Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Heart Monitors

I wore the heart monitor for ten long days, just like I was instructed. I slept with it. I ate with it. I watched an excessive amount of TV with it. It's basically the longest and most healthy relationship I've ever had. If it could have provided Bob and Cathie grandchildren there would have been pretty much nothing left to look for in a lifelong companion.

But like all relationships I've ever known, the time came for me to take it back to the doctor last Thursday.

I turned it in. Then, like I was a rat in a lab, they hooked me up to 1,000 other pieces of equipment and had me lay down on table so they could do another what the kids are calling "EKG" which has still not really been explained to me using words I've learned.

Then, still hooked up to eleventy million things, they had me get on a treadmill half naked and run while a monitor showed what was happening with my heart. This was miserable, but also sort of interesting because I felt like I was on an episode of House.

We finished the treadmill tests and I, dripping with sweat, was told to wait. On the way out of the room I heard one nurse say to another nurse, "his EKG is really abnormal--I'll be curious to hear what the doctor thinks after this."

It was the last thing I wanted to hear. I still have no idea what an EKG is supposed to look like or why mine is abnormal, but they keep telling me about it in the same voice Bob and Cathie used to tell me that my baby blanket, which I had named "Gigi," ran away to play with other children who needed it more. AND I WAS NINE.

I sat in the room, alone, battling competing concerns between anxiety over finding out that I was too unhealthy to finally compete in this Ironman race that I have now been training for for basically four years and the general concern that something might be seriously wrong with me, notwithstanding the Ironman. All during this, I scrolled through my phone to answer some work emails that came through during the treadmill test, feeling the never-ending work related anxiety that ended up eating much of my coming weekend.

Then the doctor showed up.

Doctor: Eli, I think you have a very strong heart.

Eli: Oh no you don't. What about all of this EKG talk? I have basically been told that if my EKG becomes any more abnormal they'll have to switch the letters around to describe mine.

Doctor: First of all, that doesn't make any sense--

Eli: I'm nervous! My game is off right now, ok?!

Doctor: Second, your EKG is abnormal, but not in a way that concerns me.

Eli: How is abnormal not concerning? Is this one of those "you're not limited, you're special" things?

Doctor: No. Your heart marches to the beat of a slightly different drum. But that's ok. This is one of those things.

Eli: Gotcha. Like how it's ok when I dance on crowded elevators.

Doctor: No.

Eli: Ok, Mister Doctor. Or do I call you Doctor Mister? Which one is supposed to come first? Or are you one of those cool doctors who's all like, "just call me 'Ralph'?"

Doctor: You can call me Doctor.

Eli: On the phone?!

Doctor: Huh?

Eli: I can call you on the phone?!

Doctor: Definitely not.

Eli: Fine. Ok, Doctor. If my heart is "the most amazing thing" you've ever seen and "is as incredible" as my hair, then why am I having all of these heart racing and fainting problems?

Doctor: The finger quotes were inappropriate because I didn't say those things--


Doctor: but I'll answer the question anyway. I think two things are happening. I think you have probably had some electrolyte problems after long workouts and this has not helped your fainting and lightheaded problem.

Eli: So I should eat a lot more Ben & Jerry's strawberry cheesecake ice cream with extra whipped cream?

Doctor: For the last time, no. That is not my recommendation.

Eli: You are the worst doctor ever.

Doctor: But, Eli, I think your bigger problem is stress. I think you are still having panic attacks. And based on the fact that you are currently responding to an email as I say this, it seems to me that you still haven't figured out a way to relax and calm yourself down.

Eli: Sorry? Did you say something?

Doctor: My recommendation to you is to pay attention to your electrolytes AND CALM DOWN.

Eli: Fine. But I have one more question.

Doctor: I know I don't want to hear it, but go ahead.

Eli: How many doctors does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Doctor: Several. If it has health insurance.

Eli: Oh. So you've heard this one.

~It Just Gets Stranger


  1. So, it sounds like Yoga and Gatorade are in your future. I'm glad it's as simple (and complex) as that. WHEW!!

  2. I've got four kids and the youngest two were born with heart defects. We're headed to Stanford this week for heart surgery #5! I say that in a super chipper voice because "Attitude is the only difference between an ordeal and an adventure" and I am a mom who specializes in adventures. My kids think the hospital is a freaking amusement park, I'm that good. We refer to EKG's as stickers and spaghetti and echocardiograms as jelly bellies at my house. (It only makes sense if you've had one.) Anywho, I pride myself on being cool as a cucumber despite the craziness that is my life. But sometime around heart surgery #4 I started having all the symptoms you've described above and thought here we go, it's probably my fault half the kids have messed up hearts because clearly I have an undiagnosed heart issue myself. Nope! Anxiety. I seriously looked at my doctor and said, "But I'm not anxious. I'm very calm." And she said "Well, your body is letting you know that you ARE anxious and it would like you to pay some attention to that feeling and deal with it, instead of pretending it's not there." Best advice I've received in a long time.

