My 25-year-old frame that had days before hiked mountains with a well-traveled twenty-five-pound pack now slouched under the weight of bad news.
Doctor S. heaved a sigh and let his eyes wander back to the test results attached to his clipboard. I looked so different from his other patients; a young, single, summer backpacking guide was a rare sight in a cardiologist’s office.
Yet here we both sat.
“Your heart,” he said lifting up the sonogram for both of us to examine, “is enlarged. Your heartbeat is irregular—we can tell that just feeling your pulse. Your heart is only functioning at fifty percent. And I believe it is getting worse.”
I had not realized this was going to be a serious conversation, otherwise I would have worn something more formal than yoga pants. I stared at my chipped red fingernails wishing my parents lived nearby. They would know what to say next.
“What am I supposed to do?”
“Well,” he looked down at the clipboard again, “I am not going to allow you to go back out on the trail this summer. You will need to inform your boss that you cannot work right now. We can start talking about short-term disability so you can still have an income and leave room for rest and doctor’s visits. There are options for medication, the possibility of surgery, wah wah wah wah wah.”
The Charlie Brown voice always took over when my brain slowed down.
He stood up and walked over to me. “I’m so sorry Mrs. Baird.” (My chart still had the wrong marital status. Was it the right time to ask him to change it?) “We are going to get to the bottom of this. The medicine I prescribed will help strengthen your heart, proper rest will relieve any added stress, and we as your medical team are going to figure out what is causing this.”
The lump in my throat blocked any chance of a reply. He gave me a quick side-hug, something I’m sure most cardiologists avoid, and looked me in the eyes. “It really is going to be ok.”
This is a blog for people with stories like mine.
There is not a plethora of helpful resources for young people living with chronic illness. Most of the books, blogs, and advice you can find are made for silver-haired patients who are concerned with finishing life well. But what about those of us who feel like life is just getting started? Those of us who are making plans and have big dreams? We who wonder if we can afford to get sick, if illness will prevent us from getting married or having kids, if slowly dying means we can’t live to our full potential?
This blog is not meant to give medical advice. I am not a doctor* and will always refer people back to their trained team of professionals.
*Side note: During my semester working at a health clinic in Nigeria I was asked to sign off on some documents as Dr. Caitlin Baird. If you have seen those papers and were led to believe that I am a medical professional, I am sorry I led you astray.
This blog is instead about sharing stories and giving advice, hearing from other twenty and thirty-somethings who are asking the same questions. My story includes heart failure but my experiences with doctor visits, emergency surgeries, and making difficult decisions is not unique to heart patients.
So please join me. Whether you are a patient like me or someone who cares about a person like me, I hope this can be a useful resource for all of us.
Cheers to the young, sexy, and sick. We make this look good.