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The Three Echos

 

Three of the four of us had to have echocardiograms recently. Butterfly had hers first. She’s an old hand at doctor visits at the clinic, and always tries to bolt when we get near the front door, but her doctors are friendly, and the women at the front desk think she’s adorable, even though she’s too anxious to take the treats they offer her. Butterfly has to have an echo every six months, to keep an eye on her prolapsed valve and enlarged heart, and she does not enjoy the experience.

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“Are we leaving yet?”

As soon as we checked in and sat down in the waiting room, my mostly non-shedding dog released hair all over my jacket and drooled on my shoulder and tried not to pee on the floor. She was curious about the other dogs sitting in various states of terror around her: the three month old Labrador who couldn’t contain her enthusiasm; an eighty-pound brindle Pit Bull who was hyperventilating under his owner’s legs; a cat hiding in her carrier. But the Chihuahuas seemed reasonable to her, and the floor itself was a potpourri of odoriferousness. She went adventuring for a few minutes at a time, and then asked to be picked back up for emotional refueling before making her next attempt to survey the territory.

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Butterfly believes that all floors must produce kibble, like the floor at home does.

She went in for her echo in the arms of a vet tech, trusting and blank. She trained herself to accommodate humans many years ago, living in the puppy mill, and still uses her old coping skills, pretending-she-is-not-where-she-is, as they slather cold goop on her chest and probe for pictures of her heart.

It is not surprising that her heart has been damaged, or that her heart is bigger than it is supposed to be. I could have told you that without all of the fancy equipment. After the test, her cardiologist came out to tell me that she was the same as she’d been six months before – with a leaky valve and an enlarged heart and no need, yet, for medication.

He couldn’t see on her pictures that she has learned how to chase squirrels and run like the wind and jump for chicken treats. He couldn’t know that she has developed a full range of expressions, and only once in a while falls back into her blank stare of old. But he believed me when I said so, and he was happy for her, and for me.

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“I’m dancing!”

My echo was a different kind of experience. I’ve had a few in the past, and hated them all. One in particular, was both humiliating (changing into and out of the flimsy robe with the door half open and strangers walking by) and painful (half an hour of rib bruising pressure). This new doctor was specially recommended, and requested, by the new pulmonologist who is trying to figure out the possible causes for my shortness of breath.

The paper “gown” I had to wear was not much of anything, and the tech this time was male. In my three previous echo’s I’d only had female techs and assumed that was the norm. Stickers were placed above each breast and on my abdomen, and then wires attached. I was told to roll to my left, away from the tech, which was a relief.

I could hear the whoosh whoosh whoomp sounds of my heart coming from the computer behind me, but it was hard to concentrate because the probe was pressing hard against my breast bone. I could feel a black and blue mark forming and could only grit my teeth and tell myself it would be over soon. Whoosh whoosh whoomp, whoosh whoosh whoomp.

Because of the position I had been placed in for the test, on my left side with the probe at my chest and the tech leaning over my body, it almost felt like I was being hugged. It wasn’t sexual or disturbing. I did not expect this feeling at all. His hip and waist were pressed against my back, so that he could comfortably reach over and take the sound pictures of my heart. And despite the pain of the probe on my chest, the pressure of his arm over my side was a relief. I felt safe. I sensed no danger, no inappropriate or confusing energy from his body, just presence.

The doctor came in to look at the pictures, then, and he said that my leaky valve was, pfft, not much, and if you use an expensive machine like this you’re bound to see “something” but that doesn’t mean that “something” really means anything. He was annoyed that anyone would come for an echocardiogram and have a boringly normal heart to show him. Pffft. You’re fine, go home.

And normally, that dismissal is what would stay with me, but instead, this time, it’s the hug; the closeness and security of a stranger next to me. I don’t know what to make of it except to file it in the back of my mind, under surprising, and good.

Mom’s echo was the third in the series. She gets them regularly, though not as often as Butterfly, ever since her “minor” heart attack more than fifteen years ago now. It did not seem minor to me, or to her, at the time. The only explanations given were a leaky mitral valve and “stress”, which my doctor-brother pooh-poohed. The result, though, was that she started to take much better care of her health, and found a less stressful job, closer to home. The regular echos, and stress tests, and blood tests, are another thing she has accepted and rarely complains about, at least to me. I asked if it hurt. No. Or if it was humiliating. No. Or if the wait was long. No. She and Butterfly share this capacity, for going somewhere else in their minds when they need to not be with their bodies. It’s a skill I do not have.

Cricket has no such skill either. If she needed an echo they’d probably have to knock her out, like they do for an x-ray. Thank God, her heart is fine. Normal whoosh, normal whoomp. I know, because she likes to suffocate me in the morning, with her chest close enough for me to hear the sound pictures without any fancy equipment at all.

Pffft.

We’re all fine.

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Grandma and Cricket, whoosh whoosh whoomp.

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Whoosh whoosh whoomp.

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

100 responses »

  1. Glad to hear that you’re all fine. It’s always a strangely intimate and physical thing going for an echo. I’ve had a couple which unnerve me no end, so long as everything’s okay.

