Thursday, June 16, 2011

On being 80 with a stress test

It is not for nothing that they are called waiting rooms, those rooms with chairs and old magazines at offices of doctors, dentists and in hospitals. There is extra waiting time, as I
have just been reminded, when you have a cardiovascular Cardiolite stress test. It’s an interesting four-hour experience. How I managed on the treadmill also seems interesting.

I get this test every couple of years because of that 1989 cardiac arrest that left a permanent scar on my heart, somewhat impairing its operation, pumping less than a normal amount of blood with each stroke.

The four hours are not at all unpleasant. At 80, I have a well-develop skill that allows me to make use of at least part of that waiting time. Much more pleasant are the attractive young women nurses and technicians, the only attandantss involved in procedure, except for my cardiologist, Dr. Zavary, at the final stage. The young ladies seem to reserve their friendliest smiles for harmless old geezers, which I suspect they might be reluctant to share with less young Lotharios.

Here’s the drill.

Check in at the Ross Memorial Hospital. Wait for the first step, in which an attendant injects the Cardiolite into my veins. Back to the waiting room while this tracer makes its progress through my miles of blood vessels. I put the wait to good use. Stretching out my legs, folding my hands in my lap, I lean back with my head against the wall, and have a little sleep. A powernap. I must be an inspiration. When I awake, I see a couple of other guys, younger than I, sleeping soundly. Is powernapping contagious?

Next step. Lie flat on a narrow bed for 10 minutes while an overhead “camera” takes pictures of whatever the Cardiolite is doing in my veins. On to the stress test on the treadmill.  The speed increases in stages. After treading on the treadmill comes another injection of Cardiolite, then back to the waiting room while this added tracer traces its way through the blood vessels. I’m instructed to drink at least two glasses of water, but I don’t have to hold it. I’m told that if I feel the need, “It’s okay to pee.”

I’m already napped out, so I look for recipes in back copies of Home and Garden, and Canadian Living. Almost all the recipe pages are torn out. Will any of them actually be used? It’s so much easier to collect recipes than to cook them.

Back to the overhead camera for another 10 minutes of picture taking, and I’m finished except for the Ecocardiogram at Dr. Zavary’s office, which completes the four hours.

Birthdays are better than New Year Days for making resolutions, taking stock, and looking ahead. Birthdays are the real New Year Days in your life. This seems especially so at the start of a 90th decade. More uncertainty looms than at the start of earlier decades.

My life is crammed with activity, more than I can handle, more books still to write than I have years left to do them. I want to keep on doing what I call my work—reading, researching, writing, earning. More importantly, I want to be an active helpmate for Joan, my helpmate for 59 years.

A newspaper item informs me that the abilities of major league baseball players start to decline at about age 38 and falls off the cliff after 40. Exceptions are mostly attributed to those who used illegal steroids to extend their careers.

So after 40 years of declining ability, it would seem that we 80-year-old folk should be pretty feeble. Which we are not.

Yet there’s no denying slowing down. No matter how hard we exercise or how much we watch our diets, the body moves a little slower and the brain ticks a little slower. Endurance might seem okay. We might be able to walk as far, but it takes a little longer.

A trio who have sailed through their 90th decade, inspire and motivate me with hopeful expectation for mine. Recently I mentioned to my barber that I had just turned 80. A lady waiting for her turn in the barber chair, exclaimed, “I celebrated my 90th birthday on Sunday.” She looked in marvelous health, which she attributes to exercise, particularly when she was a young athlete. A friend, barely into her 100th decade, keeps in shape by a careful diet and daily walks (outdoors if weather permits, otherwise on a treadmill), and keeps up with the world emailing and cruising the web. Another oldster I recently met keeps in shape in part by taking care of a large lawn and a large garden on his acreage. “Use it or loose it,” he says of his muscles.

And perhaps it’s possible to not only slow down the slowing down, but even reverse it —at least a little, and temporarily. I say this because of my stress test. I won’t get the full results for a few weeks when I meet with Dr. Zavary. But I know how I did on the treadmill. Two years ago I managed to stay on the accelerating machine for nine minutes and 30 seconds. This time, without difficulty, I managed 10 minutes and 15 seconds.

Why had I seemingly turned back the clock by 45 seconds, as it were? Why, in the past two years,  had I not stumbled further into dottiness and enfeeblement? Was it because I had stepped up my exercise pace a notch, especially on walks as long as few to as many as 28 miles? Was it because Joan and I had made our already heart-healthy diets even more focused and healthier? Was it because I’ve been a year without any statin medication, of which the known possible side effects include muscle loss?

Who knows?

TAGS. Seniors. Stress test. Cardiovascular system. Fitness. Exercise. Diet.


  1. Thanks Earl,
    Nice reading! Awe, the Stress Test(s):
    In the Dr's. office, RMH, on the weather channel, CNN & CBC... Stress! It's what life's about!
    That some folks have passed their tests a hundred, and more, times, seemingly with ease, encourages guys like me, in their late 70's, to buck-up.
    Life doesn't have to end with one survived heart attack!!
    Keep on writing Earl!!
    Roger (URL in the making)

  2. So happy to see that you are doing so well Earl.You never write about your children. How are they?

  3. Glad you're living strong and healthy Earl. Making these minor adjustments to our exercise and eating habits makes a huge difference.Just like the size of one pound of fat. I'm also stepping up my habits and planning to get a livestrong treadmill to share with the family.