Shavin: Getting to the heart of my impatience

Dana Shavin

Recently it was brought to my attention that I am impatient. This is what I call, in the spirit of the "Friends" episode whereby Phoebe pretends not to know something she SO knows, "brand new information." As in, I've heard this a thousand times before, from every teacher, both of my parents, most of my friends and my husband. But I was surprised to hear it from my pickleball instructor. He pointed out that, while I do sometimes make the winning shot, the road leading up to it is paved with anxiety, overhitting and rushed execution.

"My pickleball teacher said I lack patience playing pickleball," I told my husband that evening, to which my husband said, "He should see you cook."

As if in accordance with my pickleball instructor's assessment, my heart announced, by way of chest pains followed by a requisite EKG, that it is experiencing something called bigeminy. Bigeminy, my doctor explained to me, is a rhythm in which every other heartbeat is a premature contraction, or extra heartbeat. In other words, even my heart is impatient.

This actually was brand new information, and so I've been jumping through all the necessary hoops to make sure there is not something more nefarious at work in my chest. Thankfully, an echocardiogram revealed an anatomically pristine heart (not my doctor's exact words, but close enough). And as I write this, I'm wearing a five-day heart monitor: an egg-size, hard plastic recording device attached to three electrodes that are pasted impolitely onto my chest and rib cage. The whole contraption is a nuisance, but hopefully it will get to the — ahem — heart of what's going on.

I am not concerned that anything of any consequence is wrong with me. Perhaps this is because, as I tell every health professional at every routine checkup, I am used to being "a medical bore." In my lifetime I have had no debilitating diseases or serious surgeries, no broken bones larger than a toe and maybe a rib, and no accidents of any magnitude except a concussion from a fall off a horse, from which I recovered quickly, owing to my impatience to, literally, get back on the horse.

Still, if I said the whole heart incident hadn't given me pause, I'd be lying. It's true that I have not been terribly worried over the two weeks I've been going through tests, but I am aware of the potential gravity of the situation. After all, something could be wrong with my heart, something that would catapult me out of the "medical bore" category I've been lazing around in my whole life and into the "medically interesting" or even "medically urgent" category. Because, let's face it, things go wrong with people's hearts (and other important organs) all of a sudden all of the time. You don't have to be old, or already infirm, to find yourself in a new, disturbing medical reality.

Still, I don't believe my heart is failing. In fact, I believe it is succeeding in a way it never has before.

I've written before about my mother's Alzheimer's, and as I've said, this is sad and difficult terrain to navigate. It has required that I put the petulant blame thrower I was as a young adult behind me, so as to be present for her in a way that is mature and selfless and, yes, patient. I'm very grateful to have this time with her, to scroll endlessly through photos she's seen a hundred times before but doesn't remember, to take her out for pizza which, prior to Alzheimer's she would never, ever eat, to wonder what it means that, in my mother's world, it is always and forever Sunday.

This kind of being there is heart-stretching stuff. It is fraught with the pain of losing her, as I know I am, bit by bit, to the invisible enemy of dementia. It is fraught with the fear of not knowing what comes next, how bad it will be or how it all ends. But for once in my life, I am not in a rush. My quickening heart, I think, is just trying to keep pace with the coming unknown.

Dana Shavin is an award-winning humor columnist for the Chattanooga Times Free Press and the author of a memoir, "The Body Tourist" and "Finding the World: Thoughts on Life, Love, Home and Dogs," a collection of her most popular columns spanning 20 years. Find more at, follow her on Facebook at Dana Shavin Writes, or email her at