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  2. Wonderful to hear that you have all had your tests with good results. Chancy would love chasing squirrels with sweet Butterfly. Sweet pictures of her and Cricket. Hugs and nose kisses all around.

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  3. Ughh!!!!!! I feel your pain forever and again!

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  4. Sorry about not communicating but I just couldn’t physically and emotionally, still not better. Kisses

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  5. Brava for undergoing your tests … I’m
    all for keeping my “babies” up to date on their required tests, shots, etc but not so good on a lot of my own … in some ways, I’d rather not know what’s going on under my skin. The older I get, the more fatalistic … I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve learned more about the limits of medical science along with the advances. Something to ponder on another day!

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    • I figure, if I’m going to push Butterfly to get her echos, and Cricket has to get the hair taken out of her ears, I can’t really let myself off the hook. I would never hear the end of it from Cricket.

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  6. Glad everybody’s ok. Lucky Cricket.

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  7. I’m glad all checked out without any major concerns. 🙂

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  8. glad you are all fine- what a wonderful capture of dancing Butterfly!

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  9. Glad to hear everyone’s doing well! Always nice to be “boring,” at least where your health is concerned!

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  10. Appropriate name, Butterfly. You must have seen that quality in her very early. So fragile, but strong and beautiful and joyful. She has a new life with you. I look forward to your posts.

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  11. Oh man! Hope all of your hearts are fine. I’ve yet to have a dog that isn’t uncomfortable when at the vet’s.

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  12. Glad you are all 3 okay! I have had a few echocardiograms, as I have a slight heart murmur. I don’t mind them, but it could be that they don’t have to press as hard, since they know what they are looking for. I usually get am positioned so I can see the machine. I enjoy watching and asking questions. I am a scientist at heart. 🙂

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  13. Happy you all are OK. Having worked in healthcare for over 20 years, I know it can be tough for human patients. I can’t even begin to imagine what our poor furry friends must feel! 🙂

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  14. If Butterfly’s heart was the same as six months ago, you should have told them to use the same check to pay for it that you gave them six months ago.

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  15. The best words ever: “We’re all fine.”

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  16. Several years ago, I had to have cardiac catheterization – all was fine – but I remember one of the techs tucking the blanket around me as they lifted me from the gurney to the table, and I felt the same sort of safe, comforted feeling that you describe. I’m so glad it all went well for you, and for everyone!

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    • It’s amazing how much comfort human (or animal) touch can provide. We always think of becoming a doctor as being the high point of the medical field, but so much of the healing is provided by nurses and aides and techs just taking the time to be with the patient and answer questions or hold your hand.

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  17. So glad to know that all 3 of you are fine!

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  18. I’ve always like ‘Pffft’ as a word, so given the clean slate for all three of you, I’ll give you a Pffft, Pffft and Pffft. Great news.

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  19. Excellent descriptions. Glad you are all fine, and that you felt secure

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  20. Delightful! You’re writing is wonderful Rachel, you have the ability to ‘transport’, your observations are spot on.
    You know how much I love ‘The Sunday Papers’ I never thougth that I would enjoy reading a dog’s eye (or nose) view (being a ‘cat’ person) But I would buy any book that you publish and recommend it (in fact everyone would be getting it as a present)
    Food for the soul. Thank you
    P.S. super new to hear you had a ‘pffft’ from the doc x

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  21. Wishing all three of you well along a steady continuos road, and in my opinion too, having that presence from a stranger really does help, I won’t go into my health issues, but, my thrice yearly checkup is always by a stranger* and it feels good knowing that someone does care in a good way.

    Sometimes a pfft now and then is good, far better than any profanity, well, almost.
    Take care of yourselves. x

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    • There’s something so powerful about finding kindness in strangers. I remember when I moved to a new town and went to the library for the first time. The woman behind the circulation desk smiled at me, and something inside of me just changed. I couldn’t help but smile back at her, and I felt better.

      Reply
  22. I’m glad to hear you’re all whoosh-whoomping along without any need for treatment. Millie has a heart murmur, but the vet ‘pffft-ed’ it and said she doesn’t need treatment at the moment, either. It’s great that Butterfly tolerated her examination without an anaesthetic – the vet seemed to think Millie would need one if her condition ever did need further investigation. Knowing Millie, I’d say he’s right!

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    • The doggy cardiologist only comes in one day a week at Butterfly’s clinic, so when we sit in the waiting room, we’re surrounded by other dogs getting ready for their own echos. I don’t know if the dogs feel comforted by that, but the humans do. Just knowing that someone else is worried the same way we are makes a huge difference.

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  23. God, you are such brilliant writer, and your dogs are such unadulterated cuties!

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  24. Wonderful news all round then! Congratulations! And I like the bit about the chihuahuas seeming reasonable…Huny is not when the ‘V’ is a reality and tries to use me as a sort of human tree. She climbs to the back of my neck and clings there shivering. Barking sharply at anyone/thing approaching her ‘space’. At least she doesn’t leave a personal ‘present’ for them to clean up though…my dachshund would inevitably poop on the floor at the vets’ office – regardless of long walks and previous poo outdoors where she was supposed to do it. It got to be quite embarrassing.

