I fueled up with apple juice and a spinach soufflé for breakfast at Panera and then we hung out for a while waiting for my stress test appointment. John had originally planned to leave me at the cardiology center for the 2+ hours it was estimated to take and go do some shopping, but thankfully he decided to wait with me, as I was more nervous than I had realized. I had not planned on engaging in any serious physical activity this week, so I cobbled together a sad excuse for a jogging outfit from the clothes I had bought at REI on Sunday. Fortunately I had brought a pair of lightweight sneakers with me for walking around town.
We arrived for my appointment a half-hour early, as requested on my instruction sheet, and I answered a bunch of questions, to which most of my answers were an emphatic “no” (do you smoke, are you diabetic, do you have shortness of breath, do you have chest pains, etc.). I was actually somewhat excited to hop on the treadmill and get a readout on my cardiovascular performance. What I was decidedly not prepared for was being injected with a radioactive isotope and lying completely still with my arms above my head for fifteen minutes while a scary-looking machine rotated around my torso taking images of my heart. One of the technicians put an I.V. port in my left arm and injected the first half of the isotope, then I had to go sit in the waiting room for a while as the lovely radioactive stuff coursed through my veins. This was the first time I’ve ever had an I.V. (my only “surgery” – knock on wood – having been getting my wisdom teeth removed as a teenager) and the darn thing hurt! I am not very good with needles and blood and it actually made me feel quite whoozy for a few minutes. I kept telling myself that my dad has probably had five hundred I.V.s stuck in him so I could certainly survive one without passing out. (It wasn’t until the next day that I realized the I.V. hadn’t been inserted very well; I ended up with a lovely bruise in the crook of my arm that lasted for a week, making me look like a drug addict.)
After the first round of imaging I lay down on a table and got hooked up to another EKG machine. This time there were even more snappy things stuck to my chest and I had to wear a velcro belt around my waist to keep all the wires together. To top it all off I got to wear a blood pressure cuff around one arm, and of course I still had that nasty I.V. port so they could shoot me up with the rest of the radioactive isotope while I was on the treadmill.
The technician told me that I would have to walk until I reached my target heartrate of 161 beats per minute. (Your estimated “maximum” heartrate is calculated by subtracting your age from 220, so my maximum heartrate is 189. Then you take 85% of that to get your target heartrate.) Every three minutes the treadmill would speed up and the incline would increase slightly. I was supposed to stay on the treadmill for at least one minute after reaching my target heartrate. After seven minutes I was up to 120 and starting to get warm. The technician kept asking me how I felt and I said I was fine. Around the ten minute point I reached my target heart rate and they injected me with the rest of the isotope. I kept going, walking faster and faster, and the technician asked me if I wanted to go up to the next level. I said sure – heck, I wasn’t even jogging yet! Finally I went up to the fifth level and actually had to start jogging at that point because my legs couldn’t keep up even at my fastest walk. The technician ended the test after 12 minutes and 38 seconds, at which point I was at my maximum heartrate. I had never really thought much about my heartrate before, but now I finally understand the point of keeping your heart at 85% output for maximum efficiency. This brings what I feel when I’m running into a whole new perspective! The technician showed me the EKG printout, noting that while the irregularity was quite obvious when I was lying down, it completely disappeared while I was exercising.
After the treadmill test I had to wait for my heartrate to come back down and then I had another round of images taken. It was a lot easier to lie still this time, after my little workout. Before I left they gave me a sheet of paper indicating that I had been injected with a radioactive substance, just in case I set off the radiation detector at the airport on Friday. (I was actually sort of hoping this would happen just to see how the people at the DaimlerChrysler terminal reacted, but sadly the radiation had apparently left my system by that time, as no alarms went off.) The two technicians assured me that the cardiologist would call me in the next day or two with my results, and sent me on my way. I wasn’t too much the worse for wear except for the sore spot from the I.V. and a pounding headache.
John treated me to Baja Fresh for a late lunch and we did a few errands at the Village of Rochester Hills mall before heading to
Back at home, lying awake in bed Tuesday night, I came to the startling realization that I could actually hear my heart beating irregularly. I woke John up and made him listen too, just in case I was hallucinating, but he could hear it distinctly as well. At this point I started to freak out. I had never given much thought to the functioning of my heart before. It’s always been there, steadily pumping away, sturdy and reliable, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Suddenly my faith in that lumpy mass of muscle that keeps me alive began to waver slightly. I couldn’t understand how there could possibly be something wrong with me – I spend nearly two hours a day walking or jogging for goodness’ sake, and have been doing so for nearly two years! Suffice it to say that I was anxiously awaiting the cardiologist’s call to reveal the nature of my abnormality.