While at my annual physical, after I described the shortness of breath, difficulty climbing stairs, etc., my doctor set me up with a very quick, six-second EKG. This surprised me by actually only lasting six seconds. Apparently they can tell a lot in that time. The nurse came in and hooked up several electrodes on my chest and sides, ran the machine and watched the rhythmic line drawn on the paper strip. Then the doctor came back in ad looked at the pattern of blips on the sheet. Yep, I was skipping beats and adding extra beats so this was concerning to say the least. I mean the heart is supposed to be very steady, so an irregular heartbeat can be a sign of trouble. Not too disconcerting, yet, but worth looking further into. She therefore set me up to see a specialist and get what is called a Holter monitor.
At the specialist's office they attached more electrodes to me, and explained how I would need to wear this monitor for three days. Just act normally and return it to them after three days. This devices makes a long-term record of my heart rate so the doctors can get a much more comprehensive look at what it is doing.
I hate treadmill stress tests. I mean really, trying to exercise while hooked to half a dozen electrodes, a beeping monitor, and an IV in my arm is not my idea of fun. Especially being worked to the point of total exhaustion. (I only lasted six minutes so that was embarrassing too). Not only is there the treadmill workout, but they also inject you with a tracer and do an MRI scan before and after the treadmill. The MRI was
A week later I am sitting across from my new cardiologist while he is listening to my heart from every possible angle. He looks over all the previous test results and asks a million questions about how I feel under different situations, any swelling? Do I wake up at night unable to breathe ( I get this one a lot). Then he finally says he thinks he knows what is wrong, and that the irregular electrical system is only a symptom of the real problem, but he needs me to undergo another test to be sure. This one is called a TEE (trans esophageal echo-cardiogram).
This one is not much fun either, but no worse than a colonoscopy. It involves sending a long tube down your esophagus to take pictures of your heart from behind. Apparently the mitral valve is hard to see from the front. To do this, you need the same kind of anesthesia as with the colonoscopy. I honestly don't have any memory of how things went here so I can't be much help. All I do know is that my wife had to drive me home and I slept a lot afterwards. A week later, I was back in the cardiologist's office.