Recently, during my 9-year-old Boston terrier’s second echocardiogram appointment, I was not, unlike the first appointment, focusing on the intimacy of Cookie’s beating heart tissue and blood flow on the screen.

At this six-month checkup there was less awe and more trepidation on my part. Cookie’s last echo showed that she had a leaking mitral valve, a bane of her breed, which indicated the beginning of congestive heart failure.

Thus, this time I was paying more attention to Dr. M., the vet, as she jotted down numbers from the ultrasound procedure. I was hoping the numbers would add up to stability in Cookie’s condition. They didn’t.

“Cookie’s leakage has increased since last time,” Dr. M. said with professional concern.

Not wanting to dive into the ultimate prognosis, I waded into the shallow end of the pool, asking Dr. M. if we needed to change Cookie’s meds.

She became more upbeat, saying that as long as Cookie is not showing any symptoms, like shortness of breath, we could keep her on the same meds, and even if she did begin to retain fluid in her lungs, there were meds that could mitigate this congestion for a while.

I looked at Cookie on the examining table, reassuring myself that she could jump off it, her leaping ability still half-cat and half-dog.

Even at 9 ½, at home she still does the not-stupid dog trick of jumping on a chair and then onto the dining table to pilfer my meal with a gastronomic interest ranging from salads to stroganoff. Then, when yelled at, she can, with aplomb, dive off the table to stake out her position for dessert.

My initial echocardiogram four years before Cookie’s was nerve-wracking. A day out of surgery for a broken ankle, I was wheeled on a tortuous gurney journey to a deserted wing of the hospital, where the echo-cardio room resided.

The echo was uneventful, except for the cold jelly on my chest applied by the showerhead-like device. After the echo, my gurney was moved to the long, empty corridor, and I was assured transportation would be right down.

After waiting 20 minutes, though, I would have welcomed even the spooky corridor’s resident 100-year-old troll to extricate me from this vast nether land.

This experience was in contrast to Cookie’s echo, which was done in the loving care of the vet and the vet tech.

Thus, Cookie was told at her discharge how cute she was and given a treat, and afterward there was no waiting in creepy isolation. I just whisked Cookie into my car and deposited her in her familiar front-seat lookout position.

Several months after my initial echocardiogram in 2011, I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a heart arrhythmia, which can be mostly controlled with a daily dose of a beta blocker.

When I occasionally feel dizzy, I monitor my heart rate with a finger pulse oximeter, and if it’s beating at 130 beats per minute, I take special, quick-acting beta blockers. I also learned how to take Cookie’s heartbeat manually by placing my hand on her abdomen and counting exhales for 15 seconds to extrapolate the rate per minute.

In song, a heart skipping a beat can be sublime, but in real life, an arrhythmia can create vulnerability.

It did in my life. I went from a healthy middle-ager to a balding 60-year-old when I got my diagnosis. My atrial vulnerability made me more aware of Cookie’s precarious existence due to her more serious heart condition.

So, in the future I will walk Cookie more frequently, and she will run and jump at the sight of a leash in anticipation of a favorite pastime. We will stop to smell the roses, the garbage cans, and maybe even any roadkill scent that Cookie favors. Maybe.


Bill Levine is a retired IT professional and active freelance writer. Bill aspires to be a humorist because it is easier to be pithy than funny.

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