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Into the Vortex

A surprise journey through modern healthcare

January-February 2024

by Margo Oxendine, Contributing Columnist

Well, without any clue, I have entered yet again into what I call the “medical vortex.” It might almost be funny if it weren’t so scary.

There I was, walking purposefully along the wooded roads and fields near my house, and feeling great.

Then, I went to the doctor for a check-up. That’s how it always begins to swirl in the medical vortex.

The doctor listens to my heart and says, “Your heart murmur seems to be getting louder.”

Now, I can’t remember when some doctor or other didn’t mention that I had a heart murmur. But they always seemed as if it were nothing to worry about. Of course, usually during those past times, there were other more dire things we were actually worrying about.

Anyway, next thing I know, I’m off to a nearby hospital, which I do not happen to prefer or ever use, for an electrocardiogram. It doesn’t hurt, and you get to look at whatever it is they’re looking at. Trouble is, you don’t have the faintest idea what it is you’re looking at, other than your beating heart.

The hospital then says it will let me know the results in “24 to 48 hours.”

So I go home and wait. And wait and wait. The results did not come back for five weeks. Is it any wonder I don’t like this hospital? Ironically, the bill arrived weeks before the results.

When the results finally did arrive, I found myself shuttled off to a cardiologist. He held up my electrocardiogram and said to me, “This is very concerning.” Words you do not ever want to hear.

He said whatever procedures needed to be done — and he laid out a specific protocol — could “probably wait until after the holidays.” This was in mid-November. This was fine with me. I’m a procrastinator, as you may know by now.

Yet, the very next day, I got a call from a different hospital, one that I actually love — as much as one can love a hospital. I have always had as good an experience as one can have at this hospital. They say to find someone to drive me there and then back home, in about a week. And not to eat or drink after midnight — you know the drill.

So I spent a week in utter angst. I was a mess. There was nothing I could do but wait.

I finally went on Nov. 30, and I had a transesophageal echocardiogram, a TEE. This is where you gargle some foul-tasting lidocaine a few times, and then you get some heavy-duty drug injected in your arm, and then they stick a long tube with a camera down your throat, through your chest, and behind your heart, so they can take a few snapshots. It wasn’t as bad as I had feared, probably because I was half out of it.

So now, as I write this, I wait for the cardiologist to call me back with the results. That could happen today, or next week, or, who knows when? But I know how the medical vortex works. It’s never “everything’s OK; don’t worry.” There’s always one more scary step, followed by another, and perhaps even another. What a way to spend the holidays! I am asking for your prayers, please, if you’re so inclined. By the time you read this, I will probably have more to say about it.

To order a copy of Margo’s “A Party of One,” call 540-468-2147 Mon.-Wed., 9 a.m.-5 p.m., or email [email protected].