Special to 0-A News
from Walter Albritton
for January 8, 2000

Stress test produces anxious thoughts and sweet relief

In early December Dr. Mike Lisenby concluded my annual physical exam by quietly recommending that I arrange for a stress test in January. His reasoning was that it would help us to know if there were any problems with my heart.

I left his office with questions bubbling up in my brain. Did he suspect something? Was there anything he was not telling me? Was it really necessary? After all, I had told him, I had a stress test 10 years ago. I decided not to worry since he had assured me that there was no cause for alarm.

Since I never like to put off the difficult, I scheduled the test with Dr. Ross Davis for the morning of January 4. He had handled my first test and I was glad that he would be doing this one. I would be in good hands.

Still the mind plays tricks on us. Over the holidays I kept thinking about the upcoming test. When I mentioned it to a few people, they said, "Oh, what's the problem?" There is no problem, I assured them, but I wondered if I was right.

As the day of the test drew nearer my anxiety increased. I began to imagine all kinds of results. I could see myself falling off the treadmill in a heap, struggling to breath, while hearing the doctor frantically shouting "Code Blue" or whatever they say when a crisis develops. I could hear the doctor saying, "Calm down, preacher, everything is going to be fine; we just need to rush you upstairs for emergency heart surgery. Sign these papers so we won't be held responsible if you don't make it."

When my imagination teams up with fear, I hate what goes on in my mind. I try to give myself a dose of positive thinking and relax, but my mind keeps on racing, getting up a full head of steam. I could hear the doctor saying to a nurse, "Call his wife and tell her to get over here as fast as she can."

Then the doctor says to me, "Pastor, I hate to tell you, but every artery to your heart is clogged. There is a 90 per cent blockage in each one. So we have no time to waste; we need to arrange for heart surgery as soon as the operating room is available."

I am too weak to answer so I just nod my head in the affirmative. What choices do I have any way? The die is cast. My goodness, why did I think of that phrase! Die! Is this God's way of letting me know that the gates are opening wide and the angels are getting ready to welcome me home? All my life I have known I was going to die, but I never thought it would be on the operating table with doctors and nurses standing around in dismay saying, "Surely this man has a heart somewhere!" They keep looking in vain, digging around in the gobs of fat and hot air and wondering if maybe my heart has slipped down into one of my hollow legs.

But when anxiety grabs you by the throat, it can get worse before it gets better. My mind raced on and I heard the doctor say as I was waking up after surgery, "Pastor, your heart was in such poor shape that it quit on us. Since there was no time to find a suitable heart donor, and your wife refused to give you hers, we decided to install a pig's heart. You know, we have had good luck with those pig valves so we transplanted a whole pig's heart into your chest as an experiment."

Was I supposed to look relieved, I wondered. After all, I was alive so apparently the pig's heart was working. I asked, "How am I doing?"

"So far so good," the doctor replied. "It took us awhile to find a large enough hog. You know they don't grow hogs as big as you are, but we finally found one that weighed over 200 pounds. The heart seems to be working real well. The only thing we are concerned about is that oinking sound you keep making now and then. But we think in time, with the help of a speech therapist, you can learn how to make "oink" sound like "glory" and people will think you are just praising God."

As you can tell, my imagination was in high gear when I arrived at East Alabama Medical Center Tuesday morning. The good people at the front desk made me feel welcome and soon Liz escorted me to the holding pen managed by Robert Wilkerson and his gracious assistant Nedra Wright. They quickly fastened 19 wires to my chest area, strapped the blood pressure tester around my left arm, and put me on the treadmill.

I laughed at the cartoon stuck on the wall for the benefit of their victims. The cartoon showed a man standing on a treadmill smiling, while a nurse was saying to him, "That's very good, John; now let's see how well you can do when we turn it on."

Robert got the treadmill moving faster and faster while asking me often, "How are you doing?" Wanting him to think I was strong as an ox, and not about to be bothered by a little walking on a treadmill, I kept telling him that I was fine. After a few minutes he said, "Stay with us now; we are going to let you go a little faster," and he did.

By now I was so winded I could hardly reply to his questions. Then to my great relief, he said, "I believe we have all the information we need, so we will let you slow down and stop." Robert and Nedra will never know how happy I was to be able to walk back to the table to sit down. I had not collapsed in a heap on the floor. They were not shouting "Code Blue" and rushing me into surgery.

Robert assured me that the test had revealed no problems that he could see, but that Doctor Davis would send a report to Doctor Lisenby. I have yet to learn about the good doctor's findings, but I assume "No news is good news."

As I walked back to my truck, I felt the sweet relief of knowing that my worst nightmare was just that, a figment of my fear and imagination. I was not staying around for a heart cath or the dreaded heart transplant. Now I felt guilty about having been scared.

But if I happen to see Ross Davis talking to a Lee County hog farmer, I am not staying around to get anxious, I am moving to Elmore County that afternoon, and leaving no forwarding address!