This hospital is different every time I enter. There is always some new construction going on; this time, its the outpatient laboratory getting some sort of renovation. The temporary walls seem to be eating up the waiting room, which is surprisingly empty.
This hospital is very personal; apparently we have a large population of elderly folks around town who enjoy volunteering. You first check in at a small desk, where 3-4 of the volunteers sit, giving your name and procedure in trade for a small piece of paper with a number on it. The volunteer walks the fifteen feet over to the registration offices and gives them the information they just took down, while you sit and watch. This wait was short. Within a minute I was being called to registration desk 1. The registration process is slow, and tedious. And not having caffeine in preparation for the tilt table test makes my eyes heavy. But it is a good, easy going time to relax away any of the pre-test jitters I had been feeling. I get my “jewelry” for the day–the plastic wrist band with my patient information–and another volunteer comes to collect me. She has another patient going up to cardiology, an elderly man, and we walk together down the hallways making small talk about the lovely weather we’ve been experiencing. She drops us off in the waiting room on the second floor.
I am, by far, the youngest person there; and soon I am the only person there. The gentleman I made the trip with sweetly apologizing for getting to go first while I still had to wait.
I fiddle with my phone a bit, checking Neko Atsume and Instagram.
The nurse calls me with a smile, and I follow her to the “stress test” room across the hall. She moves a foam cushion from the chair next to a small table for me to put my purse, my bag of medical records, my cane, and my jacket. I rest on the edge of the chair as she explains the procedure. I had, of course, already looked it up and watched a few YouTube videos on it, so I had an idea of what to expect. Another nurse comes in and offers to lend a hand helping get everything set up. I sign the permission form, and use the step stool to climb into the bed. The second nurse brings me a blanket; they keep the room cold for the patients who have to use the treadmill set up to my right.
I get an IV. The nurse who lead me into the room and explained the procedure does it. I recommend my good arm, and give tips; this isn’t my first time being poked. She does it so much better than most though. One sharp jab, no leaking, no mess. I’m impressed. I can’t recall anytime that has happened before; usually there is a lot of digging around and a mess of blood down my arm. She flushes the catheter with saline, and that familiar smell/taste floods my nose. Then she puts the cap on and tapes the whole thing down. It’s just in for “good juju” she says. Its better to have it in, in case I pass out and needed it, but if they put it in, I won’t need it. A blood pressure cuff goes on the other arm.
Then the electrodes go on. I was instructed before hand to wear comfy clothing, so I didn’t have to change at all. Sticky pads go on my chest and stomach. They are cold. The second nurse works on attaching me to a tangle of wires. And then they strap me in. It’s kind of like seat belts, but more numerous. Straps across my legs, knees, stomach, and upper chest. It’s comforting to know they’re there, ready to catch me if need be. And I don’t feel constrained at all. The second nurse brings me a sheet, and tucks it in under my shoulders so my arms can be warm too, and I appreciate the extra time and consideration she took.
Then the lights go out. It’s peacefully dark, sunlight streaming through the shades of the large windows that make up a wall. I close my eyes, resting back against the bed. I’m exhausted after all, and it’s nice to have a moment. The blood pressure cuff tightens and releases. 80/60 – or something close to that. And then the bed is tilted up.
Wosh. That feeling when you stand up too fast. My head is light and spins a bit. My eyes were closed so I don’t know if my vision blacked out, but I could hear the nurses talking to me the whole time. They asked how I was doing, and I told them it felt like I stood up too fast, but otherwise I was fine. The blood pressure cuff tightens.
“Everything is looking good here” the first nurse informs me. I open my eyes, and soon it is just she and I in the room. Within a few moments the back of my neck is burning and prickling. I inform her, and she asks if that is a feeling I get often. It’s hard to answer; it’s happened before but I wouldn’t say often. I think she made a note of it but I didn’t look over.
The blood pressure cuff tightens again, then releases. I think it’s been five minutes. My feet are starting to feel hot and stingy, and I can’t help but wiggle my toes, even though I know I should just be still. I share that information with the nurse. Some more time passes before my fingers feel the same way. Again I let her know. We casually talk about her new car being in for repairs after being hit. She tells me again that everything is looking good.
I don’t know how much time has passed, but I’m thankful to have the table behind me to rest on. It is hard standing still; I almost never am still. My legs are getting tired, and I let my knees rest on the straps for a bit of support. My breathing is also feeling a bit labored – like I have to concentrate on it to get enough air. I don’t tell nurse; I just focus.
