This weekend, we chartered a boat and a captain to take us on our first trip to the British Virgin Islands. It wasn't the best day to go out on a boat. It was cloudy, very windy and very choppy out on the water. But we had planned it, got everyone excited about it, so we went out anyway. At one point, Marlo and the kids were in the back of the boat and I sat alone in the front. Cruising across the blue water, with green islands around me, I had one of those "wow, I'm actually here" moments. I spent some time reflecting on my life.
Bouncing along in that boat, I started going through the What-Ifs...I wonder what would have happened if I didn't change jobs so long ago, if I didn't go to grad school; what if I had stayed in the wrong relationships; and how would my life be today if I didn't muster up the courage to email that cute Canadian consultant I met at work a few years earlier about how "the Red Wings are going to beat the Avalanche."
But the biggest "what if" I thought about on that boat was was "what if I didn't feel that flutter?"
In the summer of 2009, I was 37, healthy, happy, and looking forward to a trip to Michigan to visit family and to go to my 20th high school reunion. I had a happy life with my two beautiful kids and my hunky husband, and I was in the best shape of my life, emotionally and physically.
A few years earlier, I was at the doctor and mentioned to her that Marlo and I were going to try to get pregnant with my second child. She said that she heard a heart murmur. Probably nothing serious, she said. But she wanted me to go to a cardiologist just to have it checked out before I got pregnant. I really didn't want to go because I was told at some point in my life that I had mitral valve prolapse. Nothing really serious. But I went anyway. The cardiologist, Dr. Collins, listened to my heart, ran an EKG, the usual stuff. He said that it sounded like mitral valve prolapse with a possible leak, and he ordered an echo. He was unconcerned, as I was. Marlo wasn't too sure I needed any tests. He felt like doctors prescribe too many unnecessary, costly tests. I scheduled the echo, but never went. I found out later that week that I was pregnant with Lily.
Lily was 18 months old when I finally had my echo in June 2009. I had been feeling slight pain behind my breastbone, like a moving pressure feeling that I ignored for months, written off as a pulled muscle or something from working out. It was really just a small flutter in my chest that pushed me to follow up with the cardiologist. Just a few seconds of flutter. I remember later when Dr. Collins called me and left a message on my cell phone. He said, "Your echo was normal, but you have a bicuspid aortic valve and your aorta is VERY ENLARGED. I want you to schedule a CT scan as soon as possible." I had several days to think about what he just told me on my voice mail. I called my mom (my weekend medical professional) and she said that she didn't know anything about enlarged aortas or bicuspid valves. I played the message several times for my friend, Diane. She kept saying, "well, if it was very serious, he wouldn't have left a message on your cell phone." I did lots of googling. Most of the stuff I read was scary. Within a few days, I had a diagnosis and an appointment with a surgeon.
On the boat this past weekend, I couldn't help thinking about what if I didn't feel the flutter? The flutter likely had nothing to do with my aneurysm. But thankfully, it definitely got my attention. We can never truly know what would have happened if I didn't have the echo, but the odds favored me suffering an aortic dissection at some point. Maybe I would have been saved, maybe not. It brought tears to my eyes to think about that. My kids. My husband and our relationship. My family. Our adventures we are to have in life. This boat, these islands, this water.
I know many people will say "look forward, not backwards, and stop analyzing the what-ifs." Makes sense, I agree. And I also feel that thinking about the past and the what-ifs from time to time can truly help you appreciate your present and future. I am happy to be here with this scar on my chest. I feel so thankful for all the blessings in my life...blessings of health, family, friends and new adventures. I am thrilled to be a member of Team Ritter, training for the NY Marathon, raising money for and awareness of the John Ritter Foundation.