The Whooshing

While this may sound like it could be the title of an M. Night Shyamalan flick, it is instead the name I have given to an odd and scary sensation I have been experiencing off and on for the past four years or so. Once in awhile, sometimes randomly and sometimes when I bend my head low to the ground or over-exert myself, I hear/feel a “whooshing” all around my right ear. It sounds like a baby’s heartbeat during an ultrasound, only inside my own head. As a professed hypochondriac (though I’m currently in recovery), it didn’t fail to completely freak me out.

When it started, I was in nursing school, so I asked my insanely intelligent professor – we’ll call her She-Who-Knows-Everything – about it. She-Who-Knows-Everything told me it was a carotid bruit. Wikipedia told me that a carotid bruit is a noise heard over the carotid artery due to a disruption in the blood flow caused by atherosclerosis. I told me that even though my cholesterol is a little higher than what “they” say it should be, there is no way I had enough plaque in my right carotid artery in my early 20s to cause such a noise. I forgot how, but eventually I convinced myself that it was because I had a tumor or some other abnormality in my brain.

I went to the doctor and the doctor, to my delight, ordered a CT. I got the CT. It was normal. I was relieved, yet even more confused. WHY was this happening if there was nothing wrong with my head? Somehow I shrugged it off. The details are lost on me now.

The Whooshing did not go away. One night at work last summer I was describing it to a fellow nurse, whose eyes widened as she said, “It could be an AVM.” An arteriovenous malformation is pretty much self-explanatory…the arteries and veins are laid out in an abnormal way and can form a tangled mass of blood vessels that pretty much bathe each other haphazardly. They can bleed and be fatal. I freaked out again. Even moreso this time because I had found out that my grandmother and ALL of her sisters have abdominal aortic aneurysms, so I didn’t find it far-fetched that I could have a blood vessel abnormality of some sort.

Don’t ask how or why it took me so long, because honestly even I don’t know, but yesterday I went to a different doctor and told her the compelling tale of The Whooshing. The following (paraphrased) conversation ensued:

Dr.: Okay, here’s my thing. I’m all about customer service. When you’re happy, I’m happy. I can order a test. I can get you any test you want. The thing is, insurance might not cover it. When I order a test, I have to write a reason I’m ordering the test. If I wrote “patient thinks she has an aneurysm” as the reason and you turned out to be fine, they wouldn’t cover it – and they can be really expensive. Your CT was fine. An MRI might show something that a CT wouldn’t pick up, but if it did, it would probably be tiny and not life-threatening. And it would be three or four thousand bucks. I just don’t want you crying about me over your Cheerios because you had to pay four thousand bucks. I know there are some people who are willing to pay just to feel better, and I might recommend it to you for that reason. Heck, I’ve got a mortgage to pay on my CT machine. Every CT I do pays off a little of that mortgage. You want a CT? Ca-ching! But ethically I have to tell you that I don’t think you need the test. And what if we did a test and it DID find something? Then what would we do?
Me: ….Operate?
Dr.: You can’t operate on an AVM that isn’t currently causing any problems without doing more harm than good.
Me: So…start making my bucket list?
Dr.: Make it anyway. You’re gonna die. I’m gonna die.
Me: I just…I don’t know if you’ve ever seen “Jersey Girl,” but I’m terrified that I’ll be giving birth, and then – pop! I’ll be dead on the table.
Dr.: Then don’t have babies.
Me: But….but I have to have babies!
Dr.: Well, life is a risk. You could always be pushing, pop a blood vessel on the table and die. There’s no way of knowing ahead of time.
Me: Or I could just demand C-sections (something I NEVER thought I’d say).
Dr.: Yeah, and then bleed out from infection. I didn’t hear anything over your artery when I listened, which tells me it’s NOT a bruit. What you’re hearing is just the flow of blood itself, rather than the result of a compromised flow of blood, which is what a bruit is.
Me: But why am I hearing it? And why is it always only on the right side?
Dr.: You’ve got fair skin and blue eyes. You’re probably very susceptible to allergies.
Me: (nods vigorously)
Dr.: It’s probably a clogged eustachian tube. Pop your ears.
(I obliged.)
Me: My left one popped, but not my right one.
Dr.: There ya go.

…..Oh. THAT’s a relief.

Although my imagination is still insistent that there’s something very weird going on.

Still, I have half a mind to write a letter to She-Who-Does-Not-Know-Everything and sarcastically thank her for the havoc she’s wreaked by putting that idea in my head.

I was advised by my new (favorite) doctor to try popping my ears the next time I experience The Whooshing and see if it doesn’t immediately go away. Expect either a frantic or jubilant update at that time.

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