Monday, January 28, 2008

Being of (ultra)sound mind and body...

Today I had an ultrasound test to check my carotid arteries. My doctor ordered the test because an earlier CT scan, designed to look only at the brain, had shown an “incidental finding” of “dense calcification” in those very important vessels. He had ordered the CT scan because of some recent incidents of my forgetfulness and a close family member who suffered from dementia.

Although I had shown no symptoms of atherosclerosis – hardening of the arteries --my doctor prudently ordered the ultrasound check to get a closer look than the CT scan provided. The carotid artery is not to be taken lightly. It travels up each side of the neck and branches into smaller vessels that supply blood to the brain. The carotid arteries are a common location for hardening of the artery wall to occur.

Atherosclerosis occurs when fat (cholesterol) and calcium build up in the inner lining of the arteries, forming a substance called plaque. Over time, the fat and calcium buildup narrows the artery and blocks blood flow through it. When atherosclerosis affects the arteries that supply blood to the brain, it may cause a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke.

For some reason, between the time the doctor discussed the CT scan with me and the scheduling of the ultrasound a few days later, I did not become super-worried about the possibility that I would be diagnosed with hardening of the arteries. I realized that this could happen, but somehow it didn’t make me a nervous wreck. Denial? Maybe. Overoptimism? I hoped not.

It wasn’t until the test was under way that I got worried about the possibilities. All of a sudden I realized this could be serious. At one point I could see the images on the screen that the technologist – a sonographer – was monitoring. I’d never seen such images before, but it was clearly some kind of fluid, in some kind of pulsating flow, in some kind of tube. Guess what. My blood, my arteries, being pumped by my heart. O-kaaaaaaay.

Fortunately, the test showed nothing out of the ordinary. I was relieved, of course. But the major reminder for me was that every day we wake up in reasonably good health is a blessing. Every day that blood is pulsing through those arteries the way it is supposed to is a gift. And we should never take a single one of those days, or our health, for granted.

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