Once and a while you get a diagnosis from a doctor that seems obvious in hindsight. “Of course I have this disease, it makes perfect sense because I’ve been feeling this way for months/years” and you wonder why the hell you wasted your time. As you age, these sorts of moments come more often, as our bodies do fail in frighteningly predictable ways after whatever warranty expires.
Sometimes these routine diagnoses are just one more tickbox on your medical chart… they don’t mean anything long term. They don’t change a thing: you are still in pain, still limp that way, still can’t do what you wanted to do. Or, you’ve already overcome the underlying cause, either through simple adaptation or lifestyle changes.
One in a thousand of us get a diagnosis that angers us. “All these years I’ve been trying to tell people that something’s wrong, and nobody’s listened” is the feeling you get. You have something like fibromyalgia, for example, that has no obvious signs or symptoms other than your perpetual feeling of malaise… which let’s face it, is very difficult for a doctor to measure with a ruler and write on a chart.
If you are unlucky you get all of these things in one doctor’s visit.
Today was that day for me. I’ve known for a while I have something going on with my heart, and I’ve heard the Latin-rooted words surrounding my basic cardiac conditions bounced around without ever really understanding the deeper meaning. As I’ve been recovering from heart surgery I knew that the rest of my life I’d be having to watch the ol’ ticker, ever mindful of things like sodium and cholesterol intake. But I guess it was when the nurse educator handed me the packet from the Adult Congenital Heart Association that I truly understood the implications of the simple fact my (now) regular cardiologist was stationed in the Children’s Hospital.
Regardless of my weight, regardless of my poor dietary habits, regardless of how much exercise I got, and regardless of anything I could have done I’d be sitting here talking to a cardiologist. My heart attack wasn’t completely my fault, and why I’m here in this doctor’s office is not because I’m a fat fuck… it’s because I was born with a genetic heart condition that would have lead me here at this point in my life regardless.
True, I could have eaten better. I could have pushed myself to exercise a bit more. But I’m here not because I had a heart attack. I’m here because I have a fucked up heart valve and a aorta that’s way too big for its britches. Even if I maintained a perfect 130/80 blood pressure we would likely be having this discussion today about fixing my broken heart valve and ensuring my body’s major artery doesn’t erupt.
And then I got angry. I got mad at all the people over the years who’ve belittled me because of my weight. I got angry about the countless PE coaches who pushed me to the point I couldn’t breathe, and blamed it on my laziness I couldn’t run anywhere near as far, anywhere near as fast as any of the other kids. I got upset over the countless doctors who never bothered to investigate my claims over the years that I often get exhausted when I shouldn’t, and that even short sprints or moderate aerobic activity are difficult for me to do.
“They didn’t know,” my inner voice tries to say to soothe my anger. And that just makes me angrier, because (often as I gasped for breath) I tried to explain that I just couldn’t. Even as a young adult when I was empowered to do something by society I never got any doctor to seriously hear my claims that it’s difficult to exercise for any length of time. They just penciled in “morbidly obese” on my chart and that was the end of it. No primary care doctor ever ordered the echocardiogram that would have shown the bicuspid heart valve clear as the nose on their face, and maybe I could have worked on building my stamina at a young age when it’s likely I could have trained my circulatory system to compensate for the shitty heart valve.
“They didn’t know.” How many teenagers struggle with the same thing I struggle with every day? How many kids gain weight because they can’t exercise like the other kids… simply just can’t keep up… and deal with the endless taunts and jabs of classmates? How many kids deal with it poorly because they have something “else” wrong with them? They’re gay. They’re smart and/or eccentric. They’re a minority. THEY’RE ALL OF THE ABOVE.
How did I survive my youth? “They didn’t know.”
They didn’t know how how hurtful those words were. But the Hunter remembers. And up swells all the feelings of inadequacy, all the struggles, all the pain. But the Hunter also stops himself and feels an odd sense of pride that he HAS survived. Regardless of how much it hurts, he wakes up every day with hope that maybe today will be better than the last, or at least not worse.
I’m still out there searching. For food. For shelter. For mates. And the Hunt continues, and for one more day I have avoided the arrows of the Great Hunter that hunts us all. And I guess that’s better than all the hurts, because it means I’m stronger after all… just not in the way that others can always see. And I want to join hands with all my friends who struggle with similar issues and give you all the biggest hug.
And have us grunt together.