The Stress Test

A few years ago I was having some pains in my left arm that were impressive enough to encourage me to make an appointment with my doctor. Actually, I didn’t personally make the appointment with my doctor – the emergency room staff made it for me.

I should probably just tell you the whole story.

I don’t remember exactly when the pains started happening; but they would typically begin in my chest near my armpit, then radiate down my arm ending near my bicep (or lack thereof). There didn’t seem to be any pattern – the pain just seemed to come and go whenever it felt like it. As a man, I decided the best course of action was to ignore it.

When the time came where I could no longer pretend the pains didn’t exist I did the single dumbest thing I could have done: I told my wife about it. In her own naturally calm way she sort-of freaked out. And, after a few months of nagging, she finally persuaded me to do the second dumbest thing possible: call the hospital.

According to the nurse I was having a heart attack; and she was fully prepared to send an ambulance.

Back in January 2004 my wife drove herself to the hospital when it came time to deliver our second child. When I heard she had driven herself in I came home, parked my car in our garage, and then walked to the hospital (where I could then drive her vehicle home). January, in Minnesota. Do I need to elaborate any further on how close we live to the hospital?

I saw no need to have the nurse excite the local ambulance squad – no doubt sending them out with lights and siren blaring – so I drove the 1.3 miles myself.

One nice thing about alerting the emergency room of my arrival was that they were 1000% ready for me! Indeed, they met me at the door and ushered me right into a room. There was a little old woman with a clip board who tried her hardest to ask me personal questions and stay out of the way while the rest of the staff strapped all manner of monitoring equipment to me. Two hours later they sent me back home – unable to find anything wrong with me. Regardless, the old woman with the clipboard had made an appointment for me to have a stress test the following week.

The stress test is comprised of three equal parts: agony, humiliation and fear. When I arrived at the hospital I was directed to the cardiovascular testing room; conveniently located downstairs, next to the morgue (I wish I was making that part up). First, I was handed numerous sheets of paper that listed all of the same questions the old lady asked me in the emergency room – which made me wonder what she may have been writing down for two hours (maybe she was just using the clipboard to hide her Sudoku). Then, I was lead into a small room and told I would be receiving an injection of a radio-active substance that would aide in monitoring my heart. I’ve never been real keen on needles (or radio-active material) so my heart immediately began to race. The nurse left the room and after a short while there was a light rap on the door. In walked a hunched over old granny, with thick glasses and what appeared to be a textbook example of the Parkinson shakes, pushing the lab cart. I stared blankly at her before finally saying, “please tell me you’re the one they call when it needs to be done quick and painless”.

Turns out, she was. It was over so quickly that I found the courage to ask if what she just pumped into my veins would give me any super-powers.

She lead me out of the room where a hospital orderly was waiting for me. He handed me a boxed lunch, sat me in a wheel chair (is that necessary?) and wheeled me down the hall and into what I can only describe as the torture room.

Here, I was stripped to my underwear and laid out on a hospital bed while a modestly handsome doctor and his two athletic female assistants attached wires to my chest. Then they made me run on a treadmill. And, thank God the ladies were allowed to hide behind a curtain while they laughed at the mostly naked white guy running on a treadmill that looked like it probably came over on the Mayflower. When they were finally satisfied with their experiment they allowed me to sit back down (read: collapse) on the hospital bed. After the doctor excused the nurses he revealed the test results to me, “you’re heart’s fine… but you’re really out of shape”.

I stood up to retrieve my clothing, leaving a butt-shaped sweat mark on the hospital sheet, and concluded that … maybe I should start swimming again. The doctor concurred – swimming is an excellent form of exercise. Four weeks after joining the health club the pain in my chest and arm went away.

On many levels the stress test was a success! Not only did it provide the necessary medical evidence that my heart was healthy, but the entire episode also taught me a valuable lesson. Stay in shape and you’ll probably avoid public humiliation and weird quasi-scientific medical experiments involving radioactive liquids.

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