Monday, February 23, 2015

I Was A Middle-Aged Lab Rat!

Adventures in medical research

I'm not really very squeamish. Needles don't bug me. Any time I get some kind of medical procedure inflicted on me I'm annoyingly curious about what the various doctors & nurses are up to. If possible, I'll want to watch when I get stitched up or I'm giving a blood sample or whatever.
After all, it's my machine they're fiddling with.

The heart catheter: like threading speaker wire into your ventricle
Last summer I heard about a study that the U of T & Mt Sinai hospital were doing on the hearts of old guys with a long history of endurance sports. I signed up; mostly because it involved getting a bunch of fitness tests done, which I was interested in doing anyway (power, V02 max, lactate threshold).

I was warned that it would also involve some "invasive" procedures, specifically a heart catheter; which was nasty enough that the researchers felt obliged to offer the subjects $250 as recompense for the discomfort & inconvenience. Whatever. The cash was a nice bonus, but I was curious about what was going on in my heart. If anything.

So it was pretty cool to be able to watch a live x-ray of my heart working in real time, including seeing the the catheter working its way through my chest to my heart, via a large vein in my arm. The needle the doctor used to insert the thing was shockingly large in caliber but it it just zipped right in no problem. (Weirdly, I could actually feel it in there, in my heart, though it didn't hurt at all.)

That's my chest in the picture, with the end of the dark cable lodged in my heart. There was a monitor nicely positioned so I could see it all, along with the relevant data (HR, blood pressure) as I pedaled a stationary bike a couple of times up to a set heart rate (110, 130, 150 bpm or so). The study was looking at the heart "stroke volume" of men with a history of endurance training, and how it might affect "ejection fraction" of the left ventricle (i.e., the percentage of the volume of blood that leaves the chamber with each beat). That's what they were looking for. I just wanted confirmation that I had no heretofore unknown heart abnormalities that might result in me pulling a Jim Fixx one of these days.

Taking it easy at 50 BPM
According to my summary write-up, "All indices of cardiac function are within normal ranges for endurance trained males. Normal hemodynamic response to graded exercise challenge." Well, that's comforting, I guess.

Plus I found out that my V02 max was 51.4 (not bad for a 52-year-old, apparently), max power was 350W, my resting HR was 47 and max HR was 193 (it hit 200 in my first ramp test at The Cycling Gym). All of which only really mattered because it gave me some sense of what I was working with, and what the possibilities might be for improvement.
And some sense that that I probably wasn't going to crap out doing it.

In the end though, it was just kinda freaky to get to watch all that amazing stuff inside you doing its thing. Humans are incredible, really.


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