Everything is wrong with me
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
the stress test
Last Friday was a pretty normal day. I woke up, showered, went to work, went to a cardiologist’s to get a stress test, came home, got drunk, went out, passed out. Standard really.

Except, of course, for the stress test (I was hoping that you’d pick up on that in the middle of the normal activities, but I think that’s giving you too much credit).

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this once, twice or maybe three hundred times before, but I am a hard-core hypochondriac. It’s a pretty big part of my life. If I had to make a list of my hobbies, it’d go something like:

- Music
- Hot chicks
- Having a blog
- Drinking lots of fucking beers
- Obsessing about my heartbeat and my death, including when I’m going to die, how I’m going to die, and whether I’m going to die in the next five to ten minutes because my chest hurts and I’m not sure if I’m imagining it or not but I feel kinda dizzy and sweaty and I know from webmd that these are signs of a heart attack and oh my god is that a shooting pain in my left arm or is it just in my head god I hate myself
- Kickin’ it

It’s an awful thing, to be a hypochondriac. Sometimes it can dominate your life. There are certain things that I can’t do when I’m feeling hypochondriacal, and sadly this includes taking drugs and abusing alcohol. Figures. Thanks again God, for everything. You really did a good job on me. Ass.

It comes and goes though. Some days, I’ll feel indestructible. Some days, I’ll wake up and eat a whole pizza, go back to bed, get my heart racing in some robbery or other felony, and not think twice about it. Other days, I’ll wake up with a pain in my back and convince myself that it’s a tumor and I only have three hours to achieve my life-long goal: to get it on with two chicks at once in a fancy hotel room with a waterfall while Elvis Costello sings and plays guitar and Mike Schmidt takes batting practice and there are big plates of spaghetti and meatballs everywhere and I get a perfect score on the SAT.

But in the summer, especially this summer, it’s pretty bad. First and most obviously, it’s hot, and this summer has been brutal in this department. I spend all of the day and most of the night sweating and panting (how many of you have boners right now?). Second, I like to listen to my iPod and walk around NYC. This is basically the only "exercise" I get, and I can’t do it when the heat index is 102°. Third, summer is great for, "Since it’s 96°, I’m going to get a pint of ice cream and eat it in the air conditioning! I don’t care if it’s 9am! It’s hot out! Maybe I’ll get one for later too! Or two! I love it! Fuck yeah!" So that doesn’t help either.

And then there was what we call in the entertainment industry the "inciting incident": the crazy heart palpitations I had while playing with my aunt’s dog a few weeks ago (good band name: My Aunt’s Dog).

But I figured that this time I’d do something about it. So I called my doctor and told him I wanted a stress test. This was ballsy for me. See, hypochondriacs are usually cowards. Usually, when forced to talk to a doctor about my hypochondria, I pull the tough guy routine:

Doctor: "So you want to talk about how you’re feeling?"
Me: "Yeah, no, it’s nothing. It’s just stupid. It’s just that I’m under a lot of stress and all."
Doctor: "What do you do for a living again?"
Me: "Um, I do marketing for a law firm."
Doctor: [unimpressed] "Oh."
Me: "But I’ve been under stress in a lot of other ways. It’s just that, um, my gym is closing, so that’s got me pretty bummed out. Also, um, world events. World events have me bummed out. But overall I’m fine."
Doctor: "So when you left a message on my office voicemail at 4am on Tuesday sobbing about how your chest hurt – that’s because your gym is closing?"
Me: "Yeah, I’m really attached to it, so it’s stressing me out. And world events too. That shit is messed up."

But this time there was no backing down. I called him and said I wanted to get a stress test. He acquiesced (easily, I might add; perhaps he’s getting tired of dealing with me) and then prescribed me 100 more Xanax! JACKPOT!!!

So this was all starting well. I made the appointment and on the day of, brought in a little gym bag into work with me with a change of clothes. I was ready for this stress test.

Though I had never had one before, I had a pretty good idea about what a stress test was. Basically, they hook up all this crap on you to measure your heart rate while you walk and maybe even run on a treadmill. The "run" part is a problem. Oh, and you’re shirtless. Um, yeah, problem.

There are very, very few things that I never do. Even though I despise any unnecessary activity, every once in a while I’ll be overcome by a desire to use my body for more than consumption and self-induced orgasms and my roommate Brian and I will throw the old pigskin around (of course, this lasts all of about three minutes before I need some Gatorade and Brian needs a cigarette). Even though I am terrible with women and entering them, sometimes I do get laid (or rather, sometimes in the past I have gotten laid). Even though God and I are on not-so-good terms, I still sack up and go to church occasionally (though admittedly only to spy on Him).

