Day 3, April 26th – The ‘I hate Cardiac CT Scans’ Day

Forgive me; I suspect tonight’s entry will be considerably shorter than the first two. Fact is, I am spent; exhausted; utterly drained; or, as English readers would say, completely knackered. Today’s schedule involved only two procedures, neither of them particularly pleasant.
I was up at five to prepare for a 7am cardiac MRI appointment. The nurse put an IV line in and I was taken in a wheelchair on a 20-minute ride into what seemed like the bowels of the hospital. I was half-asleep and not really paying attention, but I’m pretty sure we went underground. We passed some building work, must have turned 25 corners and ended up in a place where everyone seemed to have a different accent. ‘Wow, we must have gone a long way,’ I thought.
It felt quite weird to be so far from the rest of the hospital. I thought this must be where the screaming goes on, where people’s cries for help can’t be heard. The MRI staff though were just as expected – friendly and professional, even at seven in the morning. Cris got me ready while Marcia helped me through all the paper-work. I kept asking her inane questions because I liked listening to her brilliant accent. She sounded like Rosemary the receptionist/dispatcher at the police station where Number One Super Guy Hong Kong Phooey worked as a mild-mannered janitor…’Hello, hello?”
I usually look forward to MRIs of which I usually have one a year to check my brain for new multiple sclerosis lesions. I can lie still and sleep for an hour, oblivious of the loud and repetitive sounds going on all the time.
But this one was different. Cris issued breathing instructions throughout the entire procedure, asking me through the headphones either to ‘take a breath, blow it out, stop breathing (for eight seconds)’, or ‘take short, shallow breaths (for 20 seconds)’. Obviously I had to remain conscious and do as Cris instructed or the images would not have been want Dr. Introne wanted. Cris also pushed gadolinium, which is used as a contrast agent, in through the IV line from her chair in the room next door.
The hour went by very slowly and my back was in a lot of pain which made it the most unpleasant MRI I’ve ever had. That was no one’s fault, of course. I just had to stay awake and my back would have hurt no matter what position it was in. Whatever, I was not unhappy when Cris announced we were done and I could breathe normally and move about a bit. When I came out of the tube, I immediately brought my knees to my chest which felt wonderful. But Cris still needed to help me up off the table.
She took me back to the waiting room where I watched the ESPN highlights of last night’s Real Madrid v Bayern Munich Champions League semi-final (I don’t think Chelsea will beat the Germans in the final) then promptly fell asleep. I think I had been asleep for an hour when Marcia came and collected me for the Cardiac CT Scan – ‘hello, hello, wakey, wakey, anyone there?’
Things hadn’t gone well so far this morning, but they were about to get worse. Marcia discovered my IV line was no longer any good. She tried pumping some new liquid into it to flush it but felt a lot of resistance. She had to take it out and put another in on the other arm. This one didn’t work either so she went to the radiology department to find someone who outs IV lines in all day.
This lady found a vein and inserted a line without any problem. She then covered it with some tape to hold it in place. Just as she got up to leave she said ‘That’s going to hurt – not the needle, taking the tape off.”
Of all the pokes, prods, pills, clinics, procedures, surveys, scans, and tests I’ve ever had in a hospital or doctor’s office, it is the removal of the IV that I fear most. I think I can tolerate discomfort pretty well, but I dread the moment the nurse tries ripping the tape off my arm. It is excruciating…that is to say, bloody painful.
Anyway, I got sort of comfortable on the moving bed and went into the scanner. Again I was asked to alter my breathing pattern, then after a while was given a pill that dissolved under my tongue and made my blood vessels show up better. It also produced an almighty headache which I was told usually took three minutes to disappear but which stuck around for at least an hour. As well as the headache-inducing tablet, an X-ray dye contrast agent was pumped in through the IV and produced a very unpleasant burning sensation predominantly in my ears.
Again, I was thrilled when the technician said we had finished. He walked me back to the waiting room from where a porter took me back to my room. It was 2pm, and to be honest I felt awful. I hadn’t eaten all day, the headache was still present and I was very tired. Back in the room I fell asleep for two hours. I woke up to find Michelle and the kids in the room. Had it been anyone else, I might have asked them, as politely as I could manage, to leave. But I hadn’t been with them for a couple of days and was very excited to see them now.
The thought of the IV removal still lingered in the back of my head though, and I sort of froze when the nurse came in to remove it. ‘Be gentle with me,’ I pleaded.
As luck would have it, she had found some adhesive-remover and took the tape off without too much bother. I wouldn’t want to have it done every day, but it was 1000% better than  expected and another reason why I love the NIH.
The nurse left and Dr. Introne came in with Dr. Siebel to give me the wrap-up (I have some more tests tomorrow, but Dr. Introne won’t be here).
Together the doctors took me through their findings, explaining the results of the urine test, eye exam, blood test, EKG, pulmonary function test, skeletal survey, and Dexa scan in a great detail. It was revealing and very useful, if a little overwhelming. The vast majority of the results were encouraging said Dr. Introne, but my blood pressure was still a concern. (Fortunately, tonight I have had two very much improved readings.)
Dr. Introne and Dr. Siebel were in the room for maybe an hour and, just before leaving, were joined by Dr. Douglas Rosing, head of the Cardiac Consultation Service at the National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute of the NIH. He and two of his staff had come to talk blood pressure.
When all the doctors had left (about 6pm), I was able to have a shower at last, have some lunch (followed an hour and a half later by dinner), and sit down with Michelle and the kids who had spent the day in Bethesda, Sam doing his homework in preparation for his return to school. Tomorrow they are off to the Treasury to see how money is made. I told Maddie to stuff as many $100 bills into her pockets as she could.
‘But you can’t Daddy,’ she said. ‘They’ve got cameras.’

