6 FEB. 2012 During my last annual physical, my family doctor of three years pressed his stethoscope to my chest and heard my heart murmur. I already knew it was there. Over the years, other doctors have heard it and they were never too concerned. It’s a common condition. Between 20 to 30 percent of adults have a heart murmur .
My family doctor also noticed that the heartbeat was more pronounced in my aorta, the main artery that runs down the abdomen. It’s most likely the result of my recent diet and exercise-related weight loss, but he sent me for both an echocardiography and an ultrasound test, just to be cautious.
My only knowledge of ultrasound tests comes from TV or movie scenes in which actors playing the roles of expectant parents feign wonder as they look at a monitor showing a grainy image of a vacuum-sealed fetus floating around in mommy juice. That incandescent hamminess is exemplified in a clip of Luke and Laura, General Hospital's signature supercouple (an actual showbiz term), turning into sappy simps as they watch their fetal daughter, Lulu.
I’m at the other end of the “miracle of life” spectrum. There were no tears of joy or supportive handholding at my ultrasound. It was perfunctory and detached, just the way I like it. If a doctor suggests a full anesthetic for a flu shot, I start counting backwards.
The Sonographer was a lean, stern woman. She told me to take off my shirt and ordered me up on the examination table. As she explained how I should position my arms and shoulders, I lost my ability to tell my left from right, an affliction that only affects me during medical examinations. After I nearly rolled myself off the table, she took control and adjusted my limbs like a hearty nomad assembling a yurt.
Then, as if to confirm her suspicions that I was a few spuds short of a bushel, she told me to lower my pants and I asked, “How far?” as if I thought the heart might be located somewhere below the pubic bone.
After that, not even the farting noise of the lube being squeezed out of the tube could leaven the mood.
After slicking me down with goop, she slid the Transducer Probe over the skin until it was over the innards of interest. The probe sends sound pressure into the body and then receives the returning echoes which are converted into images through the computer.
Though my back was to the machine, I could see the reflection of the monitor on a sheet of Plexiglas mounted to the wall. I watched the ghostly blur of my heart sucking and flapping, contracting and expanding. Through the speaker I heard the squishy whoosh of my heart pumping blood.
When it was over, the Sonographer handed me a roll of paper towels to wipe off the lube. I looked like Peter Venkeman, Bill Murray’s character in Ghostbusters, after . I asked the Sonographer, "Is that it?" and she replied, “We’ll forward the results to your doctor in five days. He’ll discuss the results with you.”
“Is there anything you can tell me now about the results?” I asked.
With a fixed smile on her face, she repeated, “We’ll forward the results to your doctor in five days and he’ll discuss the results with you.” Her eyes appeared wider than when I first met her. Was she hiding something?
During the subway ride home, a tiny aneurysm of concern hemmorhaged into a David Cronenberg "body horror" movie in which a mutant parasite snaps out of my chest during open heart surgery and bites off the finger of my surgeon, played by Max Von Sydow.
But even that absurd fantasy is nowhere near as frightening as the push by alleged "Canadians" to privatize health care.
The tiny drop of overheated consciousness that shapes my existence on this planet was lucky enough to form here, in Canada, one of the 32 out of 196 countries in the world with universal healthcare . A modicum of respect and a skilled diagnosis is all I expect. And when my test results have delivered bad news, the treatment has been the best I could hope for.
But if my health was in the hands of a system that prioritized those with wealth and status over the working class, the poor, and the indigent, then that examination would have left me feeling dirty. Contempt is a stain. Not even a long, hot “shame shower” once I returned home could clean off the slime.