The list of reasons why I’d skip my morning cup of coffee is small. That lead to the first element of stress for my cardiac stress test, no caffeine for 12 hours. Out of habit, I turned on my espresso machine on two separate occasions. Then I sadly remembered I wasn’t allowed to have any and shut it off with sad puppy eyes.
The second restriction was more straightforward, no food three hours before the test. That I can deal with, thanks to chemo, I can deal without food for quite some time. Other than that the only other special preparation was to show up at the university cardiac lab wearing athletic shoes, and exercise clothing.
My wife joined me on the stress test adventure, but it wasn’t as exciting as the flexible sigmoidoscope. They took me into the stress test suit, a room with a bed with an exercise bike setup attached to it, a treadmill, and a bunch of other cardiac testing gear. After a quick shirt removal, I was asked to lay on the bed so the tech could begin prepping me to attach the EKG unit. Like all useful tests and procedures, this one involved collecting samples of my now thinning sasquatch fur with a razor. After clearing a path for the EKG pads, things got weird.
The tech busted out some 200 grit sandpaper and began practicing his advanced interrogation techniques. He claims the sanding ensures the pads “make proper contact” and remain affixed during the test. The internet backs up his claims, but I suspect he may work weekends at Gitmo. Once sufficiently scoured and sensorified, he strapped on a blood pressure cuff and took some baseline resting readings. Then it was time for the main event.
I hopped on the treadmill and began stage 1, a leisurely walk at 1.7 MPH at 10% grade. No issues here, although my blood pressure was elevated before the test even started. After a minute passed the tech took my blood pressure (done at regular intervals), and it was on to stage 2. 2.5 MPH at a 12% grade, no problems here either but it got the heart pumping. Thanks to chemo, I knew my heart was going to ramp up quickly, just walking out to my mailbox (~1/8 of a mile) gets my heart pumping to 110 BPM. A few stages later, I was hoofing it at a pretty good pace, 4.2 MPH at a 16% grade. My heart was pumping pretty hard by this point, I think it was at 190 BPM, and my blood pressure was quite high.
The tech told me that I was free to stop at any time, but encouraged me to go as long as I could comfortably go on. I gave the tech a minute warning that I was starting to get winded (yay for being an asthmatic). I hit the next stage at 5.0 MPH at 18% grade; this is a strange speed for someone of my height it’s right in between a fast walk and a slow jog. After about 30 seconds of that, I had to call it quits because I started feeling dizzy. My heart topped out around 200 BPM, and I have no clue what my final blood pressure was.
Then it was time for a cool down and final blood pressure and EKG readings. It took a bit for my heart to settle down, but once it got under 100 BPM, we were free to go.
Overall, the stress test was not a bad experience. It was like working out at the gym, with a personal trainer that has a thing with sandpaper and stickers. The only uncomfortable part was the chest sanding deal.
I did not get results from the test before I left; they need to be read by a cardiologist. I caught a glimpse of some of the print outs, and there were a few strange waveforms that didn’t match the rest, but I have no clue what they mean. All I know is that I did not have any chest pain during the test, which is probably a good thing.
I’ll get the results of the stress test Friday when I return to have labs, and visit with the PA again. If my blood counts are back within an acceptable range, and there were no complications found during the stress test, round 7 of chemo will be a go.