Monday, January 19, 2009

Time for a Cardio Stress Test

This is from January of 2005. I reprint it here mostly as a reminder to myself that I should probably go get one thing or another checked up.
Here at the News-Derrick, we like to probe the frontiers of modern medicine and bring back updates for our readers. Or, to put it another way, last week I went to the doctor for a stress test. For those of you who’ve always wondered about that experience, today is your lucky day.
My trip was prompted by an informal check of my blood pressure at a handy grocery store blood pressure chair. I came in somewhere between “Yikes” and “Dial 911,” so I decided it was time to see a real doctor.
I don’t call the doctor often. I did not inherit this trait from my Grandmother Binmore, who believed that illness sprang into existence because a doctor examined you. My problem is that my Puritan New England upbringing leads me to believe that any illness or injury I have is because of some misbehavior. Going to the doctor feels a like some shameful combination of having to admit that I’ve messed up and asking someone else to fix it for me.
I’m old enough to know better, so I call the doctor when I should. Well, mostly. Okay, the last time a medical professional had taken my blood pressure was nine years ago.
After calling I read up on hypertension. Big mistake. As near as I can tell, hypertension has no symptoms, except that eventually it makes all of your internal organs squirt out your nostrils. Maybe I read that wrong, but it was too late. I was soon imagining that every headache signalled the collapse of my eyeballs.
My doctor is Will Fee, because you have to trust a doctor who sings. Will has a remarkably pleasant and personable staff. I am always impressed that medical folks can spend their days surrounded by sick people and stay pleasant.
The whole process involves chatting over some fine conversational points, like my dead ancestors and their medical problems. There’s no place like a doctor’s waiting room to meditate on your mortality.
The test itself involves a great deal of waiting. They take some pictures (I sat with my arms strung up in the same slings that Sea World uses to cart Shamu), and inject some dye into your veins.
Injecting is always an adventure for me—I have small weaselly veins that have been known to burrow and hide behind internal organs. A very nice woman apologized for having to stick and restick me, but she actually did very well. I still have unpleasant long-ago memories of some trainee who inserted the needle and ground it around as if he was trying to work a few scoops of Baskin-Robbins out of the crook of my elbow.
Once the dye is injected, I sat. Actually, stress testing involves a great deal of sitting. I read about 150 pages of a fine biography of Alexander Hamilton (by Ron Chernow—fine gift for the history buff). You’re also supposed to drink roughly a few gallons of water. If you’re scheduled for this, I suggest you bring your own; I love Will, but the water in his waiting room tastes almost as bad as Franklin tap water.
Eventually I arrived at the main event. A nice lady attached some electrodes to me, and then put me on a treadmill. Then I had elevate my heart rate. I’m not sure what the formula is—five times your mother’s age or something. Everyone congratulated me on being in fine shape, but all that meant was that the treadmill was inclined so that it pointed at the ceiling and the speed was set at “very frightened gerbil.”
Then, once I was shooting sweat waves out of my head just like in the cartoons, and my calve muscles were screaming that they intended to secede from my legs, I was notified that I needed to just skootch to the front of the treadmill and hold my chest against the picture taking equipment. This procedure requires three medical people—a doctor and nurse to holler encouragement and a technician to put her hand in the middle of your back and shove you the rest of the way forward. Then the treadmill is set back to “collapse in heap.”
I got to sit down, and Will asked me some questions that seemed odd at the time; on reflection, I suspect he was checking to see if my brain was, in fact, still getting any blood.
Then more waiting (another thirty pages) and a trip back to the Shamu seat for final pictures. My favorite part was discovering I would be radioactive for 24 hours. The picture taking is done with gamma rays. I waited the rest of the day for signs of turning into the Hulk. No such luck.

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