Christine McFadden: Scientific mindset a burden on dates

So back in 2003 I started to date this guy who had been an attorney and was then a family law judge in town.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I happily stereotyped lawyers a long time ago, and though I knew a few I’d call friends and neighbors – you know what I mean?

But this man seemed genuinely nice. We’d been introduced through mutual friends, and on this particular evening he had invited me to a very good Italian restaurant north of town. We muddled through a few topics during the appetizer.

Then, as the soup and salad arrived, it became difficult to overlook an overly affectionate couple at the next table. I shook my head and looked away. My date re-focused my attention on him, saying with enthusiasm, “We need to discuss that!”

I shook my head again, dismayed. “Discuss what?”

“PDAs,” he responded.

My jaw literally dropped. He had my full attention while I marveled at the range of this man. In seconds I was reliving my first case in vet school, which involved a mother goat and her kid. The youngster was born with a heart defect, patent ductus arteriosus – or PDA.

The condition is not that uncommon in newborns of any species: the ductus arteriosis is an embryonic blood vessel that bypasses the lungs while circulating blood through the heart in the unborn fetus (lungs aren’t used because there is no air to breathe inside the womb), it is supposed to close up just before birth.

If this particular blood vessel or duct doesn’t close completely, there is a swooshy, abnormal heart sound, or murmur, in the newborn and most importantly, if the retained embryonic vessel is very large, it will continue to bypass the lungs and the baby may not receive enough oxygenated blood.

This can be a life-threatening condition. Happily, most will close on their own within two weeks of birth. I still encounter this condition occasionally in young puppies and kittens, and have even had to refer tiny patients to cardiac surgeons for life-saving surgery.

It is an intense situation when encountered – and here was my date, delving deep into such an intense subject on a first date.

“Wow,” I said, leaning forward, now fully engaged in this conversation, “What did you want to talk about? When have you encountered this?”

“Well,” he gestured, “on dates.”

“Dates?” I asked. “Your dates have had heart problems?”

“What?” he said, clearly puzzled.

We were both now staring at each other. Remember, these were the early days of a relationship when you still give the benefit of the doubt to each other – you know, he seems like he can walk and chew gum at the same time and she appears to be able to navigate a room without falling off her heels. You are charitable. But...

I waded in again. “Aren’t you talking about patent ductus arteriosus? A heart murmur in newborns?”

The man, who would become my husband, glared back at me, “No, I’m talking about public displays of affection.”

Silence again as we contemplated each other.

“I’ve never heard of that before.” I mumbled. “What kind of public displays of affection did you have in mind?”

Never mind. The zest for the topic was gone, and we segued into other, safer conversations.