During my recent annual physical, I mentioned that I found myself very short of breath after walking up our fairly steep driveway. I ventured that it was probably because I was…deconditioned…from very little exercise during the hot summer. But since I’m 61 and have never had a cardiological exam, my doctor decided I should have one. There’d be two sessions: a stress test and an echocardiogram.
I had heard about stress tests. You’re put on a treadmill which speeds up at set intervals and increasingly inclines until you can’t continue. I was a little nervous about this.
A co-worker mentioned that some years ago her husband decided to have a stress test while his insurance was still in effect. In the middle of the test, the doctors stopped it and said he had to go to the hospital that day because he had severe bloackage. The next day, he would have, at his option, either bypass surgery or stents. They remarked that he was lucky he hadn’t already had a heart attack, despite his having no symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, etc.
Before the stress test, I was hooked up to about a dozen sensors on my chest and stomach. I felt like I was being prepped to become part of the Borg….
After all the hype, I found the stress test to be a breeze. At Level 1, the treadmill was flat and not moving too fast. At Level 2, the speed increased and there was a slight incline. Since I was a track team sprinter (200 yards) in high school, I began taking slow deep breaths through my mouth and exhaling the same way.
At Level 3, I was breathing hard and began to feel it in my calves but I had no problem keeping up. I was ready for the next level when they stopped the treadmill and said they had all the readings they needed. I asked what the settings were for Level 3… it was 3.4 miles per hour at a 14% incline.
A few days later, I returned for the echocardiogram. After putting some sort of jelly on various spots of my chest, stomach and left rib area, they used what looked like a microphone to display my heart using sound waves.
This was very cool! I could see my blood as it flowed through my heart. The blood showed as red or blue depending on which way it was flowing.
Even cooler was hearing my heart as it beat. It sounded liked a toilet plunger working on a clogged drain…a very “squishy” sound.
Throughout the procedure, the tech explained what he was doing whenever he moved the “microphone” to a new spot but I forgot most of what he said. I do remember his mentioning that there’s a large artery that goes to the stomach. He also took a lot of photos and measurements.
A few days later, the cardiologist’s assistant called to advise that everything is normal. Since then, I’ve been working on getting “conditioned” again. But it looks like it’ll be a cold winter and I’ll have to start over in the Spring.