Sunday, November 9, 2008

Getting to the Heart of the Matter - Part I

To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable. ~Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

I have been undergoing enforced idleness of late. Ordinarily, I wouldn't mind that situation, but this was brought about by a health situation, which required consultation with a cardiologist. Both the cardiologist and my regular physician kept saying the wonderfully contradictory things that make being less than well so much fun.

"It's probably nothing serious, but stop doing your Tai Chi exercises." Tai Chi is about as low impact as it gets, so that's a bit scary.

"I'm going to set up a consultation with a cardiologist." Now that is a whole lot scary.

"Oh, sure, you can go back to work. Unless that's been a source of stress, in which case you should stay home." Well, whose work isn't a source of some stress, for crying out loud? "Oh, you can telecommute, then definitely do that." Okey-dokey.

Fortunately, my job can be done to some extent by telecommuting, and my boss was willing to go that route, since there had been others who had worked from home while undergoing some health trauma or the other.

While I was working online, I felt I was doing things and, while I curtailed my physical activity a little, I still could take a brief walk now and then and do some light Tai Chi. Yes, that was against doctor's orders, but, dang it, it made me feel better.

So, over the last two weeks, I've been testing. First was the echo cardiogram, which is, quite frankly, pretty cool. Aside from the mild discomfort of having some hair shaved off my chest for those electrode stickies and being liberally gooped up with something akin to KY, I had a ringside seat to watch the whole process. The echo cardiogram control panel looks like something from NCC 1701. It was all I could do to keep from asking the technician to set course for Rigel V.

At any rate, I got to watch my heart beat in 3D, occasionally with colored light show effects. Hmmm, does red or blue mean good or bad things? And what about that little yellow lightning burst down there? As it turned out, all the colors were apparently right, because I found out later that I passed that test with flying colors.

A couple of days later came the stress test. Excuse me, came the nuclear stress test. Apparently, just marching along on a treadmill isn't enough these days; you've got to be radiocative while you do it. I'm pretty sure I saw a B-picture like this when I was a kid. Somewhere during the test, my eyes should start to glow, I start knocking things down, nurses start screaming, and I end up 50 feet tall -- or something like that.

Well, none of that happened, but because the process involves not one but two injections of the radioactive material and not one but two picture sessions, one on either side of the actual stress part of things, the whole deal takes around four hours. Oh, and you have to bring breakfast with you because you can't eat or drink anything after midnight, but I guess they want to have something on your stomach to absorb all those isotopes -- or so you won't keel over from hunger during the treadmill test.

Anyway, when I finished, I asked when I'd hear something and the nurse said, "Oh, probably in about 7 days." Now, if they could wait a week to tell me something, surely I couldn't be in THAT bad a shape, right?

That was Tuesday, so I went back to work on Wednesday, feeling pretty decent about things. Until about 10 AM when the cardiologist's nurse called and said she had "good news and bad news." That is not the sort of thing one wants to hear a cardiologist's nurse say. It turned out that I did real well on the tests except for slightly anomalous circulatory results at the end of the stress test. Translation: We gotta check you for blockages, kiddo.

Now, my father, rest his soul, had enough blockages to rent his circulartory system out to a medical school as a training aid for future cardiovascular practitioners. He started having his problems in his late thirties. I had gotten to 59.9 years of age without any problem; I really didn't see any good reason to start now.

I was at the hospital when he had his heart catheterization, and I remember the exchange between the heart surgeon and Dad. The surgeon was already miffed, because Dad had left out a few things in his medical history, like recurring chest pains for the last twenty years. Now, after telling my Dad about the major blockages around his heart, he was listening to Dad trying to weasel out of doing anything about it. Finally, Dad said, "Look, if I don't do anything what could happen?"

The surgeon looked him in the eye and said, "If you're lucky, you'll have a massive heart attack and die. If you're unlucky, you'll have a massive heart attack and be an invalid. Take your pick." Believe it or not, Dad took a week to make up his mind to have the bypass surgery. I can tell you very honestly that, as I waited to get my own cath, no surgeon was going to have to say anything like that to me. If he said, "You have a blockage," my next words were going to be, "Well, what the hell are we doing sitting around here talking about it? Get me somewhere where you can fix it!"

I loved Dad, but he could be an idiot. That didn't mean he raised one.

Once again, though, I was getting these mixed signals from the cardio folks. They could squeeze me in Friday, or, if I wanted, I could wait a week. WAIT A WEEK? Hell, even if there isn't anything wrong, the stress would kill me! Let's go, lady!

As it was, I still had the rest of Wednesday and all of Thursday to think about the whole thing. What was really scary was how solicitous everyone was being, especially the Wife and the Son. I couldn't lift a finger without someone worrying I was going to induce the Big One. Even though I hadn't even had a little one yet, for crying out loud. That was the good news the nurse had mentioned.

Somehow, that wasn't making anyone feel any better.

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