Friday, March 9, 2012

Health by Numbers - Part 3

Part 1  -  Part 2

When your doc tells you it might be a good idea to have a stress test, what can you say?

Well, I suppose you can say a lot of things, some that might get you arrested but mostly you say, “Sure…let’s do it!”

Mostly because, once the possibility that something could be wrong with your heart has been put on the table, you’ll have nothing but stress, anyway, until you find out that there isn’t…at least to that 99% certainty we’ve all come to know and love.

 So that’s what I did.  I was actually 99.9% sure there was nothing out of whack in there, aside from the hole left behind by Marybuttercup Pennyloafers, so I thought it would be interesting to get hooked up to all those wires and electrodes and take a spin on the treadmill.

I walk all the time, at a pretty brisk pace, up hill and down dale, and before that I ran almost every day for about 25 years.  I didn’t do marathons but I actually took it seriously enough that I subscribed to “Runners World” for a time. 

So it’s not like I was sitting around letting my heart get mushy all these years, except, you know…whenever I thought about that whole Marybuttercup Pennyloafers thing.

Ironically, it was through an article in “Runners World” that I learned that the long term benefits of walking 4 miles was essentially the same as running 4 miles, with a lot less stress on the joints. It just took about twice the amount of time.  

Since I was getting to an age that required healthy joints, or it was at least recommended that you have them, I took that information to heart, so to speak, and started walking more than running, until finally one day I discovered I was no longer a runner. 

It was actually a nice discovery, at least for me, not so much the “Runners World” folks, since I soon thereafter canceled my subscription. 

So I had that going for me, as well as a pretty clean immediate family history. 

I only had to wait a few days to take the first part of the test, which is an "at rest echocardiogram", which is basically a sonogram of your heart.  This gives them a baseline to compare your heart stuff to the next time, when you're not so "at rest".

Very scientific...I know.

However, what you don’t count on is, in this situation, a few days can feel like a few weeks, and it’s only human to worry a little, even if you’re telling yourself you’re not.  Kind of like when you’re about to get on an airplane and you’re sure the plane is absolutely safe, because you know that thousands of jets make successful trips every day…but still, you’re going to be 40,000 feet up in the air, and it’s not like you can just pull off to the side of the sky and change a tire. 

Sort of like that kind of worry; you’d just rather not be in that situation in the first place, with or without the drinks, for an additional fee.

The first part of the test was pretty easy. All I had to do was lie on my side while this nice medical tech lady, named Gladys, ran this greasy wand over my chest. I think some people actually pay for stuff like that.

The room was dark so I was actually starting to doze off, but Gladys kept chatting me up, I guess to keep me awake. Every once in a while though, she would get quiet and let out this big sigh, which to you, doesn’t mean anything, but to me...the guy lying on the table…was very disturbing.

What did she see….?

Oh no…something must be hanging loose in there!!!!

But then she would start chatting again, so maybe she just remembered she’d forgotten to feed her goldfish or something.

A day or two later they called and told me that the test was normal, which you would think should make you happy. 

And it does…but then you start wondering what exactly does that mean…normal?  Not exceptional? Not the best heart we’ve ever seen?

Normal for who…a 100 year old man who smokes every day…or a 25 year old who runs 20 miles every morning?

But you soon take what you can get, and you do actually start to feel better about things…for a day or two, until you start to worry about how you’re going to respond to having your heart cranked up to about 900 beats per minute.

It also doesn’t help that you talk to a friend who just had her own stress test a week before, who tells you they had her running up a 90 degree incline, which made it difficult for her to light her cigarettes. She also tells you that she had a bad reaction to the electrode glue, which left her torso dotted with a bunch of raised circles, so much so that, basically, she resembled the underside of an octopus’s tentacle.  To top it off, she's telling you all this while she’s lying flat on her back, which locked up on her a couple of days later.

Luckily, having known this person for quite some time, you are not surprised by any of this so you just pass it off as an anomaly.

And it was, since the worst thing that happened to me was the doc caught me trying to take a video of the inside of my heart pumping on the screen, after they left me alone in the room for a few minutes. 

I never actually had to do anything more stressful than fast walking up a modest incline, and  it really wasn’t much faster, if at all, than what I do, normally, walking up hills.

I did start to feel a little of that burning sensation after about 5 minutes, as usual, and when I looked at the monitoring screen I got a little nervous because all the little pointy things that were going up, or at least I thought were going up, were now going down. But apparently that was normal too.

The doc did ask me, at that point, if I was feeling anything, which made me even more certain that something was wrong, but on later reflection I realized that it was probably the look of sheer terror that had spread across my face

Then they stop the treadmill and there is a bit of a fire drill as I am instructed to quickly lie back down on the table, while my heart is still racing, and Gladys starts rubbing the little greasy wand over my chest again.

Finally, I’m told I can sit up, where I watch the doc peering and probing at all the pictures of my beating heart.  And if you think the sighing was nerve wracking before, try sitting there while the doc does a double take, or what you think is a double take and makes little muttering grunt noises, which, to you, translates as…“Such a shame…”

But then he turns to you and tells you, as far as these tests go, he doesn't see anything“unusual” that would be causing this burning sensation, and that he highly doubts there is any heart related problem.

And now you really start to feel good about things… until of course the doc follows up with the customary, but of course no test is 100% and it’s possible it could have over looked something, but he’s…you guessed it…99% certain that there isn’t.

So I’ll take that….

Again, the bottom line is….I’m fine…am fine…and should continue to be fine in the very expected long term future.

Even the cholesterol re-do came back significantly lower than the original reading and, while still a bit over the norm, it’s manageable with some diet changes.  Z’s already got me eating about 3 dozen snacks of fruit, nuts and vegetables throughout the day, and she’s adding more fish to our dinner rotation.  She even keeps a bucket of oats next to my side of the bed, and if my ears weren’t so floppy she would strap it directly onto my head.

So that’s it…that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

But I guess the good thing is, while at the end of the day, or even the beginning, I’m in as good a shape as I always thought I was; now I have some scientific validation to back it up.

And that’s a good thing…mostly because it’s hot cross bun season….not to mention Irish soda bread, Irish coffee, corn beef and cabbage…and don’t forget the pints of Guinness…..

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