Episode Eight: a diverting medical misadventure


Technicolour yawns and other fluid delights

Warning: if medical details, and snot, vomit and blood bother you, please refrain from reading any further into this blogisode)

As treated fairly briefly in some earlier episodes, medical and health issues tend to become key preoccupations and topics of conversation as we age as gracefully as possible.

I have been subjected to a couple of viruses lately, along with most of the East Coast population it seems. Hence my suffering from  these ailments does not in any way relate to my age it would seem, as there is no ageism for a virus. One was a spectacular (in the worst sense) gastric bug. Feeling pretty unwell, but determined to carry on, I was heading out for a Sydney drinks event I had organised with about 20 film graduates, and an amazing ‘technicolour yawn’ (to use Barry Humphries’ memorable term) happened just outside and then hastily back inside my studio apartment, all over the floor and my lovely clean clothes. No more details are probably necessary, though I have to thank the angel Lucilla for caring for me so wonderfully post the special event. I somehow  managed to stagger to the Hollywood Hotel after changing my clothes and cleaning up what I could. Hopefully none of my former students and colleagues noticed my disarray at the reunion drinks…

On my arrival back in Brisbane several shaky days later, I developed a five-day  head cold, a veritable ‘phlegmorama snotfest’ – call it what you will…(thanks Madam Ping and Savannah for these graphic words describing your own similar symptoms). It is rare to talk openly about bodily fluids ejected from various orifices of the body, thanks to taboos in our culture around such topics, including periods and menopause. I have also suffered an unexpected kind of ‘bloodorama’ from time to inconvenient time in the past six months, ever since a botched gynecological operation and some diffident, unhelpful medical advice. Hopefully all that  unwanted bodily fluid ejection is now almost over, with a second operation looming.

Stressing about the stress test

Prior to the buildup to this second operation, however, I had a big day out like no other. This was not my usual visit to the inner west, where I often meet cousin Joan for a nice chat over a treat at a cafe. Instead, I found myself at a radiology establishment, undergoing a 5-hour medical test scenario. This involved being injected and given radiation and nuclear medical treatment, as well as being strapped to a strange machine that put me in mind of an unusual mix of several sci-fi, pornographic and horror genre films – for instance, Gravity, Solaris and even Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, although maybe I am feverishly conflating this last one with my gynaecological nightmares.

The journey to this stress test, appropriately also known as a ‘torture test’ (according to Wikipedia) was slow, along a long, winding road. A reluctant participant, I had been avoiding having one for a considerable period of time. When, for instance, my former GP didn’t like the type and cost of a particular test that my cardiologist recommended at one part in the saga (it was still experimental and there was no Medicare rebate), I gratefully didn’t go ahead with it, waiting on the sidelines for them to work out a more viable and cheaper alternative, and not putting any pressure on either of them to pursue the ideal type for me – foolishly, of course, as, for all the procrastination time, I was still on the rat poison drug, Warfarin (now at least liberated from this, I am pleased to report).

Finally, with a wondrous, energetic new GP and a reactivated old cardiologist, I was booked in for a heart stress test also known as a myocardial infusion scan. I hasten to add here, upfront, that the exact medical terminology and my understanding of what was going on is a bit scrambled, and could at any time be laughable to an expert.

But, in a way, my layperson’s lack of understanding, and the lack of having been given clear guidelines regarding what was actually going to happen to me, reveal all too clearly that some specialists in particular are very poor communicators, no matter how expert they happen to be in their field. Some medicos must have undergone a kind of ’empathy bypass’ I fear, as seeing such medical challenges from the ignorant patient’s point of view doesn’t seem to occur to them.

In any case,  I tried to prepare properly for this test the day before, by fasting and abstaining from caffeine, alcohol, and so-called beta blockers (whatever they are).  I was, naturally enough, quite apprehensive and stressed by the upcoming stress test, my overwrought state not being helped at all by reading about it online – always a danger, though probably useful at one level. Online details included the following:

  • Stress echocardiogram: An echocardiogram (often called “echo”) is a graphic outline of the heart’s movement. A stress echo can accurately visualize the motion of the heart’s walls and pumping action when the heart is stressed; it may reveal a lack of blood flow that isn’t always apparent on other heart tests.
  • Nuclear stress test: This test helps to determine which parts of the heart are healthy and function normally and which are not. A small amount of radioactive substance is injected into the patient. Then the doctor uses a special camera to identify the rays emitted from the substance within the body; this produces clear pictures of the heart tissue on a monitor. These pictures are done both at rest and after exercise. Using this technique, areas of the heart that have a decreased blood supply can be detected.

