Helping someone who is truly in need….
“What makes your heart sink Jim Herbert?”
Hurting someone I truly love…
Not surprisingly, in the current of life I’ve done both of those things in the last 24 hours alone. This is the third chapter in the story of how I wound up in the cardiac care ward at Northwestern Memorial Hospital earlier this week. If you missed the first two chapters I suggest you go back and read first chapter about how I decided to put my heart to the test. After that check out how and why I finally decided to ask for help.
Last time I left you I was in a relaxing sleep in my bed in the on the 10th floor of the Galter Pavilion at Northwestern hospital. I must have dozed off about 11:30 p.m. when the Ambien finally started to kick in. I seldom have trouble falling asleep. My challenge is staying asleep. I have one of those minds that clicks on as soon as I stir in the middle of the night. I try to talk myself out of it and stay in a dozy state, but often I need to listen to a meditation track to get back to rest if and when I stir in the middle of the night.
My intention on this night was to stay in a slumber until about 7:00 a.m. so when I did wake up I would only have an hour or two to have to think about not eating while I waited for my stress test. The floor nurse, Jaleen, very kindly told me that since my enzyme tests came back so good, she would not have to wake me every two hours to check my vitals. I thought to myself, “You guys have every part of my body hooked up to a cable and monitored. Somebody is watching a screen at the nurses desk 24/7. Why in the world would you have to wake me to check my vitals?” I bet they wake people up just to make sure they are really alive and to spite them! I didn’t actually say those words, I just thought them. What can I say? Thoughts become Things!
At 3:30 a.m. a peppy nurse came crashing through my curtains with the greeting, “Good Morning!” I startled and asked her what had happened to Jaleen. She told me that she was not the floor nurse, rather that she was here to collect a blood sample. Remember that most memorable sticking I referenced in part two? Here it was in all its 3:30 a.m. glory. When she asked my if I could make a fist so she could find a vein I wanted to say, “I’m a third degree black belt you don’t want me to make a fist!” Instead I just gently squeezed my fingernails into the center of my palm until I felt the prick of the needle and I kept my mouth shut. It was all over in a minute or two but the un-nerving energy lingered on much longer.
Eventually I drifted back into a decent sleep. I had the comfort of knowing that Christiana was just on the other side of the rail of my bed and also that I was getting closer to those answers that I was seeking. When I did finally awaken again at about 7:00 a.m. I felt surprisingly well rested.
At about 7:30 a.m a wonderful doctor came in to talk to me about my status. She was wearing a classic doctor’s white coat. She had short curly hair in a Shirley Temple style. She had a sense of calmness about her that made her the perfect heart doctor from an energetic standpoint. Once again I was asked to tell my story. Once again when I was asked to describe my chest pain and I referred to it as twitching or fluttering not pain. She went on to tell me that my additional heart enzyme tests were perfect. She also told me that she looked at my overnight monitoring and it all looked really good. No arrhythmias. No heart stoppages. She was like an angel of calm with Shirley Temple telling me everything I wanted to hear.
Then she told me something I didn’t want to hear. She told me that she had talked to Dr. Lee, the chief attending in cardiology, and that he would sign off on me not taking the stress test. Now you might think that I would consider that good news. In fact not too long ago I would have considered that great news and I would have been lacing up my shoes before she even left the room. Something was different now though. I didn’t come here to get most of the information. If I was going to go on to do the work of growing and opening my heart to the maximum level I needed to as a giver, a helper and a healer, I needed to get ALL of the information. I didn’t quite say it in those words to the doctor, but whatever I did actually say must have had some impact because what I heard next was, “I think Dr. Lee would approve of going ahead with the stress test in that case. I’ll put in the order right away so you get on the schedule.”
An hour or two passed with no information. Eventually I summoned a nurse and asked if she knew what time the stress test would start. The time window of me not thinking about how hungry I am was beginning to close and Christiana really wanted to shoot home and get a much deserved shower. In typical nurse speak she said “Hopefully pretty soon. They get a little backed up some mornings. I can’t make any promises but usually everybody gets started in the morning.”
