Monday, May 5, 2014

Ten Years After

I don't like taking a test. I'm usually not very good at it. But sometimes you have to do it, even if you're afraid of what the results might be.  This December will be the 10th anniversary of my heart attack, so during my regular annual checkup the doctor recommended I take a stress test to see what condition my condition is in.  I've only done this once before, nearly three years ago. It was the abbreviated version which consisted of walking on a treadmill while being connected to an electrocardiogram. It was toward the end of a summer packed with activities and I felt good, so I wasn't very worried about the results.  And I pretty much aced it.

This time I would be taking the test near the end of winter...a season where I do nothing.  Not even regular exercise. I could exercise. I should exercise. I just don't.  I don't like it, and prefer to get my workouts naturally by being outside between May and October. I am admittedly a little soft right now.  So it was with some trepidation that I showed up for my scheduled appointment.  Adding to my anxiety was the way they would be conducting the test this time.  I would not only be hooked up to the machine as usual, but I would be connected to an ultrasound device so they could actually observe how my heart responded to the strain.  I wasn't expecting that, but didn't protest.  That is until they informed me that they weren't getting a clear picture during the prep process so they were going to insert an I.V. with a solution that would allow them to see into my heart more clearly.  Great.  If I already wasn't worried enough, now I had to think about getting a needle jammed into my hand and having a tube hanging off me - in addition to all the wires.  I could feel my blood pressure rising.  Oh. Did I mention that I also had a blood pressure cuff around my arm?  I seriously considered calling the whole thing off.  The I.V. was something I just wasn't sure I wanted to allow.  I've had a few of those in my day, and more often than not the person attempting to insert the needle into whatever part of my body they were attempting to insert it into had a difficult time getting the job done. I don't blame them. I apparently have difficult veins for this type of procedure. Also, I tend to tense up which just makes it even more difficult.  The nurse was very reassuring, though, and very skilled. It actually went in quite smoothly and with very little pain.
The test got underway at slow speed and just a slight incline. After three minutes the speed was increased and the incline raised.  So far so good.  Three minutes later the speed was increased and the incline raised again.  This cycle was repeated a couple more times until my brisk walk turned into running at a pretty good clip.  After that cycle I reached my limit and had to stop.  The nurse and ultrasound tech both said I did well and everything looked good even after I maxed out on my heart rate.  They even said I beat my time from the previous test. That surprised me. But I was very happy to hear it.  I was also pleased (and relieved) when I received this letter from my doctor a few days later -

Brief and to the point. But good news just the same. And a relief, because as I mentioned, it's coming up on ten years since my heart attacked me. The reason that is significant is that the surgeon told me at the time, and my follow up doctor has repeated it several times, the type of by-pass surgery I had generally only lasts from 10 to 15 years before the veins used to build the new arteries wear out and the surgery needs to be done again.  Because I had five by-passes (yes...five) and because I was relatively young at the time it is very likely I will outlive the rebuilt arteries and will need the surgery at some point in the future. That's still true.  However, the results of this latest checkup have provided me with at least some assurance that I have a few years before I need to start worrying about the inevitable.  I can put it off even longer by eating better, exercising regularly, and being more mindful of my health on a daily basis.  I really should do those things.  Everybody should.  And I intend to. I hope I can follow through.  Guess I'd better get started, because I have a lot of things to do and a lot of places to go.

Roger O'Dea   5-4-14