Saturday, May 21, 2011

You gotta have heart

I debated about writing this because it's a little personal and not a little boring. But what the heck. This is what blogs are all about, right? So, damn the torpedoes, here we go: My family, on my father's side, has a serious history of heart problems. My dad died at the ripe old age of forty-four from his second heart attack. He smoked and drank and didn't do much in the way of exercise. He wasn't a very healthy guy. It's kind of strange to realize that he's been gone for nearly thirty years already.

One of the readouts from my EKG. I'm not sure which or how, because there are several pages like this.

His mother, my grandmother, suffered serious circulatory problems and underwent multiple by-pass surgeries in her later years. My dad's sister, my aunt, who's now in her seventies, has also had similar heart problems and surgical interventions. And just a few months ago, my younger sister suffered a mild heart attack that resulted in the insertion of stents. She's not even fifty years old yet.

So, given this history, my doctor advised me to see a cardiologist. Of course I put it off. About eighteen months ago, a French friend of ours died in his sleep from a heart attack. He was fifty-two years old. More recently, in March, the husband of an American friend died suddenly from what was apparently a heart attack. At age sixty-two. He was, from all outward appearances, an active and healthy guy (of course I don't really know the details). It was this sudden death and my sister's heart attack that finally jarred me and I called the cardiologist and made the appointment. I had to wait six weeks during which time I imagined all manner of horrible things, but none of them came to pass.

Last week I went up to the clinic in Blois for my appointment. I told the doctor all about the family history and gave him my latest blood work results. He did some listening, some feeling about, and then hooked me up to the machines for an electrocardiogram. After that, he did an echo-cardiograph which is basically an ultra-sound of the heart. Beep-beep, woosh-woosh! I actually got to hear the sound of my blood pumping through the chambers of my heart.

After the exams we talked again. He said that everything was completely normal. He saw nothing unusual, no anomalies. Frankly, I was surprised. And relieved. Then he said we'd do a stress test for good measure and scheduled that for a few days later.

I returned to Blois on Tuesday for the stress test, called une épreuve d'effort in French. Remember, I'm doing all this in French which adds a little layer of anxiety for me. I will tell you that nearly everyone I've encountered in the French medical system has been friendly, encouraging, and not at all put off by the fact that I'm a foreigner with an accent. They usually assume I'm English, but when they find out I'm American they really open up and tell me about their experiences of the U.S. through family or travel. It's really a good ice-breaker and puts me at ease after a few minutes.

An aside: I'm named after my father, who was named after his father, who was named after his. My birth certificate shows the Roman numeral IV after my name, and consequently, so do many of my official documents, including my French health service card. People always ask me about it and the cardiologist was no exception. When he said he had a question about my card, I thought uh-oh, what is the problem now? But all he wanted to know was what the IV meant. I have a standard answer that seems to please everyone. I tell them, "Je suis Walter le quatrième, comme Henri IV (I'm Walter the fourth, like king Henri the Fourth)." Big smiles all around. I think they're amused by American pretentions.

Another aside: My birth certificate. I got the first copy of my birth certificate when I applied for my first passport in 1981. I went to the bureau of vital statistics in my hometown and asked for it. They typed out a fresh certificate that was very short (half a page), signed and stamped it, and that has served as my birth certificate since. Hey, if it's good enough for me, it should be good enough for President Obama, right? But I digress... It was only very recently, when I enrolled in the French national health system, that I was asked for the "long form" certificate. I had no idea what this could be, so I called the hometown office again and asked. Oh, sure, they said, they could photocopy the long form on file and send it to me for a fee. It has my parents' names and birth dates on it, and includes their race. Do they still put race on birth certificates? So, it took the French to ask for the long form for me to finally see it, nearly fifty years after the fact. I'll bet if the French had asked to see Obama's long form certificate, Americans would have told them that the short form is good enough, dammit. I digress again...

So... the stress test went well with no unusual readings. I rode a stationary bicycle while hooked up to the computers. The resistance steadily increased and I broke a sweat at the third level. At the fourth level my legs gave out. I was a bit embarrassed that I only went nine and a half minutes; I thought I should have done better. Then there were about four more minutes of cooling down by pedaling back at the first level. Phew!

I did some research when I got home and found (on the WebMD site) that the average stress test lasts between seven and twelve minutes, so I guess I didn't do too badly after all.

So, the bottom line is that the cardiologist found nothing unusual in the readings, said that my cholesterol and blood pressure numbers are good, and that I am not overweight. He said to come back in five years for another go. I know that these tests are just tests. I know that the good results don't necessarily mean I'm in the clear. But it's a good sign, and I'll take it.

My regular doctor was pleased. So am I.


  1. So Walt, you now ready to go out and but that French 10 speeder and a lovely kit of colourful lycra and start spinning the pedals around St A big time.