But two things that I never ever do are a) run and b) be shirtless. And this stress test required both. Yikes.

I showed up at the place and thankfully it was empty. I came in with a cocky attitude, because I had an excuse. I’m ashamed to admit it, but my excuse was "My girlfriend made me do this."

Yes, apparently we are in junior high, because I invented a girlfriend to make me look better in the eyes of others. Only in this case I’m not trying to look cooler by telling the kids in algebra about my camp girlfriend who lives upstate; I’m telling the nurses and doctors of Manhattan Cardiac about my overly cautious girlfriend to sound saner. I have come so far in the past fifteen years. I wonder if I still have my therapist’s number?

So that was my story and I stuck with it. I was admitted to an examination room where a guy and a girl (who were nurses or medical assistants or whatever) asked me a battery of medical history questions. As always, there was a sore spot.

Guy nurse: "Do you drink?"
Me: [wincing] "Lil’ bit."
Guy nurse: "Do you smoke?"
Me: "Smoke what?"
Guy nurse: [looking at me] "Cigarettes?"
Me: "No, no cigarettes."
Guy nurse: "Anything else?"
Me: "No, no. No."

God I love lying.

Then they explained the procedure. They were going to put some thingees on me – I’m not sure what they’re called, but they’re little suction cup-like things that you see put on people in hospital dramas. Then they were going to put my height and weight into the computer to determine my average heart rate. Then I’d get on the treadmill to slowly build toward that heart rate while they monitored what my heart was doing. I would only be on the treadmill eight to ten minutes. Then the fun began.

"Do you have a hairy chest, sir?"

Not want you want to hear from a guy in his late-twenties wearing a white coat, but them’s the breaks. I answered, "Oh god, yes." That got a slight chuckle from the female nurse, who, of course, was pretty good-looking. The male nurse went on, "Well sir I’m going to have to shave certain areas of it, because if hair gets trapped under the [thingees], it will throw off the readings. Please remove your shirt."

I did. And for the next two solid minutes, this guy shaved patches out of my fucking chest hair. Good lord.

It was quite an interesting two minutes. The guy nurse was shaving me while the girl nurse watched him, while I sat upright on the little reclining chair you sit on with the wrinkly paper, thinking, "Think happy thoughts - think happy thought - think happy thoughts." The silence was very uncomfortable, so I started talking about my "girlfriend". "Man, my girlfriend is going to get a kick out of this!", I said as the guy continued to shave me. He didn't say anything, but the girl nurse sort of gave a smile. I kept staring at the wall and after what felt like a day and a half, it was over. I now had two hairless holes on my chest, one hairless hole on each side of my neck/shoulder area, and one hairless line under my left man-boob, from my side to the middle of my chest. Sweet. Super sweet even.

So he threw away the little disposable razor and grabbed some goo. The goo, he explained, was to keep the thingees on during the test. So he put some goo in his hand, smoothed it over his hands, and started rubbing this goo all over my shirtless, fat, partially shaved chest. GOOD LORD. Again, this man was rubbing goo all over my patchily-haired flabby torso. Quite an erotic scene.

By the time that was over, I was getting confused and nauseous, so I didn't even noticed when he put the suction cup thingees on me. When that was done, we walked into the room with the treadmill.

Before I got on the treadmill, they strapped some sort of battery pack on me, wrapping it around my body so that it sat in the middle of my stomach. This battery pack was the nerve center of the device - all the suction cups were hooked into it, and it in turn was hooked into a big-ass computer that showed my heart rate and my heart beat. Once everything was securely fastened, I got on the treadmill.

When they said I'd be on the treadmill eight to ten minutes, I thought, "That's nothing. It'll be over in no time." I could NOT be more wrong here. Eight to ten minutes, when you're half-naked and partially shaved walking on a treadmill with shit and wires all over your body in front of people you don't know, is a long-ass time. Not only that, but unlike the gym, which has music playing or tvs around or at least the hum of the other exercise machines, this room was completely silent, save for my treadmill. The two nurses didn't speak, I didn't speak. Just a hum and me panting while they stared at the machine.

After about two minutes on the treadmill, another nurse walked in. I had seen her earlier, when I was in the waiting room. She walked into the office and into the back in plain clothes, and I thought, "Please don't let her attend to me" because she was good-looking. Sure enough, here she was again in her nurse's uniform, saying hello to me and monitoring my heartbeat. I had been only slightly sweaty before, but now it was like I just got out of a pool.

