Running Topless in a Room Full of Strangers: Adventures in Stress Tests

Today I underwent the following: a stress echocardiogram, a regular echocardiogram, an EKG and a chest x-ray. If I had known when I got up this morning just how many people would be seeing my bare chest, I would have invested in a nice pair of tassels.

Most of this was unexpected. I thought I was just going in for a routine echocardiogram, much like the one Karen at Blah Blah Bklyn wrote about the other day, just to rule out the bad stuff. I’d never had a stress test before, so I was a little surprised to walk in and find three technicians waiting for me.

“Take off everything from the waist up,” one of the techs instructed me, “Then put on this gown with the opening in the front.” Great. While I followed her instructions, a guy whose job it was to read the EKG and check my blood pressure introduced himself.

“Well HEEEEY there, Jacqueline! Do ya go by Jacquie? If ya want me to call ya Jacquie, I will!” He reminded me of a demented children’s show host, or an undiscovered SNL character: Gil the Gleeful EKG Geek. “We’re gonna put ya right up here on this here treadmill, and you’ll go faster and faster and higher and higher and faster and higher and faster and higher ’till ya can’t go no more!”

The first tech asked me to lay on a table. Then she pulled the gown wide open, scrubbed my chest with alcohol and affixed a bunch of stickers to my skin. Gil kept talking — moving on to subjects like his Jack Russel Terrier and asking about my marital status — while the third, more mild-mannered sonogram tech gave me a look like, “I just work with these people.”

They did the initial echo, and then they got me on the treadmill. I was facing a poster on the wall that explained different levels of perceived exertion: “Very Light,” “Somewhat Hard” — all the way up to “Very, Very Hard.” The chart had happy trees and clouds on it, presumably to distract patients from the fact that they’re jogging sans bra in a flimsy hospital gown under the supervision of Gil and his many beepy machines.

As the treadmill’s speed and incline increased, Gil kept talking about his dog and his family, and I started to feel like I was sufficiently stressed. Once I hit Level 14: Very, Very Hard (aka: Level 14: That’s What She Said), I was swept off the treadmill and back onto the table for the second part of the sonogram. I was sweating like a pig, and that’s when I noticed that Gil had stopped talking so much.

When he finally started again, it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear. “Listen, we’re gonna be extra cautious here, and have you wait outside until a cardiologist can meet with you. It’s not bad, but it’s not looking perfect.” Those are the words you’re least happy to hear at your stress echo, right before “Put on this gown with the opening in the front.”

So I met with a very nice cardiologist, who explained his concerns about a small part of my heart that’s not beating the way it should be. Under ordinary circumstances, he said, he’d assume it was a fluke; a viral infection that had damaged the muscle, maybe. But, since I’m almost at 20 years with my good friend Type 1 diabetes, Coronary Artery Disease is suspect.

He ordered a heart cath — the details of which make me too squeamish to even type out — for tomorrow morning. I’ll be laid up all day tomorrow, and most of the day after. I’m freaked out, but right now, I’m just looking forward to getting through it and relaxing throughout the weekend — and most of all, to having an answer to what’s going on with my heart.

I don’t know what they’ll find tomorrow, but I do know this: if it’s a problem that’s going to need ongoing attention, I’ve got a very important appointment at the pasty store.