    1. Ruth - are you adopting? Because I think I'd like you to be my mom . . . .

    2. Ruth, I understand you completely. The slogan at our house is "If you can laugh about it later, you can laugh about it now." and I love your slogan, which I will now adopt for my own :)

  3. Electrocardiogram - there's not ever a K in there. WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?!
    Anyway, my mother is laboratory technician - which is basically a scientist, or so that's what I told people growing up because she messes with the NASTIEST bodily fluids imaginable and when you're 13 going on 80 you don't really want to tell you friends that. For some reason she finds all of it fascinating. For a period of time she did life insurance physicals (LET'S NOT EVEN GO INTO WHAT ALL WENT ON WITH THAT) and she had an EKG machine AT OUR HOUSE and my siblings and I thought that it was the coolest thing this side of fried ice cream, we were ALWAYS asking if we could have our EKG done. We would bring our friends over and show them, like it was a new puppy. Looking back, that was the weirdest thing ever.

    1. My mom does insurance exams! Does your mom have the centrifuge thingy that spins the blood?

  4. My heart is indecisive...or it was...until I wore one of those lovely heart monitor holster-thingys for a freakin' month...in SUMMER in TEXAS...or, as we affectionately call it, HELL.

    I have PSVT (Paroxysmal Supraventricular Tachycardia) which sounds like I could sit at the cool cardio patient's lunch table, but is in fact, fairly common. What's not common is I'm symptomatic. That means I can feel when my heart rate flutters, skips beats, or worse races to 140, 160, 180, and once to 240 bpm. The last one happened while I was in the hospital, though, the morning I went to my cardiologist and said, "I've been running a marathon, and bicycling 100 miles, and climbing a sheer rock face...every..damned..day..for the last week, and I have barely gotten off the couch." and he said..."uhh...you're going to the hospital right now" after looking at my EKG. He thought I might be having a heart attack, but I wasn't...after 24 hours they decided my PSVT was severe and required drugs.

    So, I take a little pill every day, and usually my heart behaves. Sometimes, though, it decides to bicycle 100 miles..usually in my sleep.

    On the plus side, I get some fairly regular cardio exercise and I don't have to do a thing.

  5. I was born with a narrow pulmonary valve. Long story short, it affects my body's ability to get oxygenated blood going around and causes the air pressure in my lungs to elevate when I exercise and I can't breathe. It kinda sucks because it's easy for me to gain weight and hard to lose it because when I can't breathe I have to slow down, making it very challenging to keep my heart rate up at an actual exercise level. I also have to get echos and EKGs done every year which are as uncomfortable as you describe them, only worse. Have you ever had to run on a treadmill, half naked, covered in wires, with three people watching WITHOUT a very necessary bra? And why is the technician that does my echo always a man with no concern whatsoever for the fact that while he might do a million of them a day, he's actually the only person looking at me? Not the highlight of my year ...

  6. And stress is about the most annoying answer to get when you're a person who "always handles things". This was literally a discussion I had with a counselor who told me I was stressing out about getting a job, as normal, and just needed to find a way to calm down.
    Her: That's normal anxiety.
    Me: So there's nothing wrong with my brain.
    Her: No.
    Me: I worry that there is.
    Her: That's your anxiety.

    1. I know what you mean there. I deal with depression from time to time as well as lots of anxiety and I get stressed out easily. I also worry a lot. I have a really good imagination, so my brain likes to start doing the what if game with me a lot, which most often gets out of hand. My wife and her Italian siblings (not actually all born in Italy) have this laid back nature and just say to me "well just let it go". And my response usually is "HOW THE HELL DO YOU LET IT GO!??!". My brain just isn't wired that way. I've tried meditation (which works for the most part, but I don't do it enough) as well other methods, but my brain still will go off on a tangent when I get stressed out, which just causes anxiety and eventually I will sometimes get depressed as well. Not a deep depression (that's happened a couple of times in my life and I try with all my might to not fall back into that), but a mild depressive state. It's hard. You can talk about it to get it off your mind, you can get therapy and do the things that help you to get out of the stressful situation, but what can you do other then quit your job and be on permanent vacation? Which, unless your rich, will lead to more stress cause...money!

      Eli, the blog is a smart way to get rid of some of that stress. I know talking and writing things down that bug you help to remove it from your head. I know you don't put everything down in the blog, but probably writing it out here helps to remove some of the stress itself. Living in the moment, not thinking about the past or future is the way to help keep your anxiety down. Taking things one step at a time. But that is hard as well as I know I think about the future and past all the time. It's to get our minds to start living for today rather than tomorrow.

      I'm with you Cait. And if anyone has any tips on how to lower anxiety and not to stress our or worry...please post them. :)

  7. Because this is clearly he most important take away from all of this, I too had a blanket named Gigi and it met its demise from a maid washing it with all the other bedding at a Disneyland hotel. RIP Gigi.

  8. You didn't mention though, is the Ironman still going to happen? Because I live in Boulder and have friends running the race so I'll be there anyway, so I need to know whether to watch and cheer for you, too.

    1. Leaving bright and early Friday morning for Boulder!

  9. I'm really glad to know those reports about your imminent death are untrue.

  10. I've been having mild panic attacks/anxiety recently myself. Super annoying, since my conscious brain is all, "there's nothing to worry about here," but my subconscious brain somehow hijacks my physiology and makes my heart race, my adrenaline pump, and my breathing go all shallow.

    I'm glad your doctor pinpointed what's probably going on, and hope you find a way to get everything under control. Sounds like the work stuff is really getting to you.

  11. I would have my eye on the Spire (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00TH3SQOI/) if it wasn't so expensive. I wonder if you could leverage your readership to get them to give you a free one to try out and review?