If you've ever read Dave Barry, you're probably familiar with the story he told (as published in his "Greatest Hits" collection) about undergoing a thallium stress test. I've laughed every time I read it, except for once. That one time was about two weeks before I was supposed to take my own stress test, and having read Dave's account I was understandably nervous. Not so much about getting radiation pumped into my body... that would have been nothing. Heck, I work in aerospace in buildings with mutant three-headed cockroaches that we probably created, so I'm not unfamiliar with hazardous materials. Also, since my mission to Guatemala, I no longer fear needles quite as badly as I used to.
No, my fear was the treadmill itself. Turns out that my stress test did not involve thallium. It involved an ultrasound, with loads of that goop I used to watch them smear all over Mrs. Woody's belly every time we visited the OB-GYN during her pregnancies. The fact that the nice ultrasound lady very nearly broke three or four ribs just made me appreciate what Mrs. Woody was willing to go through - twice - so we could have the benefit of refereeing our two Woodyettes for the rest of our natural lives.
The treadmill portion of the test was my real dread. As I have gotten older, my physique has taken on roughly the proportions of your average potato, but not as robust. I discovered this nearly nine years ago when starring in "The Magic Flute," Mozart's opus, and finding myself out of breath after every scene on stage. This was not good for a then nearly-40 guy, and things have not improved with time. These days I can be pretty seriously out of breath just climbing the four flights of stairs to my office in the morning. (Yes, Honey, I took the stairs this morning!) And since I knew that the whole purpose of getting on the treadmill was to elevate my heart rate, I was pretty sure this was going to more than four flights' worth of stair climbing.
Sure enough, after getting some preliminary baseline images with the ultrasound, I was instructed to climb onto the treadmill. The cardiologist came in to observe and probably laugh at me behind my back (he didn't dare show his face). Another fellow, likely an intern, came in to actually operate the treadmill and monitor my vitals. ("He's still breathing, doctor." "Okay, crank her up another twenty miles an hour.")
The treadmill goes in three speeds. "Brisk walk," "canter," and "run for your life." You get to spend three minutes at each speed. Since I was facing the monitor, I got to watch my heart rate as I ran through each level. At "run for your life" I was hitting about 185, as I recall. Apparently the doctor felt that I had lost enough oxygen, though, because I was ordered to immediately lie down on the table so the nice ultrasound lady could smear me with more goo and tell me to breathe out and hold it.
Beg pardon? Did you say hold it? Is this some sort of sophomoric prank designed to make me look like a dweeb? My body is ordering me, on pain of death, to get some oxygen going, and you're telling me NOT to?? Who am I supposed to listen to? You, or the circuits that actually run this haywire body of mine??
Silly question. I don't pay my nervous system. I pay co-payments to the medical center. So I attempted to obey the ultrasound tech, but I'm pretty sure I was failing miserably. I don't think I would have been any more successful if she had actually offered me $10,000 to breathe out and hold it. My willingness to obey was simply diametrically opposed to my body's ability to comply.
Fortunately, that torture was short-lived, and soon I was on my way into work, with legs feeling like jelly and a body smeared with the stuff.
The good news is, the test found nothing. Really. No abnormalities detected, according to my follow-up with the same coward who wouldn't show his face during the test. Ditto the Holter monitor that I'd had to wear several weeks ago. In fact, the only problem we've detected so far is my elevated cholesterol counts. These were high enough to earn me a lecture from the good doctor on my eating habits. I need a "lifestyle" change, according to the doctor, which probably means that I've just become a vegetarian whether I want to or not. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. I enjoy most vegetables, except for beets. Beets are not true vegetables, anyway. Beets were obviously classified as "weeds" when Adam was kicked out of Eden, but one of his kids - Cain, I'll bet - ate one and now we're stuck with them. But I'll never knowingly eat one if I can help it.
The doctor also said he saw "no reason not to engage in regular exercise." Great. Thanks, Doc. I'll jump right on that. First, though, I need to sit down. Legs are feeling a bit shaky at the moment. Kinda short of breath, too. Maybe I'll just take a little nap...
Or maybe I'll just wait until after work.