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Health November 2017

Levine's Levity

Heart to Heart: Cookie and Me

By Bill Levine

In song, a heart skipping a beat can be sublime, but in real life an arrhythmia can create vulnerability. It did in my life. I went from a healthy middle-ager to a balding, 60-year-old when I got my diagnosis.

Recently, during my 9-year-old Boston terrier’s second echocardiogram appointment, I was not, unlike the first appointment, focusing on the intimacy of Cookie’s beating heart tissue and blood flow on the screen. At this 6-month checkup there was less awe and more trepidation on my part. Cookie’s last echo showed that she had a leaking mitral valve, a bane of her breed, which indicated the beginning of congestive heart failure. This time I was paying more attention to the vet, as she jotted down numbers from the ultrasound procedure. I was hoping the numbers would add up to stability in Cookie’s condition. They didn’t.

“Cookie’s leakage has increased since last time,” the vet said with professional concern.
Not wanting to dive into to the ultimate prognosis, I waded into the shallow end of the pool asking her if we needed to change Cookie’s meds. She became more upbeat, saying that as long as Cookie is not showing any symptoms, like shortness of breath, we could keep her on the same meds, and even if she did begin to retain fluid in her lungs, there were meds that could mitigate this congestion for awhile.

I looked at Cookie on the examining table, reassuring myself that she could jump off it – her leaping ability still half-cat and half-dog. Even at 9-1/2, at home she still does the not-stupid dog trick of jumping on a chair and then on to the dining table to pilfer my meal with a gastronomic interest from salads to stroganoff. Then, when yelled at, she can, with aplomb, dive off the table, to stake out her position for desert.

My initial echocardiogram – 4 years before Cookie’s – was nerve-wracking. A day out of surgery for a broken ankle, I was wheeled on a tortuous gurney journey to a deserted wing of the hospital where resided the echocardio room. The echo was non-eventful, except for the cold jelly on my chest applied by the showerhead-like device. After the echo, my gurney was moved to the long, empty corridor I was assured that transportation would be right down. After waiting 20 minutes, though I would have welcomed even the spooky corridor’s resident 100-year-old troll to extricate me from this vast netherland.

This experience was in contrast to Cookie’s echo which was done in the loving care of the vet and the vet tech. Thus Cookie was told at her discharge how cute she was and given a treat. After which there was no waiting in creepy isolation. I just whisked Cookie into my car and deposited her in her familiar front seat lookout position.

Several months after my initial echocardiogram in 2011, I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a heart arrhythmia, which can be mostly controlled with a daily dose of a beta blocker. When I occasionally feel dizzy, I monitor my heart rate with a finger pulse oximeter, and if it’s beating at 130 beats per minute, I take special quick-acting beta blockers. I also learned how to take Cookie’s heartbeat manually by placing my hand on her abdomen and counting exhales for 15 seconds to extrapolate the rate per minute.

In song, a heart skipping a beat can be sublime, but in real life an arrhythmia can create vulnerability. It did in my life. I went from a healthy middle-ager to a balding, 60-year-old when I got my diagnosis. My atrial vulnerability made me more aware of Cookie’s precarious existence due to her more serious heart condition.

Thus in the future I will walk Cookie more frequently, and she will run and jump at the sight of a leash in anticipation of a favorite pastime. We will stop to smell the roses, the garbage cans and maybe even any roadkill scent that Cookie favors. Maybe.

 

Bill Levine is an IT professional, aspiring humorist and confirmed freelance writer from Belmont, Massachusetts.

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