Saturday, April 17, 2010

Breezin' Through

The other day I read a blog description of the horrors of taking a stress test. This reminded me that since I had a stress test about four years ago, I’ll probably need another one in a year. After that last stress test I sat down and wrote about it. As you will see, it is no big deal.

Wednesday was a day like any other day, except that I showed up at the Cardiologist Center for my Stress Test at 11:30. I was pumped up for the test. In fact I had jogged in place – kind of practicing a little. I had a good nights sleep and felt on top of the world. I had eaten a bowl of fruit that morning – figuring that would give me that natural energy that I needed. I felt strong and brave – kind of like that Iron Man feeling.

“Yes sir, may I help you?” The receptionist smiled.

“Bring it on!” I strutted.

“Pardon me?”

“My Stress Test. At 11:30. I am here.”

She had a quizzical look on her face as she punched at her keyboard and studied the screen.

“I’m sorry sir. Your test is scheduled for tomorrow, not today.”


Thursday was a day like any other day, except that I felt lousy. I didn’t sleep well and was moving around in kind of a fog. While I did eat another bowl of that energy rich fruit, my body just felt sluggish.

I arrived at the cardiologist early. As I exited the car, I felt a twinge in the left part of my chest. What? I never feel twinges in my chest. Why today? Why now? And my knee, it seemed to be aching a little. And I think my left arm felt sort of numb….just a little. I wonder if I should tell the doctor. It may be a sign of an impending heart attack, which would not put me in good form for the test.

I took the elevator to the fourth floor. I rotated my left arm and rubbed my chest and tested out my knee. Maybe I was just imagining it. But, you never know.

I had to fill out papers and give her my Insurance Card and Drivers License and a check. Then I sat. After fifteen minutes, I grabbed a Readers Digest and turned to the joke section. I figure that if I ever needed humor it was now. I didn’t want to think about Bill. When he took his Stress Test – they stopped it halfway through and put him in the hospital and had to put a stint in one of his arteries. And then I was told about a manager here at work that tried to take his Stress Test and collapsed on the treadmill – and ended getting bypass surgery. Yep – I definitely needed some humor.

I sat there for forty-five minutes.

“Hello sir. Would you follow me?”

She led me into a cold room. There was a bed, a treadmill, and a computer thing. Why was there a bed?

She had me take off my shirt. Then she put a belt around my stomach. The front of the belt – where the buckle should be, had an electronic gizmo with ten wires hanging from it. I counted them. Ten wires.

She then pulled out a razor and started shaving blotches on my chest and stomach. Any other time I would have complained – but my mind was still wondering why there was a bed in there.

She then wiped my chest down with alcohol and glued electrodes to me. Then she took the ends of those ten wires and clipped them to the electrodes and then had me sit.

Bouncy lines appeared on the computer screen.

“Aren’t those going kind of fast?” I asked pointing at the computer screen.

“Oh no,” she replied. “Look in the corner of the screen where it says 68. That is your heart rate – the average is 80. That’s good.”

She left and I sat there pondering that my pulse of life was on that screen. My insides revealed.

I got bored, so I stood up and walked over to the computer to see what all the other numbers were. Then I saw the words, “Sitting Rate Baseline”. Oops. I hurried back over to the chair and sat back down.

More boredom. I began to study that heart rate number. Maybe I could use biofeedback and make it drop to 60. So I concentrated. And I breathed deep. And I tried to put myself into a meditation mode. Somehow I got the thing down to 61. I was pretty pleased.

When the technician lady came back in, I told her that I got it down to 61. She shrugged.

Then she made me get on the treadmill. She told me that we need to get my heart rate up 135, and started the treadmill. So I walked and was pretty happy – ‘cause this was no big deal at all.

The doctor came in and said hi. He asked questions and I answered. I figured that he was pretty impressed that I could carry on a conversation with him while taking my stress test. Then he pushed a key on the computer, and the front of the treadmill elevated a little and the speed picked up. Pretty damned sneaky. But I contended with this adversity relatively comfortably. I looked at the computer screen to see how close to 135 I was. It said 91.

