I had my first stress test today. I had no idea what to expect so thought I would share my experience with you. When you have a stress test they will tell you what to expect but it’s all very clinical so what follows is my real life experience of a first time stress test.

I have not been having any heart trouble, this is just part of my continuing mid life crisis. I don’t have any heart pain but I do have a brother who had a heart attack at 36 years old even though he runs marathons and is in great shape.

I am not in great shape, but I want to be. If any of us have abused their body it is me. Why my brother had a heart attack and not me has been tickling the back of my brain since it happened some 15 years ago. Don’t worry he is fine. He had a double bypass and recovered beautifully, in fact he just completed an Ironman recently.

The fear of having a heart attack has been preventing me from working out at any great intensity. Since I am always trying to lose the weight I gained when I quit smoking 4 years ago, and have been failing horribly, I decided it’s time to do away with all the excuses and get to the bottom of getting back into shape.

My doctor decided that since I have high cholesterol and a family history of heart attack that I was a candidate for the stress test even though I am not having any chest pain or other symptoms of heart trouble.

Last Friday I got the call from the admitting nurse to go through the standard preparation for the test as well as going over insurance. I was told, and surprised to learn, that my test was Monday. I though it was Thursday so it was nice get a heads up on Friday. No surprise I wrote down the wrong date and didn’t bother to actually read the info they sent me in the mail. Thankfully I answered the phone when they called because I never check my messages and would have missed the appointment. I was told that I could not have any caffeine after 7pm the night before and that I should wear comfy shorts and shoes.

No Caffeine

I don’t drink but one cup of coffee in the morning so I really didn’t think missing my morning joe was going to bother me so much but it was a Monday and it pretty much felt like I had hit a wall. Thankfully I have a cat whose vomit I stepped in when I went to let the dogs out. Washing cat vomit off your bare feet first thing in the morning is a great way to wake up.

I had ample time to get to the hospital but managed to be late because I can’t seem to focus on any given task these days and got distracted by Facebook. The hot flashes that caused me to stand in front of the window A/C for minutes as a time between trying to dry my hair and apply some mascara didn’t help either. I kept checking my Fitbit to see what my heart rate was even though I really have no idea what is a good heart rate to have during a hot flash.

I got to the hospital, a place I used to work, and immediately got lost. I was already late so this caused me to stress out a bit. I had left any and all information at home and the quick note I jotted down I had left in the car. I walked in to one of the many clinics and asked for directions but no one seemed to have any idea where to send me. Finally after the third clinic we decided the heart center was probably a good bet and I headed off in that direction.

The Stress Test Begins

At this point I am 15 minutes late for my appointment. Only about 5 of those late minutes have been spent searching for the correct door but they don’t know this and I blame all of my lateness on poor directions (the ones I left in the car and at home). The admitting nurse laughs and asks if I am a little stressed out because I am late.

“Why yes, yes I am slightly stressed out.”

“Good, you’ve passed the first part of the test” she says.

I’m not really amused but I laugh anyway. She takes me as far as the stair case and points me where to go. This shouldn’t be that difficult, the doors are clearly marked but the directions are unclear. She tells me that I am going to change and then wait for the technician. Except she may have said to wait for the technician and then change and then wait some more. I really wish she would walk me down the the 4 steps and put me where I need to be but she isn’t going to do that and I am on my own. I opt to sit in the waiting room for additional directions.

I have brought World War Z with me to read. The movie was horrible but the book is supposed to be really good. I’ve been trying to read it for about 6 months now and sitting in a waiting room is the only chance I ever get to read. I am on page 33 right now. I open my book and immediately the tech comes in and calls my name.

Pay Attention to Instructions

She leads me to the dressing room and instructs me to change into a gown, put my things into a locker just across from the changing room and then go back and wait for her to come and get me. She says she is just finishing with another patient and will get me in 15 minutes.

