This machine almost killed me, literally. To this day, it still haunts me when I see it. Yet, repeatedly, I have had to face this demon, as part of the recovery from not one, but three heart surgeries. For at least four months that I can recall, I would climb up on the eliptical, begin, and moments later, develop such a tightness in the left side of my chest. The heartrate on the telemetry of the machine, had climbed from 83 to 152 beats per minute in less than a minute. And then, the tightness was gone. I continued with my exercise for a full hour on the piece of equipment, then proceed for an hour’s worth of strengthening and weight training.
But I was annoyed by the way my trip to the gym always began. Only in hindsight, did I discover, this issue developed anytime I was putting a physical stress on my body, such as snow shoveling, mowing the lawn, or certain tasks at work. And just as with the gym, the tightness would disappear soon after it began.
I reached out to my doctor, who, on a hunch, and I do mean a hunch, especially for a forty-two year old man, felt that given my past history with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and the treatments of radiation and chemotherapy, that a stress test on my heart was warranted. It made no sense to me, as I had no heart problems (spoiler alert, there is a reason they call cardiac disease the silent killer) that I was aware of.
Though the date was April 16th in 2008, today, it is actually today, Wednesday marks fourteen years since that stress test was given, and would change my life forever. Cancer survivorship took on a whole new meaning for me.
The following sentences and phrases were written on my report:
“Exercise stopped due to EKG changes with chest tightness, indicating some sort of ischemic response.”
“There is a large in size, moderate in intensity defect involving the entire anterior wall (of the heart), anterior apex, and anterior septum on stress images. This is consistent with significant left anterior descending artery territory ischemia. Ejection fraction is 38%.”
I was told I needed to speak to a cardiologist about what all this meant, because just as my first visit with an oncologist (aka cancer doctor), I knew what a cardiologist was. I just did not expect to need one.
The doctor did not mince words with me, completely confident that I was dealing with a blockage. It was not known how bad but he was certain I had at least one. Confident and casual about the situation, he assured me, “I want you checking into the cath lab right now. We will pop a couple of stents into you first thing in the morning, and you will be good to go in about a week.”
For the full conversation, check out the page “CABG, Not Just A Green Leafy Vegetable” here on “Paul’s Heart.”
I had an appointment to keep in the morning.