Monday, March 30, 2009

Testing Times


Recently in my pursuit for a kidney transplant I've had lung and heart tests which confirmed what I already knew; I can breathe and my heart beats.


The breathing capacity test took a while to get used to. I had to close my mouth around a rubber mouth piece. (much like I imagine scuba divers do - though I only ever seen it in the movies) Then with a rubber peg clipped on my nose to seal that off, I was told to "breathe normally." I have to say, this is not the way I normally breathe.

Once I had that right I was to take a deep and blast it out. Exhaling forcefully is simply not good enough. This process was more strenuous than I imagined especially when I was told to keep going well after I had run out of air.

That was the easy bit. For the strength/pressure I was placed in a clear telephone booth; same mouth piece, same nose peg. This I'm told is to exclude any changes in external pressure on my chest.

The test is sufficiently sensitive that if a door opens in the outside room even though I'm the booth, I have to start again. OK I'm all set. I have instructions coming through a tiny/tinny speaker in the upper corner.

"Breathe Normally." I do - then the air is shut off.
"Keep Breathing." Gasp! my mouth comes off the mouthpiece.
"No, no, you must not let any air in, try again."

Pardon? What part of breathing don't they understand? Obviously the part that talks about taking in air.

Heart stress

The heart stress test was almost pleasant by comparison. Mostly it involves lying flat on your back in a darkened room for fifteen minutes while the machine does all the work. There was of course a brisk walk on the treadmill while wired but I'm getting ahead of my story. This took a whole day and then some.

24 hours before I had to stop taking one of my hypertensive drugs (those meant to keep my blood pressure down to assist my kidney) and stop with any coffee, tea or chocolate. What no coffee? I'm F.U. Iced Coffee addict, I require one a day or I'll die. I was scheduled for two test 8:30 am before the treadmill (heart unstressed) and 1:30pm post workout. That was the plan. When does anything go to plan?

The first part involves getting injected with radioactive tracer. They leave the access point in so they do it again when your on the treadmill. While I was waiting I was given a glass of milk - I'm not sure what this does but its part of the procedure. Another woman in the waiting had the same thing a few minutes before me. When mine came she followed it and we exchanged a knowing glance - someone else in the same boat. Salute'.

In due course I did my fifteen minutes on the table with the machine incrementally creeping around me, my arms uncomfortably stretched above my head out of the way.

"Sorry, we have to do it again, we missed the bottom of your lungs. Have you had a chest X-ray?"

"Er- no."

"We'll get that done in between."

While they set that up I slip out and tell the wife not to wait. The plans we had for the time between appointments is shot. The x-rays also required two attempts, I must have long lungs they can't seem to fit them in a single picture.

Back on the slab I use the time productively dreaming up where next to go in my novel. The fifteen minutes is over too soon for my mind but not for my stretched arms; they ache.

Arriving at treadmill I spot the woman who preceded me. She is sitting in a wheelchair. "You don't actually need it" she says as I pass and the nurses chuckle. This is not a reassuring start.

Now I get shaved, little circular patches on my chest and abdomen ready for the electrode patches. One part of the monitor is belted around my waist and multiple leads attached. I'm wired and ready to run. The music starts and I begin to walk, big strides uphill (the bed of the ever rotating treadmill is tilted to about 15 degrees) after a couple of minutes the pace picks up, and again a couple of minutes after that. The target is to last seven minutes without collapsing in a heap or getting pulled backwards off the infernal machine.

"Tell us when you think you can only last another minute"

What? How the hell can I know how long I can go before I get there. I nod and say nothing, anything else is waste of breath, breath I now need.

There is a reason for the question. The doctor is standing alongside with the syringe plugged into the access ready to inject me with the tracer one minute before my heart reaches maximum stress. Fortunately I'm doing alright, it's my kidneys that are stuffed my hearts OK.

I reach the six minute mark and they inject. 60 seconds to go. I'm breathing heavy, my heart is pounding, my legs are surprisingly fine, the monitor is showing heaps of red lines (which is apparently good) 10 seconds. Im struggling but having come this far I ain't gonna quit.

The machine slows, I am helped to wobble over to the bed and sit awhile. Unplugged and re-dressed I sit with relief in the wheelchair. She was right I don't need it but ... I'm wheeled back to the scanning bed. This time it is difficult to stay focused on plotting, I doze instead.


There is yet another test a few days later, an ultrasound of my heart. Lying on my side in the darkened room watching the monitor I get a sense of what it must be like for a pregnant woman looking at her unborn child. Within the trapezoidal section of bluish light is a pulsing hole, part of my beating heart. Measurements are being taken of the size of the hole as it opens and closes. The beat goes on.

All this to see if I have the stamina to be the recipient of donor kidney

What if I don't?

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