Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Stress Testing Sometimes Gets in the Way

October 29, 2013 I begin with an assurance it is my delight to report: I am fine. And if anyone is upset that we kept all that follows to ourselves, please understand that we had nothing to report before now, and the report we have is that there is actually nothing to report. I was experiencing intermittent chest pain over the course of the last several weeks, even while away in Holland. Part of me thought I was being suggestible – which I tend to be – and over-empathetic to my nephew’s condition. But the pain was real, and when we came home I immediately contacted my doctor. You don’t mess with chest pain, and I already had postponed dealing with mine to keep from having to cancel our trip to Europe. Through a thorough examination, an EKG and analysis of the symptoms, she determined that my acid reflux had returned, causing “heart burn.” But to be certain, she arranged a stress test, which I took yesterday (and which is why I did not write a blog yesterday). The test was involved and long, with an IV catheter placed (I hate needles, but the nurse was perfect), radiolucent injections, lots of waiting, two sets of “pictures” and the treadmill. Everything went fine until the very last minute of the actual stress test. I felt something along the bottom of my rib cage that was not pain, just a sensation; a protest. At that same moment the attending asked if I was in pain – she had seen something in the EKG pattern. While I waited for the final “photo-shoot” she came to me and told me that she saw something that had her concerned, but that she wanted the cardiologist to read the EKG along with the images. “Not to worry, but please don’t eat breakfast before I call,” in case I had to come in for treatment (which I took to mean surgery), and she would call first thing in the morning. She also prescribed nitroglycerine tablets for me, in case my pain returned. Prescribing nitro made me jump. My father was on nitro during the last months of his life, so I associate nitro with end of life issues. Ironically, the high level of pain had not recurred since I had made the initial doctor appointment, and Nexium is helping control the acid reflux, so I did not need the nitro pills. But last night was a long one, waiting. Both Diane and I played out worst-case scenarios, as we are apt to do, and discussed contingency plans. As the saying goes: Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. We were betting on acid reflux but we were hedging our bets. By seven a.m. we were both up. By eight no one had called. At 8:30 I called the center, got an elaborate voice mail menu and left a message. By nine, still no call – it seems that first thing in the morning means different things to different people. But, of course, stuff happens, and if there was a serious problem I think someone would have called sooner. But I was hungry and desperate for a cup of coffee. At 9:07 I called back and got a human being, who told me the attending was in hospital and she would make certain to let her know I was awaiting the call. Within five minutes the attending called me and explained that the cardiologist was called to an emergency and only now had had the chance to finish interpreting the data. The data told him that there was no blockage, no problem with the heart. “Go ahead and eat,” she said, happy, I think, to be the bearer of glad tidings in a tough field of endeavor. I had already brewed a pot, in case, and now I poured my first cuppa. It may have been the best cup of coffee I have ever tasted.

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