"Turn on Your Heart Light Now"

I had been so concentrating on the Coronavirus these last ten months, I guess I took my eyes off of other things just as dangerous. One of them slipped up on me.

So, last Wednesday, I found myself lying on a table in the Cath Lab at INOVA Fairfax--awaiting a catheterization of my heart and arteries.

It's different when it's you.

It all started a few weeks ago when Audrey went behind my back and scheduled a physical with my primary care doctor. It was time for one, I'll admit, but I tend to be a bit squeamish about things like that. The actual examination went well. But Audrey had made me promise to tell him about how my legs move in the night and how I often kick her (unintentionally) when we sleep.

"It's probably nothing," my doctor said. "But I am referring you to a cardiologist so you can get a 'sleep test' to check it out."

That office was just down the hall in the medical building on Kenmore Avenue in Alexandria, so I stopped in to make an appointment. Whenever I am on the elevator there, I will joke with total strangers riding with me--"You know, we are going to live and die in this building -- just going from floor to floor.”
The overnight sleep test took place in November--but, for some reason, I barely slept at all during it. It did reveal a little apnea--but that was something we agreed to just keep an eye on for now. My cardiologist, a rather dogged and intense man, was not satisfied. He suggested an electrocardiogram in early December. That result was a bit concerning to him as well, so he had me do a "stress test" on a treadmill. And I didn't do very well with that. There were no chest pains (I've never had any of those), but I tired out way too soon, he thought. I just concluded it was because I was out of shape from so little exercise. Finally, just before Christmas, I had a CT scan. That's when the blockages showed up.

"This could be serious,” the cardiologist said. And that's when he said I needed a heart catheterization. It might show no real problem. They might have to put in stents to open the flow in my arteries. Or, worst of all, I might need open-heart surgery. Well, I guess that would really be the next-to-worst outcome from all of this.

So, last Wednesday, I was on the table. Everyone at INOVA was great, I couldn't have asked for better treatment. As they were prepping me, I heard the friendly banter among the technicians who do several of these every day. Rock music was playing in the background--the only song I recognized was Prince's Purple Rain. A sedative to relax me was given through my IV. The last thing I remembered was the kindness of a young nurse, just starting out in her career. Viktoria was beside me and leaned in by my ear to assure me that everything would be alright. The wire was run up into my heart--the camera was rolling--and I drifted off into sleep.

When I awakened I was given the news. All went fine with the procedure, and no surgery or even stents would be needed after all. I do have rather significant blockages, but they can be handled with medication and some lifestyle changes. As you can imagine, and know if you have been through this, an incredible weight was lifted. A few hours of observation and walking the floor of the hospital and they released me. Audrey, who started all of this, was with me the entire time except for the catheterization itself, and then she drove me home.

"Can I go back to work this weekend?" I asked the surgeon.

"What do you do?" he asked.

"Well, it's complicated"--but when I explained he said "OK,--but no heavy lifting."

No problem there.

I am writing all of this because, first, I write about everything that happens to me. That's the point of keeping a journal. And I want to remember some of these details and their sequence. But I also write to encourage you to get a regular physical. The older you get, to check out your heart and other things, too.

Mostly, men, to listen to your wife.




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