I’m still flustered from being late and not really paying attention to what she is saying. Mostly I missed the bit about the gown. Did she say to have it so it ties in the front or in the back? I have no idea but I figure since they are putting electrodes on me they will want to have access to my chest. I did ask if I should remove my bra and she said yes, but I could keep everything else on.

I grab a gown in an XL because the options are only standard and XL. The extra large gown is huge. I put it on and can’t figure out how to tie so there are no gaps in it. I am swimming in the gown so I abandon it and grab a standard size gown. I am unable to fold the XL gown back the way it was so put it in the linen hamper even though it is not dirty. I am now feeling guilt on top of the stress from being late.

The standard size gown is too small. It passes, I can close it but if I bend the wrong way I might flash someone and it is not really accommodating to my hips. It is designed for a man and this pisses me off. I grab the XL out of the linen hamper, and put it back on. I throw the standard size gown into the linen hamper. I am still unsure which way to wear the damn thing but figure I will ask when I see the technician again.

I am sweating bullets at this point.

I sit down and try to calm myself down. According to my Fitbit my pulse is 101. I open my book but I haven’t brought my glasses and my arm is really not long enough. I pretend to read.

The technician calls me in and leads me back to a room where she starts a line in my arm for the tracer. Basically this is the radioactive stuff they squirt into my body so they can see how my heart works.

There’s a lot of technical jargon that she tells me about here. It goes over my head. It’s magic as far as I am concerned. The radioactive shit she just put in my arm will show up when they photograph me before the stress test and after the test. She hands me a Styrofoam cup of water and tells me to drink it within the next 30 minutes.

Know the Locations of the Restrooms

I sit in the waiting room for the half hour. I have not had any caffeine and it is catching up with me. I am tired and I am getting cranky. I am also hungry because I was told not to eat 3 hours before the test and I woke up late so didn’t get to eat anything. I sit there thinking about my one cup of coffee and how much I take it for granted.

The tech comes in and brings me to a darkened room with what looks like a small MRI. She directs me to get on the table and relax. I threw my back out over the weekend and the idea of lying on my back for any amount of time makes me a little nervous but she wedges a huge piece of foam under my legs which alleviates any back pain. How I am going to get up is another problem I will deal with later.

She asks if the music is okay, it’s a mix of 70s and 80s tunes from Pandora. I don’t really care because I plan on sleeping for the 15 minutes that it takes to take picture of my heart before walking on the treadmill. This is me time and I don’t care what kind of music is playing. There are no dogs barking, no children asking for food or money and no clients who need stuff yesterday.

Don’t Get Too Relaxed

I’m instructed to lay still, raise my hands above my head and position my necklace as far back as possible. This causes me to worry about all my piercings but since no one told me to take them out I try not to worry.

I am inserted into the camera and left alone as the pictures are taken. I am finally calming down and actually starting to fall asleep when I wake up thinking about a client and if I took care of a last minute request. So much for me time.

I try to push the work thoughts out of my head and start to nod off again. It’s easy to do because I have not had any coffee, I could probably fall asleep anywhere at this point.

Just as I hit REM sleep I am jostled away by the tech telling me to get up.

There’s No Modesty During a Stress Test

She brings me into another room filled with computers, a treadmill and a hospital bed. She motions for me to sit down on the bed so she can hook me up to the computer. She wipes my chest down with alcohol so she can apply the sticky things. I’ve given birth a few times and I’ve had several mammograms so standing with my gown open (yes, I got it on the right way!) is not a big deal. She hooks me up and tells me to get on the treadmill.

She gives me a rundown of what to expect but again I am not listening. I am doing math in my head – which is futile – I was told the test would take three hours but I can’t recall if that was the actual test or the whole appointment. If I had been listening I would have known the actual running on the treadmill wouldn’t have taken much longer than 8 minutes. But I wasn’t listening, I was doing math.

I get on the treadmill and it starts up at a very slow pace. I do know enough that they want to get my heart rate up to at least 145.