I originally posted this on Instagram a little over a week ago. After hearing that dozens of people had decided to make doctors appointments after seeing my post, I felt compelled to formalize the message here so that it could reach more people.
If you told me a year ago I would need open-heart surgery just after turning 25, I would have thought you were crazy. Just like most new college grads, I had felt healthy and invincible for as long as I could remember.
Last spring I made an appointment with a neurologist regarding infrequent migraines I had been having. Luckily my case is nothing more than a nuisance, but something unexpected struck me from my visit: I was at a loss for words when the doctor asked me who my PCP (primary care physician) was.
I had seen the same pediatrician since I was a kid, even over the summers while in college; in my two and a half years on my own in the real world, getting a routine checkup had not even crossed my mind. I was preoccupied with work and life in a new city. But hey, I was healthy and finding a doctor is nearly impossible when you’re working full-time. He gave me a bit of a hard time about it and pointed me to a couple of good PCPs to look up.
Luckily I listened.
I carved out the time and scheduled a physical with a new PCP. All the tests looked great as expected, but he remarked that I had a heart murmur (abnormal sounding heartbeat). I had known about the murmur my whole life — I’d had it checked out when I was younger and it was no big deal. The doctor said I should follow up with a cardiologist to get it checked in-depth, just to be safe.
A couple of weeks and a barrage of tests later, I was diagnosed with a congenital heart valve defect that was causing my aortic valve to deteriorate and my aortic root to enlarge. If I didn’t get it fixed or replaced in the next year or two, my valve could go beyond repair and I would have an aneurysm, likely before my 30s.
In the grand scheme of things, my health scare has been relatively manageable. There are a lot of diagnoses that would have been much worse. I was lucky to find out about my condition when I did, and luckier still to have had access to such great doctors. I was able to have surgery to repair my valve and aortic root, and my heart is now healthier than ever.
Unexpected health issues can arise in your mid-twenties, even if you feel perfectly fine! I know it is hard to make time, but a couple of hours to get a checkup now could give you 60 years.