"The death of an elderly person is like the burning of a small library." (Author unknown (to me)See His Scribe for Burning of a Small Library - 1
Recently I had a couple of weeks of palpitations--not just like a small bird fluttering in my chest but like a dove-sized bird flopping frantically to break out of it. I have mitral valve issues and had had a treadmill test some time before that was inconclusive so I was referred to a cardiologist, a new one.
He made me feel right at home because he was part-Japanese and had an aunt from Hiroshima. He had a round, jovial, middle-aged face and smiled and nodded a lot. I described my symptoms, explaining that they got worse when I lay down, when I lay on my left side, when I got up, and when I climbed stairs. I said they kept me from sleeping and if I fell asleep, they woke me up. I talked about several other medical concerns. I found myself telling him, insanely, "I just don't want to drop dead of too many things at once."
Without examining me, he leaned back in his white coat, crossed his arms casually and began to talk about life. He pointed out that I am 66: "You can't die prematurely. When you were young your children depended on you, you needed to help pay the mortgage. Now life will go on." He said it was time for me to relax and enjoy what life I have left.
He said palpitations were common, that if we asked the person ahead of or behind us in line at any check-out stand we'd find out they all had palpitations. He said he'd had them himself for a couple of decades and had never had them checked out. He said "People with MVS are at no more risk of dropping dead suddenly than are people wearing black sweaters."
He said he could order tests and more tests and I would end up in the hospital--and what was the point of that? Forget about your cholesterol, he said. Don't worry about clogged arteries. Don't worry about anything.
As he spoke, I heard his words and I did feel myself relaxing. At the same time I was aware of a disturbing undercurrent of meaning to them. He's part of an HMO and isn't that what HMOs are all about--talking the patient out of having anything done that costs them money? Don't ask, don't tell? And wasn't this the whole culture of death people have been warning us about, the devaluing of life at both ends of the spectrum, the dismissal of seniors as expendable?
But I was attracted to the idea of not pursuing answers for every medical question I have, not pursuing treatment and especially not landing in a hospital, where so many of our friends have contracted staph infections. I'm old, I'll have aches and pains, why not ignore them best I can and enjoy the rest of what time I have.
I told him I agreed with him and he beamed, nodding enthusiastically. Then he strolled over and listened to my (still abnormal) heartbeat and re-iterated his prescription to stop stressing about it.
Somehow I knew he was telling me I am old and useless, I've lived my life and now it's time for me to die. But somehow, just as they did when my granddaughter said them, the words were strangely comforting. I can relax now and enjoy life, however much of it I have left.
Abnormal heartbeat or not, my heart has felt fine ever since.
Today I am thankful for truth-tellers.