My Cardiologist

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When you’re diagnosed with a health condition that has to be monitored, it only means that it is compulsory to see your doctor “at least” once a month. Visiting a doctor can, however, be a pain in the butt. Not only is it costly, but most doctors can be a little “I’m in a hurry/I have another patient/you got your prescription, get out”.

A psychologist, who’s very close and dear to me, once said that doctors will only diagnose an individual based on the present condition without really digging deep into the problem. I’m not saying that this is always the case, but I’ve had my fair share of Doogie Howsers and I barely even remember their names. My recent experience, however, is quite different.

After “nearly collapsing” in February, I decided to seek help. I was “accidentally” assigned to a female cardiologist, who’s probably in her late 40s/early 50s, after the nurse at the hospital made a scheduling mistake.

My cardiologist (no names-confidentiality remains) is very much like my high school English teacher: strict yet very eloquent and intelligent. She’s a tall lady, dresses like…well, a high school teacher, and has this Meryl Streep “Doubt” movie appeal that can be quite scary yet friendly at the same time. As mentioned, I’ve had my share of MD visits – gastroenterologists, gynecologists, hematologists, dermatologists, ENTs, neurologists – and all of them simply threw prescription drugs at me. But my cardiologist treated me well from the very beginning.

I remember the first time I walked into her office. She asked why I was so thin. I told her that commuting daily, washing the dishes or doing the laundry drain the hell out of me. She then asked if I still live with my parents. When I answered that I had to move out “partly” because I think I have to be independent as I’m getting old, she responded, “Why? I’m way older than you! But I still live with my parents. I don’t think it’s necessary to move out just because you’re old. Is it like this nowadays? You just have to move out of your house because you’re old?”

She also made me undergo various tests and explained why I “nearly collapsed”. Since getting the results and being diagnosed, she has never failed to remind me of the things I should avoid: engaging in strenuous activities and drinking liquor.

She doesn’t want me to experience mitral regurgitation which will lead to  surgery or cardiac arrest. That’s why she reprimands me if I ask permission to drink even just a bottle of beer. Giving up alcohol initially took a toll on my mental state, but her honesty and in-your-face responses eased my mental turmoil: Go ahead and drink, I’ll see you in the ICU. Despite her somewhat Sister Aloysius Beauvier aura, visiting her no longer instigated panic or fear. In fact, I have slowly learned to trust her.

Yesterday, I paid her a visit because she had to check how well I’ve been responding to my beta blocker treatment. After checking my blood pressure and heart rate, she proudly told me that I was doing very well.

After answering all my medical questions, she started asking me about my plan to go to China. Now this question popped because during one of my early visits, I asked if I can still travel despite my condition. She seemed interested as she was also in Beijing a few weeks ago for a conference I believe.

Cardiologist: So, how long will you be gone?
Me: A month.
C: Who’s coming with you?
M: I don’t know, I’m not sure yet. Maybe a friend, maybe alone.
C: Alone?
M: Yeah, I’ve tried it before.
C: Aren’t you afraid?
M: No.
C: Kakaiba ka, ate (translation: You’re extraordinary, sister)
*Sister or ate is a term of endearment

Then she started listing down the medicines I should take with me on my trip. She gave me 8 types of medicine for different symptoms including typhoid fever.

C: Have you booked your hotel?
M: I plan to stay in hostels or cheap inns.
C: What about the airline if you go around China?
M: I’ll just travel by bus.
C: Are you serious?
M: Yes.
C: Go to Europe if you love traveling by bus. The view is prettier.
M: Yeah, I plan to.
C: So you save all your money just to travel?
M: Yeah.
C: Then you travel alone?
M: Yeah.
C: Kakaiba ka ate.

I wanted to tell her that most travelers I know travel more than a month. I wanted to tell her about “vagabonding”. I wanted to tell her that I’m probably the least daring person in the travel circuit as far as I’m concerned.

C: You like taking pictures when you travel?
M: I just use that small point and shoot thing?
C: What are you gonna do in case you’ll end up traveling alone? Aren’t you going to be lonely?
M: I meet people, meet the locals.
C: You should go with someone, you can’t be lonely. Invite a friend, or your siblings…
M: Well most of the people I know are not really into “long term” travel…
C: Well, you should have a companion, so you can have someone to talk to, someone to take care of you.
M: Ok.
C: You can really travel alone???
M: Yes.
C: Kakaiba ka ate.

I remember telling her a few weeks ago that I did seek for 2nd opinion but was given a different kind of medicine afterwards. Then she told me this:

If you decide to take the other medicine, don’t see me again.

It was that direct. So I chose to stay with her as she was there from the very beginning. She saw me at my worst – looking thin and frail when I first entered her office, and she noticed my improvement – I did gain weight after the first few weeks of treatment.

It can be daunting to befriend a doctor, but I think it is important. A doctor is as normal as any other person we encounter. And I think, like any other person, they seek one thing: TRUST.

Isn’t it when you trust someone, that person ends up opening up to you or giving you something special that other people cannot get? Trust is a good start to a long-lasting friendship. Trust brings out the best in everyone. Trust gives hope.

I guess the reason why my cardiologist and I are already comfortable with each other is because she knows that I trust her to take care of my condition forever (because mitral valve prolapse is irreversible). If someone entrusts his or her life to you, wouldn’t you feel good?

You may say a doctor has been trained to go through stubborn patients or those patients who were just pushed to see them. But I’m sure they too have feelings, and their success can somewhat be measured by the number of people who actually believe in their capabalities (same applies for any other profession, right?) and come back to see them.

And because I always come back to her, my cardiologist, I’m sure she knows deep inside that she has already succeeded as a doctor.

C: You’ll be gone for a month, make sure to have those meds with you. When you develop a cough, cold, fever, allergies, if you start to feel itchy…take them.
M: Can I buy them in China?
C: NO! Buy them here!
M: Ok.
C:  I can’t believe you’ll be traveling alone.
M: . . .
C: Kakaiba ka ate.

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