Not the radiology waiting room


                                                 Not the radiology waiting room

Acting in my own scifi /horror/porn movie – Sandra Bullock, eat your heart out

I firstly had to change the soundtrack to the early test in an intimidating scifi capsule, where I was tightly bound up like an astronaut about to head off into outer space – although sadly there was no sign of George Clooney. I realized at that point that the requested Radio National program was recounting a detailed tragic story about a dying child. They changed that hastily to ABC classic FM, which was much more soothing. I was asked brightly if I suffered at all from claustrophobia. I said ‘no’ in a rather strangled voice, as already I was feeling the strain of the leather straps holding my arms firmly above my head, and also feeling quite apprehensive about the encircling capsule. For some unknown reason, I had to do this test 4 times rather than twice – usually once for most people at the beginning of the day and once at the end – as somehow the injected drug didn’t take properly within my system. A torture-ama indeed.

The cheery doctor who administered a particularly excuciating 15-minute segment of this ‘torture fest’, turned out to be attached to a notable Rugby Union team, and I received an account of his son’s Grade 8 dance, as well as details about various players’ broken bones from the previous weekend.   I replied lamely to his question about what code I followed – League, of course,  not Union, which seemed to surprise him. The inner west is of course a major stronghold for Union fans, and I must have seemed to be a stray from a different planet.

Prior to getting started on me, he warned that I may suffer a heart attack or a stroke during the treatment. Imminent death warnings are all part of the medical tests and operations scenario, and necessary I suppose. They may well cover the medical establishment from an insurance perspective, but they certainly don’t help reduce the patient’s anxiety level. Even being asked if you are allergic to anything is stressful in itself, as, unbeknownst to me, I may be allergic to some new nuclear drug I had never been given before until that day.

Some drugs…maybe allergic?

Some drugs…maybe allergic?

Of bras, belts, pain and the whole damned thing (ref. the ‘bra-fest’ photo at the top of this episode)

At the end  of the saga, I felt decidedly ‘off colour’, a rather quaint archaic expression that I blurted out to describe to the radiographer how I felt after 5 hours of injections and botched xrays, as well as during the excessive time being encased in the claustrophobic capsule, with my arms uncomfortably laid out flat behind my head, bound down all too firmly by the formidable leather straps. I made a poor attempt at humour at the end, saying that this was a not-at-all pleasurable bondage experience. The radiographer laughed politely – I think she had heard that one many times.


                                                                                  Some possibly benign leather belts…

I also could barely put my bra back on, given that my arms and shoulders ached so much. When asked, at the beginning of the day, if I could take off my bra from under my clothes, I expertly performed this feat, a  piece-of-cake ritual happily enacted usually on arrival home at the end of a long day.

        Aside: A friend tells a very funny story  (with actions) of her doing this in a plane on an uncomfortable long-haul journey to Italy, sitting squeezed up beside a Catholic priest. As she was settling down for the night, she told him to turn the other way and not look while she performed this very female task. He gave a start but quite cheerily obliged…

 The reverse at the end did not work out so well for me. Firstly I became strangely aware that it is well nigh impossible to put a bra on under other clothing, a bizarre fact that hadn’t consciously occurred to me before – I must have been in some kind of delirium at this point to even consider it. Just taking off my sweater revealed to me how shaky I was and how sore my arms were, after all the heavy-duty injections and the overdose of  leather bondage I had endured. For many days afterwards,  my bruised injected hand still throbbed. And as for my dignity – well you have to leave that at the door with your undergarments during any test-orama.


7 thoughts on “Episode Eight: a diverting medical misadventure

  1. After enduring such awful situations, I can only hope the outcome/s were well worth the trauma. One thing’s for sure: you made my regular colonoscopy seem like a holiday with those sensational sandwiches afterwards. But then there was the internal ultrasound, performed by Doogie Howser who just happened to look like the proverbial Greek Adonis (despire being just 12 years old) … mind you, he had the bedside manner of a puffer fish. Sigh. Keep the blog coming!! Love, Ade x

  2. Well dear girl. After an awful April/May the threads of winter will bring little showers of happiness. So be it.

  3. Thank you Helen for capturing so eloquently the indignity of medical misadventure. Really glad to read that you are off the warfarin! Love Ann

  4. Dear Helen What an ordeal you have been through – you poor dear. How very stressful. I hope you are now on the road to a good recovery.

    Amanda and family have booked their plane back to Napier on Sunday 29th of June. They are able to fly from the Sunshine Coast which is great. Their packers come on Wednesday and they will be coming to live here until the 29th while their furniture gets transported to NZ.

    We have our last Peregian Market on Sunday which is a bit sad as I have enjoyed going. Susan Francis usually comes to see us but she will be in Sydney but Margaret Wilkie is coming to  coffee and a new friend Rita who loves Amanda’s stall.

    Well you take care my love. Do some resting if that is possible!! Love Pam xx


  5. Such a clever look at your medical misadventures. You should send it to medical magazine.Hopefully it will all be behind you soon.

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