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The treadmill of death

January 17, 2012

The next three tests (EKG, chest xray, and echo treadmill stress test) were on the list of pretesting only for those women over 45.  Unlike all the bloodwork and gynecological tests, these were not performed at CWRC, so I had to find a place to get the tests done and paid for through my insurance. Alyssa, who was the coordinator for the Egg Donor program, faxed me doctor referrals for the tests, but I quickly found out that a diagnosis of “infertility” did not help at all.

It took weeks of research, calling around, being told that I would have to pay around $3K out of my pocket, and finally getting an appointment with my PCP and orders written by her to get an appointment for all three tests on the same day, March 31, 2009, at Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan. I sort of knew that the treadmill test pushed your heart rate up, so I decided to spend the next few weeks “training” for the test, but I was also in a phase of high anxiety that started the day of my appointment with my PCP in early February. I have “white coat syndrome.” Sitting at home, my blood pressure in either normal or low, around 90/70 or sometimes a little lower. But in the last few years, whenever I was at a doctor’s office, particularly my gynecologist or PCP, my BP was ranging around 140/90, which is borderline to high. It’s really strange because I have no problem whatsoever with doctors, really. Ironically, I used to be truly terrified of dentists, and yet there, my BP was always completely normal. (More on my irrational fear of the dentist later, but I want to add that I found the GREATEST dentist ever, Dr. Louis Seigelman. He, his dental hygienist, Melissa, and his entire staff are amazing.)

Here, a word about doctor’s offices, or more precisely, those misanthropic lunatics who answer the phone in most doctor’s offices in Manhattan. Why? Why would you ever choose a profession dealing with people during what might be stressful times for those people, if you indeed and truly hate 1) answering phones, and 2) people? Seriously, I’ve been reduced to tears trying to make an annual appointment with my gynecologist, and I am generally not considered a “crier.”  When a doctor writes on a piece of paper that I need an “echo treadmill stress test,” I’m going to ask you if I can schedule an “echo treadmill stress test.” I don’t know if he meant a “treadmill stress echo exam” or an “echo cardiowhatsit,” or anything other than what he or she wrote on that piece of paper. Why, oh nasty person on the phone, are you so hostile to me? I did not go to medical school, nor did I wake up this morning and think “hmmmm, how shall I fuck with a random stranger today. Why, I think I’ll call around and schedule bogus tests at doctor’s offices!” Oh, and you know, it’s not just Manhattan. One of the meanest to ever answer a doctor’s phone works in Milford Pa, and I’m considering publishing her name, as soon as my lawyer let’s me know if she can sue or not.

The morning of the test, I had to wait for almost 2 hours because the poor soul ahead of me collapsed and almost died during the test. I know, because as I’m sitting in the waiting room trying to calm myself with deep breathing and positive thoughts, I hear the doctors, nurses, and techs all around me responding to a “code” in the “echo treadmill stress test room.”

When I finally get in, the poor tech looked like she had been through a war. She was perfectly and completely professional in every way, but she had obviously been through hell already. She hooked about 100 wires up to me and told me that it was a simple test: I just had to walk on a treadmill. Not run, just walk. When I asked for how long, she got cagey. I’m going to clue you in if you ever need to take this test. They won’t tell you how long. The test keeps going as long as you keep walking. They will never tell you to stop, they will only ask you if YOU want to stop. Really, they only need to get your heart rate up to some insane above-resting rate, but they won’t tell you this.

I get on the treadmill and a young intern comes in. He, too, had obviously been through the code with the last poor soul and was worse for the wear. Before the treadmill even starts moving, he takes my BP and it’s already outrageously high, like 160/90. This was not going to go well, I knew already.

At first, the treadmill moves very slowly. Then, at the one minute mark, this horrible horn sounds, the intern takes my BP and yells it over the tech, who punches it in a machine, and the treadmill speeds up by a factor of whatever.

Still OK. I go to the gym and I even actually, for all my struggles with my weight, consider myself in sort of OK aerobic shape. The intern is a nice young person and he realizes I’m frightened. To take my mind off it, he starts making small talk. As Laura O will tell you, she spent hours in Bally’s on a treadmill next to me, I don’t like to talk and exercise. But I don’t want to be impolite, so I try to keep up my end of the stupid chit-chat.

Another minute, horrible horn, BP is going up, and the treadmill speeds up again. This goes on for what seems like hours, but is really only about 12 minutes now. I usually try to stay on the treadmill or elliptical at the gym for 35 to 45 minutes, but here at 12 minutes, I’m drenched in sweat and my heart is pounding out of my chest. And it really isn’t moving that fast or climbing. By now, my BP is crazy. The intern takes a reading and yells 210/100 to the tech. Now, I am the epitome of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing, but even I know that’s a ridiculously scary number. I’m wondering if they are going to tell me to stop. The intern however, asks me, “do you feel ok?” I don’t want to say no, because I’m afraid that means I will “fail” the test and that will be the end of our IVF attempt. So, I say, “should I stop?” and he says, “do you want to stop?” So we go on.

I’m not sure for how much longer, but I finally am so terrified hearing the CRAZY BP readings he keeps yelling that I think it’s better to live childless than to die of a stroke here in this room today, so I give in. They basically dragged me off the treadmill onto another exam table and did an EKG (I’m guessing this is the proper name of the test) and continued to take my blood pressure. Five minutes after the treadmill stopped, my BP is 130/80. A tiny bit high, but even lower than it was before I started the test.

But I was sobbing and convinced I had failed. I mean, my god, how could what just happened be normal? I didn’t know anyone’s BP could get to 210 over something with that person not stroking out!  I had to sit there for another few minutes while the intern looked over the tapes spit out by one of the monitors, one final BP reading, totally normal, and he says, “OK, great, you can go.”

Huh? “Did I pass?” “Oh, I don’t know, the doctor will read it tonight and call send the results to your doctor’s office tomorrow.”

I left Cornell, I’m not even sure how, really. I know somehow I got in a cab and got home. I crawled into bed and never moved again until the next morning. I was never more exhausted and frightened and dizzy and lightheaded in my life. And heartbroken. I must have failed. Right?

Next: “No News Is Good News, Right?” or “If I Don’t Call for the Results, I Won’t Know That I Failed.”

© 2012

From → Pretesting

One Comment
  1. Good Luck with your results.
    I just did a treadmill stress test and had a way more positive experience than you did, must have just been lucky.


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