I was doing my best impression of a guy out for a stress-busting jog. It was anything but.
Instead of a conservation or provincial park trail, beneath me was a revolving rubber mat and instead of a headset pumping favourite tunes into into my brain’s “I like this” sensors, external sensors, strapped and taped to my chest and back were pumping out my physiological data to an active EKG graph, tracking my heart’s rhythm and efficiency.
I was focused on the needle tracing it’s lines across the pinkish graph paper. Up, down, long then shorter strokes, moving quickly then seemingly not at all. That couldn’t be. If it had stopped slashing its way across the page I would be horizontal and someone would be pounding on my chest repeating “wake up, wake up, talk to me, talk to me.”
Nuclear dye was coursing through my heart. A record of the dye’s efficient (or lack of) progress had already been established by a radiological camera stuttering its way around my torso, recording any locations of compromised cardiac blood flow.
My focus was the needle on the pink paper, as well as the timer on the wall. Would the usual happen at the six minute mark? The medical team watched me closely, alerted by previous standard stress testing that at six minutes of reasonably strenuous exercise chest pain would invariably appear.
The timer clicked to 6:00 and almost instantly the needle on the pink paper appeared to move to the beat of a different drummer. Sharp pain arrived and I was being physically removed from the treadmill, assisted onto a chair and told “don’t get up, we’ve paged a duty cardiologist.” This was at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton.
It was June, eighteen years ago.
Four months later I was on my back in a cath lab at Hamilton General Hospital for an angiogram to determine exactly what was misfiring in my heart and how badly. It was bad. My left anterior descending artery was 99% blocked. The widow maker. I remember exactly what the surgeon said. “Roy, I need to do an angioplasty and insert a stent and I need to do that right now! Do I have your permission?”
Of course. I was on a slight sedative and quite agreeable to anything.
The procedure was a great success. The 99% blockage was reduced to 0%. I had suffered no heart damage at all. There had been no heart attack. I had, in effect, won the lottery. The big one. Or more precisely, I had by the narrowest of margins avoided the big one. Life continued.
Fast forward eighteen years. To last month.
I was back at nuclear radiology. This time at Hamilton General. Again the treadmill, sensors, pink graph paper, dye and fluctuating needle. A stuttering radiological camera would repeat the circular torso track and coincidentally, but also interestingly to me, on the exact anniversary of my life-saving experience eighteen years earlier.
An additional test was conducted and I was sent home. “We will call you with the results of your tests Mr. Green.”
While there were no symptoms or other reasons to suspect cardiac issues had developed over time the possibility could not be ignored. An elective surgical procedure may be in my future.
I waited approximately a week for the call from the cardiologist and will confess to a degree of anxiety. Why had I put myself through this again without any symptom of cardiac distress? What if they find something? How can they possibly not find something after all those tests? How significant does a blockage have to be to warrant a return visit for an angiogram, angioplasty, stenting, or possibly open heart surgery?
Why is it taking so long to deliver results? Ring…. “Mr. Green, your test results are in. Your heart is in excellent health.”
My reason for sharing this experience is the same as when I did so on air eighteen years ago.
I’m only alive today and was only able to resubmit to nuclear testing of my cardiac health because eighteen years ago I decided to not ignore chest pains. To not write them off as indigestion, muscle stress, or any other flimsy avoid the truth and possibly die technique of self-persuasion.
If you are experiencing any suspicious sensations in your chest, give yourself and those you love the most important Christmas gift possible. See your doctor and investigate what, if anything, requires perhaps life saving attention. Your life. Please and Merry Christmas.