Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Angiogram and Me

On it's first anniversary I am posting this entry about my experience with chest pain.

I was having problems taking a deep breath and there was chest pain. Being a stalwart he-man I waited six days before I had finally freaked myself out long enough to casually mention the issue to the more cautious he-man at home, George. Before I knew it I was in the car, driving 40 MPH in a 25 MPH zone to the emergency room down the street at O'Connor Hospital. I sat down in the (thankfully empty) waiting room trying to inhale some oxygen as George walked up to the nurse on duty to explain the situation. Within minutes, they had returned to my chair so I could sign the waivers.

When was the last time you went to a doctor?

Ten years ago.

Do you remember who it was?

Hmmm. I was...oh, yeah...Pahdma Mahajan.

They both laughed thinking I had remembered an easy name like Joe Smith. Are you kidding? This is the Silicon Valley.

Would you like a coffee? the nurse asked in her New York accent. (Hey, I have one of those too!)

No thanks. I've had some this morning but maybe George... I replied, trailing off.

Huh? she asked quizzically.

George wondered aloud whether she really thought coffee was the best thing for me right now and the nurse replied, giving us all a big laugh, A copy. Do you want a copy?

Those New Yorkers.

I was brought back to the ER and immediately given an EKG; X-rays were also taken. Everything was fine - except of course that I was in pain and couldn't breathe. The doctor decided to admit me to the hospital to monitor the enzymes that are present in your system if you are, in fact, having a heart attack. They put me on a gurney and wheeled me up to the fourth floor. This would be the first time I had been in a hospital overnight since my tonsils were taken out at the age of 22. (I would not recommend that operation to anyone over 10 years old.)

The admitting nurse hooked me up to the heart monitor and started documenting my health history. When we were done, I asked her if I might call my co-workers since my earlier, quick email to them read something like Forgot I had to run to the doctor. She said I could. I also asked if I could stand up because my ass was killing me. She told me that would be fine also. I was actually feeling pretty good by then since they had given me synthetic morphine.

I was walking around the small waiting room as I spoke on the phone when the nurse looked in on me. Are you dancing in here? she asked. Your readings are off the chart! (Not dancing - zumba!)

Monitoring the heart enzymes meant that the nurse had to take blood from me every 8 hours; at 3 AM that morning I was woken up. I was also not allowed to eat because first thing in the morning I was having a stress test and a nuclear heart scan. So when they came to get me at 8 AM, I was tired, hungry and, once again, in pain.

With a nuclear heart scan, two sets of pictures are taken. The first set is right before a stress test while your heart is beating at a normal rate. The second set is right after a stress test while your heart is beating fast. (During a stress test, you run the treadmill to make your heart work hard and beat fast.)

Everything in the stress test proved positive...or is it negative? I got up to 90% of heart rate with no incident - whichever sign that is. The heart scan though showed a miniscule portion of my heart was not getting blood whether my heart was beating fast or slow. The doctor would have sent anyone else home but because of my family history, he recommended the Big A: an angiogram.

He explained to me what an angiogram was. They would puncture the femoral artery in my right thigh with a hollow needle and insert a guide wire through the needle. The wire is then used to guide a catheter to the heart so they can take pictures of it.

Operation? You are playing Operation in my leg?

This doctor, another New Yorker laughed. Yea, I guess we are.

I agreed to the procedure remembering the Mattel game and praying to the heavens above that he didn't get buzzed for touching the sides. The next morning they brought me down to the operating room to start me on a local anesthesia. Yes, I was going to be fully awake.

Do you need to put my feet in stirrups? I asked the anesthetist. She had to run and get a towel to wipe up the anesthesia she spilled on the floor.

I was released later that day as everything was negative...or is it positive? (The good one.) And within a day or so, the only issue I had was the leg pain from where the catheter was inserted. Don't ask me what the problem was because I couldn't tell you. I CAN tell you though the whole three days cost $56,000 and I had to pay $2000 of that. Six more monthly payments to go...and I have insurance!