The doc and the technician stood there talking, not even paying attention to me. Suddenly his hand darted to the keyboard and the treadmill elevated some more and sped up again. I slowly began to figure out that this may get a little hard. The computer screen said 98.

If I was beginning to get a bit tired at 98 – 135 was going to kill me. I figured this out as I leaned into the treadmill. Biofeedback. I did it before – maybe I can do it in reverse. Maybe I can will my heart rate up and get this damned thing over with. I concentrated on runners running, and steam engines chugging, and horses racing. 104.

More button pushing and I was soon climbing Mt. Everest – but jogging. They continued talking and ignored me. Sweat started dripping into my eyes. I shook it away and looked at the number. 110. Damn. I began to feel my calves tightening up and my breath was coming in gasps.

“How are you doing?”

“I’mmmph…gasp…sputter..mmm oshkaay…ugh”

Another button click – more elevation and faster. My legs were churning and aching and I could only breathe in short gasps. I tried to console myself – I was exercising and therefore losing weight. That didn’t console me. To hell with exercising. To hell with losing weight. We are talking about life and death here. The number. What is the number? 116!

How am I going to get to 135? I reached maximum. I could go any faster. I couldn’t breathe and my sides are hurting.

“Let’s pump it up a bit.”

“Awww Gaaawwwd gasp…hnnnnh… nooooooooo…..”

“Let me know if you need me to stop it.”

I couldn’t stop the test. I had to get to 135 – I didn’t want to take this frigging thing over again. I tried to tell myself that I had to push through it – get into that magical zone that runners talk about. But that is hard to do when you can’t breathe.

Sweat is pouring off of me and my breathing was in loud gasps. I tried closing my eyes – maybe if I thought of something else it would make it easier. But, all I could think of was that I was dying and they didn’t care and I was going to collapse and I would end up in surgery. Every muscle in my body ached.

“Let’s push it up some more.”

“Nopoooo – pleeeeasee aaaahhhhh.”

I never did find that zone. I think it is a myth. I looked at the number. 122. Impossible. It must be 222 and I am reading it wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that fruit this morning. Maybe I should have practiced for this test. I couldn’t breathe. My calves were screaming. My knees ached. My arms, holding on to the bar, were shaking. 122. It wouldn’t move. Damn it – go higher you bastard.

Suddenly I knew it was the end. I conceded defeat. 135 was an elusive goal – no matter what they thought. It was the end. I was dying.


More buttons pushed. The treadmill straightened out and slowed down….slower and slower. I tried to suck in deep breaths – but I was panting too hard. I failed. I didn’t reach 135.They will re-schedule the test. I wanted to go home and get in bed.

The machine stopped. The technician led me to a chair and brought me a glass of water. My tensed muscles shook and I spilled water trying to drink it.

“How long?” I gasped. “45 minutes?”

She looked at the machine. “Oh, 14 minutes.”


“It usually goes for around ten minutes.”

“When do I have to do this again? I never got to 135.”

“Oh that’s okay. We got your heart pumping pretty good, and that is all we wanted to do.”

The doctor was looking at the squiggly lines on the big chart that had printed out.

“How did I do?” I meekly asked.

“Everything is negative,” he solemnly said.

“Oh God!” I gasped.

“No, no.” The tech said. “That means everything is normal.”

Thursday was a day like any other day, except that I found out that I was normal. Normal is pretty good – since I was damned sure that I was a failure.

I don’t want to do one of those things anymore.


  1. Yikes! Since I need a nap after bringing in the groceries, I sense I would not do well on that test. I, for one, am impressed with your survival skills!

