I went to the doctor’s appointment on Wednesday. I had convinced myself that it was anxiety (I’ve had anxiety attacks before), and the doctor would tell me that I had been worrying for nothing. What I got was something else.
But first, some background. I have a family history; my father had his first heart attack at age 45, ended up on permanent disability, and died at age 54. He died six weeks before my daughter was born, who would have been his first grandchild. It wasn’t a heart attack that killed him. Rather, he died from a ruptured aneurysm on his abdominal aorta. The aorta is a huge vessel, about the size of your thumb. The University of Maryland Medical Center web site says “Many patients do not even survive long enough to make it to the hospital, and among those who do, more than half eventually die of complications. In fact, ruptured aortic aneurysm[s] are the 13th leading cause of death in the US…” (Source: http://www.umm.edu/vascular/aaa.htm). Back in 1988 when my father died there wasn’t a good treatment for abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA), so he never had bypass surgery; it was simply too risky.
Because of this history, I had been aggressively treating my cholesterol and getting screened for AAA, both of which have hereditary components. I have an annual physical, I’ve had a couple of stress tests before (both clean), I've had an abdominal ultrasound to check for AAA, and my blood work numbers were pretty good (target numbers are in parentheses):
Total cholesterol: 159 mg/dl (110-200)
Triglyceride: 189 mg/dl (38-150)
Good cholesterol (HDL): 43 mg/dl (60+)
Bad cholesterol (LDL): 78 mg/dl (0-100)
All this lulled me into a false sense of security: How could it be anything but anxiety when I had numbers like these and I was taking statin drugs?
Blood work at the doctor’s visit showed that I hadn’t had a heart attack or pulmonary blood clots; the doctor diagnosed me as having “exercise-induced angina” and scheduled me for a stress test the next week. The stress test involved two days of tests, first under exercise and then at rest. I went through the weekend convinced that it was anxiety, bolstered by the fact that I tried to induce the angina over the next few days without success (in hindsight, this was kind of like the old Bugs Bunny cartoons where a character bangs a cannon shell with a hammer... But more on that later).
I will also post recipes here as Beth and I try to get back into healthier eating. Only good stuff... If a recipe doesn't make the grade (we're foodies, you know!) it won't be in here. And in the next installment, the test.
16 hours ago