    I’m happy for Butterfly, you and your mother – good to know one is good to go! 😀

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    • These chihuahuas were so calm! The younger one stayed with her Mom, but no shivering. The older one was almost indifferent to the setting. It’s possible he knew that he was not the one going in for a test.

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  25. Lexi’s Mom Amy here.Rachel, your sharing, the pictures you paint with words, the photo illustrations, they all touch my heart. Thank you.

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  26. Happy that everything is well with you, Grandma and Butterfly. My tiredness and shortage of breath was discovered to be a heart that was beating too fast and not pumping blood properly. – Cardiac Arrhythmia . I was taken into hospital and given a Cardioversion. This was Christmas 2014 and I have been great ever since. I only see the Cardiologist once every six months for a check-up.

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  27. Such adorable dogs. It makes my heart happy to know everyone is doing well. I have a colonoscopy facing me in two days. What a barbaric process. Uggh!

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  28. Glad to hear everyone’s well!!

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  29. Whew! So sweet & beautifully well written – my own heart was pounding throughout, first anxious, then grateful that you’re all ok – what a week for all of you to have gone thru.

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  30. They are adorable ❤

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  31. I’m glad all’s well 🙂 And lovely photos of your puppies. 🙂

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  32. Delightful account of medical woes.Cheers.

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  33. I had an echocardiogram done today! I have to wait a few days for results; how nice it would be to hear that all was fine right away. My high point of the experience was the technician kept the gel in a warmer and had mood lights in the room. How fun was that!

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  34. The “dancing” Butterfly picture is so cute. I think it looks like she’s flying of pure joy for life 🙂

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  35. I’m very glad you’re all fine. And I’m also glad that Butterfly can play now, and that her life is no longer all “I’m-not-here-this-isn’t-happening.” Lovely description of all these experiences.

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  36. Just beautiful, but my own heart bumped a little at the imagery of Butterfly (or any other poor creature) in that place. And I’ve had that experience before, of feeling comforted by the person doing tests I always remind myself that they’re professionals, and I think if they are truly professional, they produce that calming effect 🙂 Glad all is well and thank you for adopting those two 😀 (or letting them adopt you)

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  37. hiiiii so cute !!! if u r a dog lover do check my blog for stories 🙂 she is furr ball !!! loads of love to her !!

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  38. Happy to hear all three of you are doing good!

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  39. Pffft, that’s all right then!

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  40. Lovely fur-balls you have there. An extra treat for their visit to the vet

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  41. Glad you’re all fine. Being inflicted with the indignities and sometimes just comfort of testing is worth it to hear that ” you’re fine”.

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  42. I like your site. My grandma had a lhasa apso dog. She loved it. I like the bigger dogs, but yours is darling. Thank you for visiting my site.

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  43. I can relate to your feelings on this regarding your personal experience. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis almost 21 years ago, at the age of 25. I’ve had many, many MRIs taken over the years, brain and spinal cord. Sometimes, the thing that makes these very scary appointments – I’m extremely claustrophobic and need meds to get through the 3-4 hour MRI sessions – is the simple security that certain technicians have provided over the years. Given the multiple facilities I’ve been to, there are a couple that stand out and the technicians are the primary reason for that. They have a certain presence, or strength, or something, that seems to make me feel comfortable and glad that they are the one attending to me. It makes the difference, and sometimes it makes me sad if they are not there the next time I come for my MRI. Hugs to you and the girls 🙂

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    • a 3-4 hour MRI session?!!!! I’d lose my mind. The most I did at one time was about an hour, but I’ve never had an MRI tech that made it all easier, only meds helped with that, and planning the ice cream sundae I would eat in the aftermath.

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  44. Yay, great news! Wishing you and your mom and adorable dogs a wonderful weekend 🙂 (And keep writing and sending stuff out! You’re a great writer!)

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  45. Loved this posting! Your descriptions drew exacting images in my head and many were all too familiar. I’m so pleased to hear everyone is doing well. While such a reaction from your doc might seem a bit ‘brusque’ it is always preferable to be of no interest to medical science than to be ‘interesting’. Sadly, I learned this the hard way; after severely fracturing my left radius and ulna and undergoing orthopedic surgery the continued pain in my left wrist – not the damaged and basically replaced left elbow – continues to confound the surgeon. I’m learning to deal with it as my only option is to have the arm cut again and the plate and six bone screws removed. However, the surgeon cannot guarantee doing this will improve my situation and might even make it worse. Because of this I am very happy your situation is ‘boringly’ uninteresting..!

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    • Wow! Doctors still seem to be behind the times on the issue of pain. Surgery in and of itself can cause chronic pain issues and yet they haven’t adjusted to that yet. So weird.

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  46. You had me at ‘potpourri of odoriferousness’. Wonderful post!

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  47. You’re a great writer. I loved this post and all the commentary on your dogs inner most thoughts. 🙂

    Reply

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