Thursday, January 21, 2010

My stress test happened January 19th. It's a very long process, not simply getting on a treadmill and walking fast for a little bit hooked up to monitors. At least it's not that simple for the complete testing.

When I arrived I was taken to a men's dressing room that resembled a very small locker room. There was a bathroom, a couple of areas with curtains to stand behind to change, about 5 chairs, 4 lockers, and a TV up toward the ceiling. The TV was tuned to Animal Planet but I didn't really much care what was on. I had also brought my music and a book prepared for some waiting time that usually happens in a doctor's office. This was different. At precisely 8 AM I was taken to a room and being prepped for the initial portion of the testing.

I was told to lay on a hospital bed and my blood pressure was checked. My shirt needed to be removed and the shaving of chest hair began. Swipes at my shoulders, mid-chest, then down lower to the sides quickly and efficiently removed follicles so that sticky pads with metal nibs could be placed without risk of them falling off during the test. It also prevents the painful experience of ripping the hair out when removing the sticky pads. An EKG was connected and that's when I realized I was to take the first part of the test nearly naked. If I were a committed runner this would not have been so bad. In fact, I would probably run shirtless in the summers if I were in decent shape. This is not the case however. The one person who was started the procedures remained and a second person came in and asked questions about history and such. Okay, two people, that's fine. Then a third walked in and he started asking questions and inserted a needled into the back of my left hand and left it there to feed the tracer chemicals at the appropriate time. The small room all of a sudden felt pretty crowded. With needle dangling from under my skin on the back of my hand a fourth person came into an already crowded room. Including me, there were now 5 people.

The fifth person was the doctor who was to preside. The same questions, more taking of the blood pressure and though I recognized the doctor as the man my grandmother had as her heart doctor I was oddly put at ease by his questioning and his responses to my answers. He seemed pretty optimistic, never once mentioning my weight. I think that the hospital has some standing policy to NOT mention people's weight as a factor or an area of concern. My experience with this doctor in the past with my grandmother was that he was typically short with the people who came along for the appointment but treated his patients very well. That's why I mention I was oddly put at ease with his questions and responses. When I had spoken with him before he was short, abrasive, and not very pleasant. So this was a nice light to see this doctor in. It's better to be his patient than the family members who are simply trying to help.

After his questions I was asked to get on the treadmill. They warned me this was the hardest part of the test. It really wasn't nor did I think it was going to be. I was looking forward to being on the treadmill because I like that sort of thing and exercise. I just don't do it like I should. The shunt or whatever it was in the back of my hand was there so when I reached a certain target heart rate the first dose of radiated tracer could be injected without my stopping at the point of reaching the THR (target heart rate). The doctor had assured me if the level of radiation in the injection were to be worried about the would certainly not be in the room with me when it was injected. I had to admit that made some sense to me. The test began slowly, it was actually difficult to walk that slow. It increased at 3 minute intervals, both speed and elevation. By the second increase I was breathing quite heavily but the THR just wasn't insight like I had hoped. The third increase was the charm though it took nearly the full three minutes. I saw the THR within reach nearing the next level. With under a minute to go before the treadmill increased once more I reached it. Then the injection came and it was cold, chilling, I almost pulled my hand away. So that was that. The first part was over and it wasn't too bad.

There was a waiting period to make sure the injection had time to course through my body and I was taken to a room with an unmistakable orange radiation warning sign on the door. The door was closed, I placed the key to the locker where I kept my clothes in a plastic basket and was asked to lay down on a long, narrow table. The room was darkened, there was a loud continuous hum or rumble, and a cushion was placed under my knees as my legs were strapped together to prevent them from moving during the x-ray process. I was asked to lock my fingers up over my head and keep my arms in that position for the duration of the x-rays. It wasn't very comfortable but it was bearable. The table moved slowly up and then back toward the door and stopped under a large white v-shaped machine. I closed my eyes, laid still and just let the machine do all the work. It hovered over me and turned incrementally to the left every 30 seconds or so. After nearly 30 minutes of this I was free to go back to the dressing room, or anywhere in the hospital until the next injection. By this time I had my shirt back on and the EKG equipment had been removed.

The waiting is the hardest part. Do I need to give Tom Petty credit for that? I mean, it really is. Plus I was starting to get a slightly tinny taste in my mouth and a headache. I left the room with Animal Planet still blaring and got some water. It didn't take away the headache or the metal taste in my mouth but it was nice and cool and made me feel better. I was a little self conscious walking around the hospital in light weight hiking boots, shorts, a t-shirt, and a needle sticking out of my hand. I could have eaten at this point but was a little to self aware to brave the cafeteria. My thought was someone might mistake me for someone who should be in a hospital bed, try to get me back to where I belonged, there would be a scene, it would wind up in the paper and it would give the hospital a bad reputation. Since I happen to like this hospital AND they have my life in their hands I decided against any potential scene making.

Time arrived for the next injection. I was taken to another room with a sign exactly like the x-ray room and was seated with my left hand up and turned down with easy access to the shunt. An injection was given and the needle used placed in a special metal container the likes of which I've never seen before. I presume because of the radiation. And then a second injection was given. This was a full syringe of some clear, thick, cold substance. That was probably the worst part of the day. The feeling of something that cold entering my veins was nearly too much for me. It looked like some sort of gel. Then before I could blink, Jack, the guy doing the injections (very nice guy), peeled the tape of the back of my hand and with blinding speed pulled the needle out and covered the hole with gauze. That part happened so quickly it nearly made me dizzy.

Then there was waiting for the injection to circulate and a second series of x-rays. These were similar to the first series so nothing to expound on there.

Probably the weirdest part of the whole experience was waiting in the dressing room while other men entered and left with me just sitting there like a pervert or something while they changed and then changed back when their testing was finished. I'm sure it had to be a little unnerving for them, but while I waited I kept to my book and had my headphones in listening to Hammock trying to relax and get rid of my headache. I had also decided that TVLand would be better viewing in the men's dressing room so I had changed channels. I don't know why that was important to me since I wasn't watching it anyway?

The entire process took about 5 hours. When it was finished I still had a headache, funny taste in my mouth, and I was exhausted. That's when I realized how stressed I had been through this process. But it feels good to have done it and now I wait for results. In the meantime I do my exercise/walking and eat the things I should be eating and work to making these changes last. I have to admit, the treadmill made me miss that kind of focused, aggressive exercise.


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