass of wine occasionally, maybe not, we’ll have to see how my heart “responds”); a little bit of dark chocolate is OK, but not too much; get in better cardiovascular shape, but watch out if my heart starts going too crazy if I work out too hard. Lose some weight (I’m about 25 pounds overweight, which to me is like, whatever. I’m all, “I’m curvy, OK? Shut up.” But the 25 needs to go.)

And keep getting my ticker monitored.

I’ve never really thought about my heart much, before right this second. Go schedule yourself a physical, would ya?

and here
Mayo Clinic and
Cleveland Clinic


  1. Marissa says

    WM – first – I found your blog a few weeks ago and it rocks. second – My husband was diagnosed with the same heart thing this year. He’d been feeling skipped beats (turns out they were extra beats) off and on over a year or so. Did two Holter monitorings – first one found nothing, the second one found the extra beats. Still, the doctors gave us nothing more than “probably stress related” and basically told him to chill the fuck out. He has, and we have and he only has symptoms now when we forget to relax. He also cut back on coffee for a while, but since he gave up smoking last year after the first heart scare …the man needs his coffee. I think it’s probably nothing.

    October 2nd, 2007 | #

  2. Karly says

    How scary! And how the hell are you supposed to reduce stress if you can’t have chocolate or alcohol? Those docs are nuts!

    October 3rd, 2007 | #

  3. Daisy says

    I loved your response: “i have it, she has it, we’re both fine!” All things in moderation, and I wish less stress for you and your heart.

    October 3rd, 2007 | #

  4. nan says

    Your heart is a jazz musician, sweetie!

    October 4th, 2007 | #

  5. Kimberly says

    Clearly you march to your own beat. Don’t stress about it.

    October 4th, 2007 | #

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