    Oh, about that showing up on the wrong day bit. . . ? I've done that SO many times! Glad to know that's NORMAL. :)

  2. I thought you were going to write about one of those Scientology "stress tests" that they are always trying to give you at festivals and malls. I hate those guys. Last time one of them asked me if I'd like a fee stress test I responded with, "No, I don't have any stress in my life!" He didn't like that at all--in fact, if I remember correctly, he shot a nasty comment back at me. Maybe Scientology is a stressful way of life.

    But, I digress. I just took my resting heart rate, and it's about 80. Back when I was pregnant and exercising, I was told to keep it below 140, and it was next to impossible--I barely felt like I was exercising at all and I'd be at 150. Either I am in horrible shape (which wouldn't surprise me), or you are in excellent health. I'd bet on the latter.

  3. I know it's supposed to be called a "stress test" because they put stress on your heart, but I think it's because you stress so hard about having it!! I hope you read my blog about my stress test. Ridiculous. At least you lasted 14 minutes, I think I was somewhere around seven. Lol.

    So funny! I'm with you on the not doing it again!

  4. That felt like I was on the treadmill with you. Breathing hard and heart pounding! Great story and well written!
    I'm going to tag along if you don't mind!

  5. That was entirely too uncomfortable to be good for me! I try to get my heart rate up to about 80% of max for 20-30 minutes a day in the name of fitness; I still got breathless at the top after climbing the single flight of stairs in my house yesterday. I begin to catch on that this is supposed to be a losing battle, but I don't have to like it. I like your story-telling, though.

  6. Don't know if you are native Southerner or transplant, but you sure do have a lock on that Southern knack for telling a story funny. It was great!

  7. Aren't doctors great? Everything by the numbers. Never mind the guy on the treadmill is obviously maxed out, keep 'er going to 135! I take a different approach: I make sure never to do anything that calls on my ticker to go that fast. I once read that walking briskly two miles on a treadmill three times a week is more or less good enough. I chose to believe this. Then there's the opthalmologist who operated on a cataract for me. In the post-op interview, I told her I didn't like the way colors looked through the new, artificial lens, that it was the difference between fluorescent and incandescent light. She told me I was wrong, because what I was now seeing through the artificial lens was the way colors should look. I have never fully trusted her since.

  8. Whew, I had to catch my breath after that. Great telling of a story about something most of us just try to forget as soon as possible.

  9. Oh, this post is FABULOUS. I loved every single minute...even if you didn't. You set me off when you swaggered into the office, only to discover you were there on the wrong day. Freakin' priceless!

    Could you imagine if everyone HAD to reach that magic number?? People would be kicking the bucket left and right. I wish they would have told you they just needed it beating fast...geez...would it have killed them? It almost did you!!!

    Great post, as always!

  10. Oh my God Jerry. I can hardly see to type. I am still crying. I could not stop laughing. Why don't you have a daily column in the newspaper? You could do wonders for this country with your wit and humor. I needed a good laugh like this....

    I suppose I was laughing so hard because I could relate. I had one of those tests... because some stupid PA told me I had a heart attack because my EKG was abnormal.

    I had the nuclear one...where I laid in a clam shell thing with IV's of dye in my arms running the course of my veins of my heart...then afterward, did the treadmill.

    I too felt like I was running up Mt. Everest!

    Oh Jerry...thank you so much for such a good, long laugh!!!

  11. Jerry - You never disappoint! Great story. Glad to hear you are negative. But normal? Nah...

  12. Loved the part of getting all prepared prior to going for the test and being told "wrong day"...what a bummer. Hey, I did the same thing when I went for my nuclear stress. Had to do all the pre prep AGAIN! Please understand...need my coffee in the A.M. otherwise, I'm grouchy as a bear coming out of hibernation....GRRRR! So much fun!

    Layla of L.A.

  13. I had a stress test WITH an echocardiogram which meant that when my heart rate got up to 100-something I had to jump off the treadmill, lie on the the bed, and HOLD MY BREATH while they ultrasounded my heart. I'm panting like a dog and they want me to hold my breath!! I was just glad nobody forgot to tell me to breathe.