Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My first nuclear stress test

Let's just take a moment to consider the very name of this beast.


The first and last words already bring about stress - then they through an extra stress right there in the middle just to kick it up a notch.

Ok - I had open heart surgery a few years back as a young man of 30 in order to replace a bicuspid valve that was wonky from birth. That surgery saved my life and I thank God regularly for the technology and skilled professionals that made it all possible.

It did come with a small price to pay: the yearly check up with the cardiologist - hence the stress test.

This was the first time I had a stress test before the surgery - but then it was not a NUCLEAR onee.

Let's start with the preparation. For 24 hours before the test, I could eat and drink nothing with caffiene. Given my 3-4 bottle a day Diet Pepsi habit, this was daunting to start with. "No worries," I thought, "I'll drink decaf."

Nope! Not even decaf - apparently there is still a trace of caffeine in it.

That day, I was allowed some toast for breakfast and then resticted to water only until after the test.

Now we come to the test. I get to the office at 1:15 pm as instructed for my 1:45 pm test. I'm thinking, "Oh they must have paperwork and stuff for me to do which is why they want me there early."
Nope - they just want you there that early.

Then they shave my chest in the areas they will put the EKG leads - I make a joke about this improving my swimming time but the tech doesn't get it. She then slaps an IV lead into my arm and feeds a radioactive "tracer" into my bloodstream. I felt like - well, like nothing. "Now go to the end of the hall, drink two glasses of water and have a seat."

So I did - and then I waited. They make you wait for 45 minutes to make sure you don't have a "reaction" to the tracer. I'm not sure what I should be looking for. A subtle glowing in my fingertips? The ability to climb walls unassisted and to spin webs strong enough to catch a bad guy in?

But the wait is much longer than 45 minutes - it's more like an hour and a half. Then they pull me in to take some weird kind of x-ray of my heart...for 12 minutes - during which time you are not permitted to move. Of course I had no itches or intense need to scratch anywhere - until that test. But I held it together.

Now it was time to get on the treadmill. They hooked me up to an EKG and immediately indicate that I have a "left branch bundle" - something I knew I had since the surgery and was likely caused by the surgery. To be honest, I disn't even know what it was...just that I had it! (Note - I later looked it up, and I wasn't worried). This, however, put the kabash on the treadmill route. The blocked bundle apparently causes "false positives" during the treadmill test. "We'll inject you instead."

Me: "Ummm - with what?"
Them They rattle of the name of a drug.
Me: "Errr - what does it do?"
Them: "It forces blood into your heart so we can study the perfusion."
Me: "Perfusion - right. How is this going to make me feel?"
Them: "You'll feel flush, possibly nauseous, a heaviness in your chest - possibly chest pain, shortness or breathe and a possible headache."
Me: "I already have a headache from the lack of caffeine!"

So they inject and then we all stand in silence as they look at something on some monitor. The three techs now have light discussion about who is going on vacation and where and who is covering for whom. But no one is talking to me. Fine - I know that I like to talk more than I should, but this is feeling downright rude.

Then the symptoms begin to creep in. First the flush feelings - then the weird sensation in my chest. I start to feel warm all over, then my breath starts getting a little quick and short. Then the headache I had going into the test was joined by it's cousin - a gianormous headache that just flew in on it's way to Toledo and wants to hang out during it's layover with my existing headache. It felt like my head would explode. I shared how I was feeling and one of the tech said, "Oh you'll feel better once I inject you with the antidote."

Antidote?!?! Am I in some 1950's spy novel?

So - the test ends and they inject me with the "reversal" (a new and much better term than "antidote") and I do feel better after about a minute. Then it is back to the uncomfortable chairs in the hallway to wait again - this time for another hour or so before a nother tracer injection and a new set of x-rays (and itches).

And then it was done. "Take this sheet to the woman at the front desk." I was released - I drove home, frantically looking for someplace to get a diet pepsi with the whole ordeal behind me.

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