“You’re in the 15 item or less line at the Safeway with a cart filled to the brim. There are 10 angry people waiting behind you. Your credit card has just been declined. Your daughter is on the cell phone telling you about Vince, the professional poker player she married last night in Las Vegas. Suddenly, a fireman rushes in to find the owner of a burning car that sounds suspiciously like your vintage ’65 Corvette. What do you do?”
That would make a good stress test. Instead, they made me walk on a treadmill for 10 minutes with a bunch of wires glued to my muscular chest.
I noticed that the young nurse couldn’t take her eyes off of me — she later confided that she was afraid I might collapse.
They cranked up the speed and raised the incline until my heart rate hit 160. I held that for 2 minutes or so, all the while watching the spiky orange electronic trace my heartbeat made on the monitor.
When I reached my target, they injected me with radioactive thallium. Thallium is referred to as the poisoner’s poison because it kills quickly and without much of a trace. For a time, it was suspected in the murder of the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.
I don’t remember them mentioning any of this before sticking me with the needle.
Thallium makes the heart more visible to a gamma ray imaging device, so after my treadmilling they put me on a table and rolled me under this giant gadget that shot me full of gamma rays and took photos of my beating heart.
Now I glow in the dark. I’m like a human nightlight. It’ll be great for Halloween.
The cardiologist said I have the heart of a 30-year-old. I’m celebrating with whiskey and cigarettes. Just kidding. But it was good news. We never know what is going on inside of our bodies, but we know that as we age, we wear out. Plaques build up in arteries. Cells divide uncontrollably. Bones and muscles weaken.
I’ve noticed that as I grow older, I’m somewhat more conscious of my mortality. Not afraid. I don’t fear death. But somewhat more aware that I’m living on borrowed time, so to speak. I’m not likely to live as many years as I already have. That realization changes your thinking about a great many things.
I had some odd chest pains, leading my doctor to think we should err on the side of caution and test my heart. My cholesterol has been slowly going up as I’ve gotten older, but my blood pressure has stayed right around 110/60. I’ve gained weight, but my BMI is 20, which is normal.
It appears my heart won’t fail me anytime soon. Praise God for His mercy and goodness.
You can find a good explanation of the thallium stress test here, if you’re interested.
Illustration credit: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute