Caution: This is going to be a long one!
I recently went to the doctor as a follow-up visit. (See earlier post.)
I’m not sure if being middleaged has to do with my health issues but it sure seems like it might. As I mentioned in previous posts, I was getting monitored for my enlarged thyroid. As it turns out, it is not serious and it actually could be hereditary. Besides the thyroid concern, I am supposed to get my blood sugar/glucose levels checked periodically since I had gestational diabetes with my last pregnancy. As of now, my glucose levels are good.
While talking to the doctor I mentioned a few other concerns that I had. For one thing, I noticed that my asthma attacks have been getting more frequent. Since I’m not considered a chronic asthma sufferer, I don’t always have medicine. It seems like my asthma is related to my allergies and the weather. The doctor prescribed me some Advair.
Another thing that I mentioned was that I had been experiencing some tightness (pain) in my chest It was probably going on for at least a month and happening about 3-4 times a week, usually in the night. Sometimes I even feel like my heart is racing. The doctor explained that as a precaution, because of my age, I should take an EKG (electrocardiogram). Apparently, it is not uncommon for people in their 40s to suffer from heart attacks. An EKG tests the electrical activity of the heartbeat. My EKG test was performed right in the doctor’s office and the results were good. Besides the EKG, a treadmill stress test was also recommended.
To prepare for the stress test, I had to eliminate caffeine 24 hours before the test. Yikes, no coffee and no diet/regular coke for me! I also had to fast after midnight so that I wouldn’t accidentally “barf” while on the treadmill. I was asked to wear comfortable clothes and walking/running shoes. The test would take approximately 3-4 hours.
So a few weeks ago I went to the hospital to get my thallium treadmill stress test done. When I got there, I had to fill out and sign a bunch of papers. I also had to sign a paper confirming that I was not pregnant and if I was then I was choosing to take this test anyway. At the time I didn’t really realize what was involved in the test so I didn’t know why this paper was important. (BTW, I am not pregnant!)
After a few minutes, the nuclear medicine (Yes, nuclear medicine!) tech came to escort me into the exam room. He explained what would be happening throughout the test. For this thallium treadmill stress test, I received an IV of radioactive dye so they could take images of my heart at rest. After the initial IV, I had to wait a few minutes for the dye to get into my system. Then I reclined on an x-ray machine that goes back and forth over the chest. The x-ray takes about 20 minutes. Then I had to do more waiting until the cardiology tech escorted me to get all hooked up with electrodes. After the electrodes were placed on me, I went to the treadmill room where my blood pressure was taken and my electrodes were hooked up to a monitor. Then I did more waiting and waiting. Finally, the cardiologist came in with the cardiology tech and the nuclear medicine tech. The cardiologist was present at the test just in case my heart goes haywire during the test. Don’t worry, this is standard protocol.
The cardiologist asked me if I knew why I was taking this test. I explained about my tightness/pain in my chest. He said that it wasn’t uncommon but getting a stress test to check my heart was a good idea. The cardiology tech asked me to get on the treadmill so they could start the test. Just as she began the test, she noticed that one of my electrodes was not signaling so I had to get that adjusted and taped up. I got on the treadmill and started walking. For this type of test, the treadmill speeds up and inclines in 3 minute intervals. At first, the walking was pretty easy so I was feeling okay. Then about 30 seconds into the test, one of my electrodes was not signaling again, so the cardiology tech came alongside of me and taped me up again. This was happening while I was still walking. Not too easy!
After about 3 minutes passed, they told me that it was going to speed up and incline. She counted down from 10 to 1. At the beep, I had to start walking briskly and I could feel the “hill” I was climbing. I was beginning to feel my heart pounding and my breathing getting harder. Then I could feel my legs getting weaker. The techs could tell that I was starting to tire. The doctor told me to keep going. I said I would try my best. He wanted me to get past the next level. The cardiology tech started counting down from 10 to 1. Then came the beep.
By now, I was running! All I could think about was I am going to fall down soon! I yelled out, ” I don’t think I’m going to make it!” By that time another cardiology tech came in and stood behind me and put his hands on my lower back for support. The nuclear medicine tech and the doctor told me to hold on and keep going until they gave me another dose of the radioactive dye. I had to keep walking for 1 long minute after the dye was put into my IV. Then I heard the cardiology tech count down 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, ….1. Finally! The treadmill slowed to a stop and I got off with the assistance of the cardiology tech who was standing behind me. I felt like I didn’t have legs. If the tech wasn’t helping me to the exam table , I would have fallen.
As soon as I got to the table, I had to lie down and get my blood pressure checked. They continued to monitor my heart for about 10-15 minutes. The cardio tech emphasized that in “real life” I wouldn’t lie down after such a brisk walk/run. The cardiologist asked me why I thought I couldn’t go any farther. I said, “My legs couldn’t do it. I know I’m out of shape.” His stern reply, “Yes, you’re out of shape. You should have been able to get through that level. Your heart looks fine. You should start going walking for at least 15 minutes a day. Go with your child.”
Okay, let’s get real here. Obviously I know I’m out of shape! I don’t really need a cardiologist to tell me that! I know he had good intentions but geez, he sure knows how to make someone feel so inadequate!
After leaving the treadmill room I had to wait another 30 or so minutes for the radioactive dye to circulate through my body. By that time I was starving! I was allowed to drink some juice and eat some crackers. I was also instructed to drink some water to help the dye move out of my stomach.
Then I had to go back to the 1st room and get another x-ray scan of my heart. That took about 15 minutes. I would be done if this scan showed enough of my heart. Well, this scan was not good enough! So I had to go to another part of the hospital to get a scan lying down on my stomach. One of the nuclear medicine techs took me downstairs and explained that actually about 90% of the people have to get this secondary scan. It supposedly has to do with your diaphragm blocking the view of your heart.
On the walk downstairs, the nuclear medicine tech asked me how I was. I explained that this test was so hard for me. He said that he could hear me breathing hard. He was in another room and he could hear me! He said that I just happened to have the ” tough” cardiologist. I said, “I thought so!”
My treadmill stress test took over 4 hours! I was so happy when it was over. The first thing on my mind was a cup of coffee. The whole day and night my legs were aching. It was as if I had just ran a marathon!
So did I experience a “light bulb” moment? Did the test motivate me to start exercising? NO!
Actually, I just asked Mr. MaD to dust off my little stair machine. I think I’ll start off small…maybe 1 minute at a time!