Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pictures of that which cannot be seen

What is this picture? It is inside the heart -- seen from the outside. Impossible? Not. It boggles my mind. This is one picture from an ultrasound scan of the inside of the heart... some specific heart. Not mine.

But I had many pictures taken today of my carotid arteries and heart. They were taken by different instruments, not only ultrasound -- which in process of doing its job growls, squeeks, whoozhes and sometimes sounds like angry territorial monkeys. Also silent pictuees taken of my blood glowing with radioactive isotopes taken by a moving machine that poised itself over my chest and inched it's way up, like a dragon opening its mouth having found me a most unappetizing morsel.

All this high tech imagining is done in order to see if my arteries are open and clear of plaque which is the result of accumulations of cholesterol -- to put it in the plainest and least precise way. Except for the placement of a IV in a vein in my inner elbow -- and the technician was so skilled I didn't feel the needle pierce my skin -- nothing is invasive. Since the women in my family die of congestive heart disease and I had a partially blocked artery six years ago and a stent was placed in one artery of my heart, I qualify for these high tech very expensive exams.

I do not like medical interventions, I feel fine although there is a shortness of breath when I climb many steps. But I welcome these tests which have become biannual; I am happy that the state of my arteries can be ascertained. Chances are the plaque will not build up suddenly so that I would have a heart attack as my mother and aunt did. Times have changed. They had no such tests; my mother had radical heart surgery two days after the doctors had thought she would die within the hour. She lived another seven years. I sincerely believe too many tests are ordered today and freely admit that I am happy these are done on me. And I am doing my part: I exercise, I avoid fats [reasonably, not fanatically] eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Often I think of my grandmother who also died of congestive heart disease who, at my age, could not walk fifty feet without wheezing and gasping. It's possible I will die of a heart attack, but I believe it's equally possibly I will avoid it and live long enough to get some form of cancer since so many environmental pollutants exist against which I have very little recourse. I am old enough to think often about dying. The certainly that it will happen in one way or another is a constant reminder to enjoy every day. I try and largely I succeed.

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