Saturday, June 03, 2006

Adventures on a treadmill

Yesterday I had my very first "stress echocardiogram" test. My family doctor ordered it because she was concerned about my recent blood pressure spike.

At 11:30 AM I showed up at the cardiologists' office and filled out all the requisite paperwork. A tech called me into a separate office and led me into an exam room with an ultrasound machine, a treadmill, and an ECG machine. She told me to strip from the waist up and put on the cute little paper jacket. Then she strapped a belt around me with all these cords dangling off it.

After this, she used a sandpapery piece of paper to scuff-up the skin on my chest and ribcage. Then she stuck squares of plastic with what looked like metal snaps on each one, and she clipped a cord from the belt onto each sticker.

A second tech came in, and both girls explained to me that they would need me to cooperate, and not to be offended if they "barked" orders to me, since it was important that they get things done in a certain way. They were both joky and friendly, but I was feeling extremely introspective yesterday and didn't say much. I think I probably get that way in unfamiliar situations when I know I'm going to have to focus and follow directions.

Anyway, they explained that I'd need to lie down on my left side on this table while they took pre-stress pictures of my heart. She was having a little bit of trouble getting a decent picture from the side, but finally got something she could use. The table I was lying on was interesting in that the middle of it could be lowered out of the way so that the tech's scanner could fit underneath me.

After the pre-stress pix, they sat me up and put me on the treadmill. It starts out flat and slow, but every three minutes it speeds up and inclines upward. I kept going, even when it got so fast I had to run to keep up, and I didn't really say anything. They kept asking me if I was okay, and by that time, I couldn't really answer except in bursts. "Yes... but... my... knees... hurt... a... little... bit..." I heaved.

Finally they got my heart rate up to 165-170 and stopped the treadmill. They escorted me immediately back to the table where I lay down and let them take more ultrasound pix of my heart while it was working hard. "Breathe in and hold," she barked. "Breathe out and hold." I followed the instructions to the letter, being as cooperative as I could. I felt really hot, but they had said I'd feel hot after the treadmill, so I wasn't alarmed.

Afterwards they sat me up on the table and gave me some juice to drink. I felt like lying back down, but I didn't want to mess up the test, so I sat obediently, still breathing super-hard from the treadmill test. "Okay, let's stand up now." I stood up, and the tech looked at me curiously. "Are you feeling all right?"

"Yes," I answered, but her voice and my own sounded strangely muffled. My heart was still pounding hard and I felt flushed.

"Would you like to lie back down?" she asked.

"Is that okay to do?" I said, wanting to do what I was supposed to do.

"Of course, honey," she said, and I lay back down. She put the BP cuff back on me and checked me, then re-checked me, then got on the office intercom. "I need a nurse in the first lab," she said quickly. I couldn't open my eyes at all, but I remember wondering why she was calling for a nurse.

When the nurse arrived in a few seconds, the tech said, "Would you try to measure her BP? I can't get a reading on her, or at least, not one that makes any sense. Her BP is measuring 70/40." The nurse checked it, then checked it on the other arm, and confirmed the low reading.

At this point I remember only vaguely being surrounded by what sounded like a roomful of nurses and techs, and then an authoritative-sounding person introduced himself as the cardiologist. I still had my eyes closed and didn't feel much like talking, but he checked over my stress-test results and said that my heart looked like it was in great shape. He said that I had gotten overheated and experienced vasodilation, which then caused my BP to tank.

One of the nurses prepped me for an IV and the cardiologist said, "Yes, give her a couple of bags of fluid and that should bring her back around." She poked me in the right forearm, dug around a little, then pulled it back out. "Sorry, honey, I'll have to try again on your left arm." They managed to insert it into the back of my left hand and taped it up. After a couple of minutes I felt myself returning to the world, and I opened my eyes.

"Hey, look, she's opened her eyes. You're looking a lot better already, honey. We don't like it when our patients close their eyes and stop talking to us."

After the second bag, I felt fairly decent and was able to sit up and get dressed. The nurse took out my IV and bandaged up my hand. She pointed to another bandage on the inside of my right forearm and said, "I couldn't get that one to go in, so you'll have a bruise there. I'm sorry about that."

Sure enough, I did:

Oh well! I'm not that worried about it. I know the darn things are hard to get in sometimes, and in a fast-action situation it's even harder.

Anyway, I felt like a million bucks very soon, and was able to return to work. Odd way to spend my Friday lunch hour, that's what.

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