I thought to myself, “In the morning?!” Did that mean there was a possibility that I might not start until afternoon with no food? My mind began to race through all the additional hours that I might spend starving and in captivity. Then I thought back to the homeless women we helped a few months back and how ecstatic she was when we helped her rent a crappy room with no bed for a month and bought her some simple dry goods. I remembered that my current situation in a room better than most 3-star hotels wasn’t so bad.
Not surprisingly as soon as I cleared up my negative thinking a transport volunteer arrived within minutes to escort me to my stress test. The doctors decided that I would be given the athlete’s stress test whatever that means. Even though I hadn’t eaten anything yet, I was ready to get some blood pumping. It had been over 24 hours since I had moved even a little bit. That is a big change from my typical body constantly in motion state.
What I found out is that the athlete’s stress test included a few more images of the heart from ultrasound than normal. It also included attempting to safely reach the maximum heart rate even if it is beyond the target heart rate for the test. I then got a free manscaping service from the technician who shaved my chest and attached 12 adhesive pads to my now mostly barren chest.
The process started with the ultrasound. I began by lying on my left side facing the technician. She placed a cold metal probe with liquid gel on it in the middle of my chest. After about 5 minutes she said she was now going to take some images from the side of my chest. I began to roll over but she stopped me and instead opened a trap door under the table. I immediately thought of some former heart patient who is fat rich now because he or she invented a hospital table with trap door on it after getting a stress test. Damn why wasn’t that me! I formed the thought, “I want to get rich because of having a stress test!” Hmmm?
It took about 15 minutes to get all the pictures she wanted of my heart. I waited for some sort of endorsement from her that I had the most awesome heart she had ever seen. Instead she said, “The other technician will be back in a minute to start the test.”
Before we started I got a lot of instructions. Let’s just say they are very thorough about telling you how you will get on and off the treadmill. We’ve all seen videos of people at gyms who have done face plants because of careless treadmill use. I probably shouldn’t laugh when I see them, but I always do.
We started the test at what I would guess was a 20 minute per mile walk at a 10% incline. The first stage lasted for three minutes. I felt great. It was nice to get my blood pumping after so much time on my back and my butt. The next stage increased to a brisk, but not intense walk at maybe a 15% incline. I was in the groove. Every minute or so the technician would take my blood pressure and say something like, “You doing great!” to encourage me. Little did she know that I didn’ need any encouragement. I was going to CRUSH this stress test!!! Yes the endorphins a the testosterone had started to kick in.
When it was all said and done I went 12 minutes finishing in a 12 minute mile pace jog at a 30% incline. I reached a maximum heart rate of 195 beats per minute. I have to admit that I did ask the technician at one point if this heart rate was safe. I mean I’ve seen those heart rate charts attached to treadmills at the health club and 195 is the maximum heart rate of more like a 25 year old, not a 51 year old. When she said “It seems to be safe for you” I couldn’t help but hear the words “Suck it Heart Attack!” echo in the back of my head.
The chaos begins at the point you have to get off the treadmill. They technician team has to get a series of images of your heart while it is still above the target rate which in my case was 145. Even though I got off the treadmill at 195 my heart rate would drop quickly. In my case very quickly. The next minute or was like a scene from a hospital TV drama.
I was lying on my side as the one tech was imaging my heart. She kept asking me to perform different breathing patterns. Exhale and hold it. Take a little breath and hold it. Take a big breath and hold it. Take three little breaths in and then breath all the way out. It was like Breath-aerobics. At the same time the machines in the background that monitored my blood pressure and heart rate were beeping and buzzing. The second technician kept calling out numbers like “30 over target…25 over target….18 over target….” As the numbers got smaller you could feel the pressure build on the ultrasound tech to finish the images.
I then heard these words, “His heart rate is coming down really fast!” I wasn’t sure if I should be proud or scared? Was it all the years of yoga and breathing that was making my heart rate come down fast or was I headed for a crash cart! I wanted to ask if that was normal. I decided to trust the process. In the end they got all the images they needed. Both technicians told me I did a really good job so I figured I could have another small “For the Win!’ moment before I was transported back to my room.
I sat in a wheelchair waiting for my transport. I looked at people in far worse states then me on hospital beds awaiting their stress tests. All I could think of in the moment was how grateful I was. I was grateful because I knew in my heart that last piece of information that I needed about trusting my heart was inching deliciously closer. I was all too ready to taste it…