Kayaking down the Mississquoi: A Balm for a Tired Heart
“Please, you can stop right there.” I put up my hand and the doctor immediately stopped talking. I let my head fall a bit; feeling faint is not one of the most pleasant sensations in the world. Dr. Nguyen was describing a procedure, a test that she thought I most probably needed. When she started describing how a tube would be put down my throat, the vasovagal syncope (fainting) response which I suffer from was beginning to occur. Okay, I’m the sensitive type. At a very deep subconscious level, when I feel (or my body feels) threatened, it goes into a strong and immediate “protection” mode, sending blood from the peripheries to the inner organs. The result: faintness and, in extreme conditions, actual fainting. It’s happened six times in my life, the latest this past January. The fainting spells usually scare people, as well as myself, and I’ve ended up in the hospital emergency room three times as a result (leaving all three times before seeing a doctor). In those six episodes, twice were at the dentist, once at a dermatologist, once while giving blood (I fell on the nurse), and twice at home. This last episode resulted in the doctor asking for two tests: a stress test, in which I performed quite well, and an ultrasound of the heart (echogram), for which I didn’t test well at all. I have known for over 22 years that I have a genetic problem with the mitral valve of my heart (“The mitral valve (also known as the bicuspid valve or left atrioventricular valve) is a dual-flap (bi- from the Latin, meaning double, and mitral- from the Latin, meaning shaped like a mitre) valve in the heart that lies between the left atrium (LA) and the left ventricle” – Wikipedia) since an extreme case of fainting and almost two weeks of irregular heartbeat back in 1991. The problem is that my valves are kind of floppy, not closing the left atrium quite enough and resulting in some blood regurgitation back into the left ventricle. The cardiologist at the time told me that there was nothing I could do and that I could and should exercise regularly. The echogram that I took in 2006 also showed that the leakage wasn’t too severe. This time, however, the echogram, which had two technicians and an internist looking intently over for about an hour, seemed to indicate that the left ventricle was beginning to swell to the “severe” level. Ah shit, I thought, when I heard this. Please don’t be happening. OK, I guess you realize that I’m the sensitive type (er, I see that I’ve already mentioned it). If you’re going to give me bad news about my health or details about my body which aren’t positive, make sure that I’ve been given a sedative, that I’m lying down and have a cold compress over my face. I’ve often wondered why I get agitated so easily (I can barely read about all this heart stuff without feeling a bit funny). My reasoning is very esoteric: I believe I’m this way – possessing a very deep stress which is hidden away until triggered – due to past life “memories”. How I died in previous lifetimes (obviously very traumatically) has resulted in an extremely strong reaction to physical threat in this one. This is a theory that I can neither prove nor disprove, but it does make sense to me, and I’ve been thinking about it for years. It’s subconscious, as I say, although being one who’s practiced meditation for 43 years, it’s been my lifetime passion to combat stress and attempt to overcome it and I’m willing to do that now, however reluctantly. That being said, you can understand that I left the hospital following the second visit to the internist –who judged my heart to be in bad shape and who recommended a frightening test – to be quite shaky. Was I ready for an afternoon of kayaking down the Mississquoi River? Not really. But it had already been planned. On returning home, my wife was anxious to leave. “We’ve been booked for 11:15,” she said. “We have to leave right away.” I wasn’t going to argue, although I still wanted to find a big rock and crawl under it for a year or two. I ran upstairs and grabbed my bathing suit and towel and off we went. We were already becoming familiar with the Mississquoi River. We pass it every time we visit our new house which is presently in a state of being finished (we bought it without external siding or internal walls, to name a few). The river winds its way, flowing south from South Bolton, Quebec, down through Mansonville and then west to Glen Sutton (where we have our new house) before turning south again into Vermont. There are at least three groups sending kayakers and canoeists into its waters, and we chose Canoe et Co. (http://www.canoecosutton.com/) because its owners would be our new neighbours, their company is located that close to where we’ll soon be living. We chose our kayaks, hopped into the van, and were driven about two hours’ worth of kayaking eastward, near Highwater, Quebec. Yes, as you can imagine, kayaking is good for a tired heart. Actually, my heart felt fine; no, great. I felt no weird sensations that had been occurring ever since the internist suggested something might be wrong. I paddled strongly as the kayak surged forward. My wife commented that it wasn’t fair, that my kayak had a motor attached to it. Not that I wanted to race; the river radiated peacefulness: virtually no homes can be seen from the river, no sign of humanity, only nature, nature and more nature. Giant maple trees with exposed lattice of giant roots greeted us at every bend. A few curious cows gathered close to the shore. Giant ferns grew near the river’s edge. The river is neither too wide nor too narrow. Perfect, in short, for a peaceful commune with Nature. My heart rejoiced. There are a couple of places where slight rapids occur, setting you up for a little excitement. It’s a little like going downhill on cross-country skis. “Wee,” I squealed, as I let go of paddling and let the kayak rush forward. The second set of rapids almost capsized me: I was in the faster, deep-seated variety of kayak which is more prone to tipping. Two hours of kayaking succeeded in calming down my skittish nerves. In the middle of it all, because the beach where we were advised to eat was already quite crowded, my wife and I ate our picnic softly floating with the current down the middle of the river. Lovely.