  2. Just goes to show that wine is actually good for you ;p

  3. That is good news. Simon is off for all the tests in July. We get to talk to a dietician as well as the stress testing apparently.

  4. Well done. Glad to hear that you might last into next week. Our experience is that the French health system gets the balance between private and public just right and is justifiably still considered one of the best (if not the best) in the world.

  5. Good news Walt. I'm glad everything is O.K. Keep it that way.

  6. this was just to make sure you were healthy in time for the rapture? My husband is also a IV and when our son was born I told him I did not want a fifth......
    once we got mail addressed to Mr & Mrs Ivy

  7. Those long walks with Callie
    probably go a long way toward
    beating your genetic odds.
    All that lawn mowing, etc.
    undoubtedly helps too.

  8. Haven't you heard? Only the good die young. You were in no danger ;-)

    I'm glad for you that everything tested out alright.

  9. Really good news....! I also think those long walks with Callie are part of it, and your whole life (at least as we know it from the blog!) feels very healthy and pretty stress free.

  10. Maybe the "french paradox" is really working? Glad to know you are a healthy guy.

  11. That's great news, Walt IV. You guys eat lots of veggies, and so little processed food (except for the little bit of sugar in some of your fabulous desserts), and that's got to be a big help. Keep up the good work.

    Being happy and content in your life is a good thing, too :)


  12. So glad that you passed the stress test! Health issues get more interesting as we get older, There are puzzles to solve and our genes come into play. You must be doing the right stuff, daily exercise, good diet, not smoking, some wine, etc.

    I think you Dad would have lived longer with today's knowledge about heart disease, plus the advantage of stents and surgery.

    Glad to hear that your sister got some help.

  13. Now you just have to survive Judgement Day... Glad to hear you checked out well!

  14. Glad you got such a good thumbs up. Sounds as if you had a much easier time getting your long birth cerificate.
    I had to get onefor the French health insurance card too. So I phoned Wash DC. If I came and got it in person they could issue me with a cerified copy for a small fee. If I couldn't, as was the case, I had to use a private company endorsed by DC which cost an arm and a leg plus mandatory FedEx charges to get it sent here:- not fun....

  15. Sorry, I should also add that Ken is also part of your good health.
    You live in a beautiful region, good food, love, happiness... Your stress level is probably pretty low too; Ideal life really! That is why you both are some of my blog favorites.

  16. All I can add is already said by the people above. Congrats with the good results.

  17. Glad to hear your tests went well. I think managing stress is a key factor to longevity.

    So I take it the French don't do the whole roman numeral after the name thing?

  18. Wow. That's wonderful news. It's almost impossible to avoid stressing about your health as it relates to your family history. You did the right thing and got better results than you could have imagined. I am so happy for you and I was so relieved when I saw the results of your story. I was ready to yell at you for digressing so many times (but I suppose I could have just skipped to the end). I love the explanation for being Walter IV!

  19. I think you're probably good for another forty or fifty years. All the men in my (birth) family had heart problems and most died before they were fifty. I don't know why it hasn't affected me. When I took my (only) stress test, I barely made three minutes.

  20. No, you didn't do badly at all.
    Happy for your good news. Keep walking!

  21. And since the Rapture has come and gone, it looks like you're in the clear. Congratulations!
    Plus, I need you to stay alive until I can come and meet you.
    Your Friend, m.

  22. Very good news, Walt. We'll raise a glass to your good continued good health.

  23. Congrats WCS4! :)
    I think drinking wine has helped to clear blood clots and keep viens flexible LOL

  24. Walt, this is great news! You must be very relieved considering the family history.
    Yes it must be the wine!

  25. Thanks, everyone. You're too kind. And you're right, I think it's the wine. And the pâté.

  26. Oops, I'm late with this but we're glad to hear your results were good. When there is a strong family history of health problems it's always a relief to have the reassurance of the experts. Now you can stop worrying about it for a while !!

  27. Nothing new to add; I, too, am glad to hear that I will be able to continue reading your blog!
    Glad you didn't put it off any longer. Another sign that you are doing the right things!

  28. It is nice to see such outpour of love for you.
    I will be the caboose on this train of good thoughts heading your way today!

  29. jean, or stop worrying so much... ;)

    mary, thanks!

    michael, thank you, doc!

  30. Hi Walt-- Just read this one now.. OMGosh!

    I'm sooo pleased! What a great clean bill of health! You and Ken are so healthy and eat so well, I'm not surprised.. BUT, given your family history-- I'm EXTRA happy that you got that great bill of health!
    Yayyyyy!!! Well keep you around for another 100 years, okY?
    Hugs, Leese

  31. Good news and not boring at all for those of us reaching the years where things can go all wrong. I'm a Jr. and I had to drop it from my name in Canada because the system doesn't have a way to (easily) accommodate it. (long story)But true about American vanity.


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