Once again, she cheerfully tells me everything is looking good. At this point I’m more upset by that than anything else. I was really hoping this test would show something. I make a comment about that being a double-edged-sward; it is so disappointing when test after test gives you no information to move forward with.
I close my eyes again and focus on breathing. My whole body feels as if it is shaking against the table. If I could will myself to faint, I would…but I can’t, so I concentrate on being still, on breathing as steadily as I can. At this point my breaths are inconsistent, wanting to rush up in frequency. I try to keep them slow and deep, but I’m not too successful. Some are short and rapid, some are longer, but all are relatively shallow. The blood pressure cuff has taken a few more measurements, and I can hear the machine printing my test results continuously.
“Just a few more minutes”
“Oh good, I’m shaking pretty much everywhere. I’m looking forward to the bed being laid back down.” I laugh lightheartedly, but I mean it sincerely. It is taking me a lot of effort to keep myself standing, even though I am leaning against a bed and letting the straps hold me up. The blood pressure cuff tightens again. It’s been 20 minutes.
“Alright, now, people think going down will be better but often it’s worse” she warns me. I expected as much, having noticed that before. The bed slowly eases back to a flat surface and a reverse wosh rushes me. It feels like the world is spinning. I close my eyes, letting my body completely relax into the bed. It feels so good not to be standing. I desperately want to to curl my knees to my chest and roll onto my side, but I’m still strapped down. I try to think only about breathing.
The blood pressure cuff starts measuring more frequently. And the nurse has stopped telling me everything looks good; I wonder if it is because of what I said, or if some difference has actually been noticed. I try not to be to eager for the later, but I can’t help but have a lingering bit of hope. In a way it feels wrong, to wish for something to be abnormal on the test, but I don’t know if I can handle the test coming back completely clear either.
“How you doing sweetie?” she inquires, still watching the testing equipment. The printer is steadily working. I think its been 5 minutes; Maybe 10.
“Everything thing feels like it’s still moving.” It’s true–eyes open or closed I don’t feel like I am still, laying on a non-mobile bed. I actually get this feeling a lot–after the car stops, after the elevator stops, sometimes just laying in bed or sitting in a chair. I don’t tell her that though, it didn’t really dawn on me.
I think about the tests I read about online, which stand you up for up to 45 minutes if you don’t faint, and administer a medication to alter your blood pressure if nothing happens after that. Clearly that isn’t going to happen today. On one hand I am relieved, because I don’t think I could stand for another 20 minutes; but on the other hand I’m kind of disappointed that the test may not have been thoroughly completed. Partially conducted tests, or inappropriately conducted tests, with normal results can be such a barrier to getting further testing or treatment. I’m too tired to protest, or even inquire further though. All I can really think about is curling into a ball.
I lay there for another 10 minutes, I think. Slowly feeling better, at least the world has stopped moving. The nurse asks if I drove myself, and I tell her I did. She tells me she wants me to sit in the cardiac waiting room for a while, until I’m no longer dizzy. There are sodas in the fridge, and peanut butter crackers if I need them. It’s not much, but it is something. I am honestly excited to have some soda. Caffeine is my friend.
Another nurse comes in and tells me to sit up slowly. I laugh and remind her I’m all strapped in and hooked up. She laughs too, then removes my IV, the electrodes, and unstraps me. I ease into a seated position, then let my feet slip onto the floor. Once again, I am thankful for my cane’s steady support when I am dizzy. I lean my weight against it as cross the hall to the waiting room. There is a mini-fridge against the wall that I hadn’t noticed earlier, and I’ve never been happier to see one. I pluck a miniature can of coke from the self. I’m the only one there, so I take my time sipping it and posting a picture to Instagram. The nurses’ office shares a door with the waiting room, and it is ajar. I can hear them discussing a need to revamp the procedures for the tilt-table test; they perform it so infrequently. Once again, I am concerned about the accuracy and completeness of my test, but there is nothing I can do now.
After about 20 more minutes I’m feeling better. My legs are surprisingly sore for just standing, but I’m not feeling dizzy or lightheaded, just exhausted and fatigued. Everything requires so much effort.
I go shopping to distract myself from the possibility of the results showing nothing… but it doesn’t leave my mind, and I anxiously await the report or hearing back from my doctor. Normally I get a copy of the tests raw results (pictures, printouts, etc.) for my binder; I can pour over them while I wait. But no such luck with this one. I just have to wait. And waiting sucks.