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9 Responses to Day 3, April 26th – The ‘I hate Cardiac CT Scans’ Day

  1. Joe B says:

    Here Tony, I love the writing it’s really a pleasure to read and makes me feel like I’m there with you. It doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun but from what you’ve said about AKU in the past certainly sounds like it’s needed and that hopefully with some of the excercises and suggestions from Dr Monique (she sounds great) you will personally get some benefit as well as your contribution for the greater good.
    I hope they leave some blood for you and that Michelle, Sam and Maddie are all very well and that off the back of your efforts they find a quick and pain free cure for AKU and that you get a prize for a great blog and being by far the best Englishman in the US.
    Love you

  2. Pete Ermie says:

    Tony-Hopefully the worst is over and they will learn something that will make your quality of life improve. I too remember it as an exhausting but productive experience. Are you going to be able to enjoy a little sight seeing in DC before you leave?

    • tonydear says:

      Peter, we actually arrived four days before I was admitted so we did quite a bit of sight-seeing – White House, Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, Washington Monument, Capitol, Air and Space Museum. And since I’ve been at the NIH, my wife and kids have been to the Natural History Museum and the Treasury. We will all definitely need the weekend to recover from what has been a very tiring ‘vacation’.

  3. Denise Higgins says:

    You are brilliant, Tony. I mean that in both the British and American definitions! Your writing has brought back a lot of memories about my trips to the NIH. I have never experienced more thorough, exhausting and informative medical examinations. I hope they figure out a ‘fix’ for your high blood pressure. Dr. Perry is always my favorite part of the NIH trip. I agree with you that she is not only knowledgeable but so attentive and caring. Did you have a consult with the Pain team? Have a restful weekend!

    • tonydear says:

      Thank you Denise. We’re home now, exhausted naturally. It will take a couple of days to get back in any sort of rhythm. The last day was perhaps the busiest of all. But no, I didn’t see the pain team. Hope you aren’t in any…pain I mean.

  4. Marco Luijten says:

    Good point Denise: a pain consult has been on all of my schedules. And I’ve almost no pain at all. One time I was nauseous and they (one of the pain-doctors) gave me an acupressure-arm-band thing. It realy helped a lot. Just another example of how they try to help you in every way they can.

    • tonydear says:

      I’ve often considered asking my family doctor to refer me to a pain specialist. But I’ve held back for some reason, probably thinking they would just fill me with more pills. It sounds like you would recommend seeing one, Marco.

      • Marco Luijten says:

        I think you’ve heard that correctly, Tony. Like I mentioned before, I’m lucky to have just a little pain. My response to the question: what’s your painlevel at the moment on a scale from 1 to 10 (you must have heard that question a couple of times last week) was always 1 or 1,5. I’ve heard other patients response with numbers as high as 7 or 8. What I mean to say is that it also depends on how much pain you have. I’ve seen other patients at the NIH come back from their pain consult with usefull advice or gadgets. A special glove to wear at night to ease the pain in one’s hand. A special little thin pillow (with warm water circulating through it (like your central heating at home)) to ease neckpain.
        So there are lots of options beside pills.
        I hope this is helpfull to you. And sorry for my English. There must be loads of mistakes. I’ve only one excuse: I’m Dutch.

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