written by Matt Macias
Two years ago, I had the habit of waking up at six in the morning with my heart racing faster than it’s ever been. Did I have a nightmare? No. Did I remember something important? No. It was just what my body did every morning. Later in the day, my chest would feel heavy, like I needed to put more effort into breathing. My doctor referred me to a cardiologist who ran a few tests and didn’t find much to worry about. They only did the tests because I had mentioned my parents have had heart trouble in the past. All they said was that I was overweight and to maybe try to get more exercise. After feeling completely exhausted after the stress test they conducted, I figured they were right. All of this was only happening because I was vastly overweight.
Fast forward to this year. I’m in better shape, I exercise frequently, and try to eat better when I can. The heart-racing wake-up calls stopped, but I still felt as if my chest had this weight on it that made breathing feel like a workout. With new health insurance, I went to my new doctor who told me she was going to refer me to the cardiology office again for an ultrasound and to get a temporary heart monitor to keep an eye on me for a week. She said she believed everything was happening due to being diagnosed with depression and anxiety late last year, but didn’t want to take any chances with my family history of heart issues.
When I got to the cardiology office, I felt as if there was something wrong with me that no one was saying. I thought this because everyone in the waiting room was at least in their sixties and there I was, not even have half their age. I thought, “Is it rare for younger people to have heart issues? Am I okay?” Realizing that there could be a serious issue with my heart only made me more anxious waiting there. Finally, they called me in for the ultrasound and I laid in a hospital bed with a gown while an ultrasound tech put gel on the machine and placed it against my chest. There it was, my heart, on the screen doing its job of keeping me alive. “Is it a boy or a girl?” I asked the tech, in a poor attempt to ease the awkward silence we were in. She didn’t like the joke. She got footage of my heart from different angles and took a few sound clips to hear for anything odd in my heartbeat. It was hard to not feel existential during all of this. Each time I started at the screen I had several thoughts about what I was looking at. There it is! That’s the thing we associate with love. There’s the thing that speeds up when I’m scared, nervous, or happy. There’s the thing that’s in all of us that keeps our bodies going and one day, that thing is going to stop. “You’re all done! I didn’t see anything that requires immediate attention. You’ll get your results in about a week”. I snapped out of my existential bubble, nodded that I understood, got dressed, and waited to get my heart monitor.
After a few more minutes back in the waiting room, they called me into a room and demonstrated how to wear what looked like a police wire if I didn’t know any better. It was a necklace with several wires with electrodes that I had to stick to specific spots on my chest. Along with it came a burner phone that I needed to trigger if I felt any abnormalities with my heart and to monitor the battery of the whole setup to make sure I kept everything charged. They told me to wear it for two weeks, which only made me more anxious because before they told me I only needed it for one. Little did I know the next two weeks were going to be filled with lack of sleep, raw skin from replacing the electrodes daily, and being too nervous to stay active out of fear of breaking the monitor and having to do it all over again. Once it was over, I mailed the monitor back and waited for the results. After two weeks, my doctor emailed me and said, “Your monitor results appear normal, however, your pulse was oddly low several times throughout the day. We’re going to send you for a stress test just to make sure nothing is going on”. I was glad to hear the monitor didn’t find anything bad, but having to do a stress test again left a sense of nervousness in my stomach.
A week later, I was back in the cardiology office with all the sixty-something-year-olds for my stress test. Now the reason doing the test worried me so much was because my stress test from a few years prior left a bad impression. What they do for a stress test is stick electrodes to you and make you jog on a treadmill that increases in speed every few minutes until you reach a pulse close to your maximum heart rate. Just before they change the speed, they take your blood pressure to see how your heart’s doing after each phase. Last time I got so close to the goal but had to stop a few minutes short of hitting it. I was exhausted, out of breath, and felt as if I was going to puke. It took about 10-15 minutes just to feel somewhat okay again. So there I was again, waiting to be pushed to the point of passing out. All the worst-case scenarios filled my head as I tried to brace myself for what was coming. They called me in, hooked me up, and told me to jog. To my surprise, it was much easier this time. I hit their target and was able to maintain the pace for a few minutes before I told them to stop. I didn’t want to press my luck any further than I had. Sure I was tired after, but after drinking some water, I felt better in no time. They checked my blood pressure once more and I was as good as ever. I then figured maybe it was my weight that made the last one feel so miserable. Some of my anxiety lifted and I felt confident that they wouldn’t find anything wrong. Again, they sent me home and told me to wait for the results.
Another week passed, and I finally got the email. “We are pleased to say your recent stress test results were normal.” So after all that, it turned out my heart was as good as ever. Of course I was glad that there was nothing serious that needed to be addressed, but I felt like I needed to find something to learn from it all so that it didn’t feel like a waste of time. I guess what I learned from everything is to not take your heart for granted. Sure you know it’s always working since you’re still alive, but it’s more complex than that. Your mental health plays a huge roll in heart’s health as does it’s rhythm, ability to recover, and when it slows and speeds up. All of it comes to play when making sure you’re here every moment you can be. Hopefully, it doesn’t take a lot of people looking at their heart dead in the face to realize how important it is to be alive.
Matt Macias aka Mattsign is a Creative Director at Faded Morgana and is working closely to oversee our upcoming FMTV project. He is a graduate of CSULA and knows everything about almost every movie ever made.