As an aside, I should take a minute to explain my back hair situation. I, Jason Mulgrew, have back hair. I am not ashamed of this (lie). I don't wax it or shave it. To get it waxed would be too embarrassing. There's no way I'm walking into some salon to have some chick rip hair out of my back. And I don't shave it either, because it would only grow back thicker. Also, if I know anything about women, it's that they don't like stubble, be it on a man's face, chest, back, whatever (though I'm still not sure if they like back hair apparently). Also again, though Brian drinks a lot, I don't think he drinks enough to shave my back for me.

However, I usually groom the back hair with a device I invented. The device consists of my beard trimmer (without its attachment) fastened to a ruler with rubber bands. This allows me to trim the back hair into oblivion without removing it entirely via waxing or shaving. Also, I can reach my entire back without assistance because of this device. This is probably the greatest idea/invention I've ever had.

My beard trimmer is rechargeable, like a cell phone. I recently lost this charger, so when it ran out of juice, that was it. My beard grew thick and I had to trim it with scissors. My back hair went unchecked and grew to Bigfoot-esque proportions. There was simply nothing I could do about it prior to my appointment. So as I ran on the treadmill, I was basically a giant, sweaty ball of hair, except where I had been shaved, of course.

[And if that info about the back hair was too much for you, know that I, um, was lying. Yeah, that's it - I was just kidding. At any rate, I found the beard trimmer charger this weekend, charged it up, and now the back hair has been neatly groomed. Thank you.]

So the new attractive nurse looks over my sheet and asks me how old I am. I say that I just turned 26. Without skipping a beat, the male nurse says, "He doesn't look 26, does he?"

Thanks dude. I'm right here, and I'm not deaf. Yeah, I know I'm hairy, but I can't help it. Guess what? In addition to being hairy, I'm also fucking famous. So suck it. At least I don't shave body hair and rub goo on fat hypochondriacs for a living, cocksucker.

Fortunately, my time on the treadmill was coming to an end. The average heart rate for someone my size is 164 beats per minute, and we were just about there. I started making myself panicky to raise my heart rate, thinking about werewolves, sharks, black people and other things that make me scared, and got to 164. At that point, the cute nurse said to her colleagues, "I want to get him to 185 to make sure."

In a way, this was reassuring. They obviously could tell I was crazy - what 26 year-old gets a stress test? So I thought it was nice of her to verbalize that we're were going to go that extra mile (literally) to make sure I was sound as a pound.

But on the other hand, I was sweating like a pig and just about tired of briskly walking half-naked in front of these strangers in this silent room. At that moment, the treadmill kicked it up a notch and I had to actually start running to keep up with it. I watched the machine as my heart rate went up...166...168...171...175...

Finally it got to 185 and the treadmill started slowing down. I was panting heavily at this point and just wanted a big bowl of ice cream. I sat down on the wrinkly paper and as the guy nurse was removing my battery pack and suction cups, he said, "Well, it appears that everything is fine. No abnormalities, no stress, nothing unusual. The doctor will review the readings and get the results to your doctor on Monday." He directed me to the first room, where I got dressed, made my co-payment and left and I could not have gotten out of there quicker. Done and done.

The good news: immediately after it was over, I felt 100% better and less hypochondriacal. There is nothing that beats hypochondria like real medicine, and even I could tell there was nothing wrong with my heart as I watched it beep-beep beep-beep on the monitor. Since I left, I haven't felt like I was going to die even once. Not once! Score!

And how did I celebrate? By eating the worst foods possible, of course! On Saturday, the day after the test, my diet consisted of:

- Breakfast: bacon, egg, cheese bagel, piece of carrot cake
- Lunch: Tostito's, french fries
- Snack: Coldstone ice cream
- Dinner: Tostito's, pizza, 20 beers
- Dinner II: remainder of pizza, way too many pretzels dipped in nutella

Ah, nothing like being stripped down and partially shaved by a stranger to bring back my old joie de vivre!

So in the end, it was worth it and I have no regrets. And my chest hair, which has an amazing capacity for growth, has already begun filling in the shaved patches! And the best part is that when I start feeling hypochondriacal again, which should be sometime next week when I wake up in the middle of the night to sneeze, I can just go back and get another stress test! Hooray!

Although next time, I'll definitely shave myself beforehand. That, or I'll just get my "girlfriend" to do it. When I visit her upstate, of course.

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