Tag Archives: kaiser

Breathe. Breathe. Hold your breath… Breathe.

IMG_1496kaiserOne more thing scratched off the “things to do before I die list.” My first CT scan, part of my ongoing quest to figure out how to climb faster by breathing better. Part A was my first spirometry test a couple years ago, with Qvar prescribed as a twice-daily ritual, and Albuterol added before each ride. Results were not impressive; my climbing speed continued to decline. I might have just written it off as what happens as you get older, but after getting some really good results taking meds for my Raynauds (ice-cold hands due to “events” that trigger circulation shutdowns to the extremities), I decided to go after my lungs again.

A couple weeks ago, I had another Spirometry test, this time including a test after exercising, to confirm the presumed diagnosis of exercise-induced-asthma. Funny thing though; my breathing actually improved a bit after a tough (320 watt) workout. That unexpected result has led to further testing, part of which was today’s time spent having a CT scan. Let me tell you, it’s a borderline thrill!

Before describing the procedure, I’ll commend Kaiser Redwood City for their efficiency. My appointment was for 9:45am with a request to arrive 30 minutes prior. I arrive shortly after 9am, was brought into the imaging room (sounds like something from Quantum Leap) at 9:20 and was out the door by 9:35! The only drama was figuring out how the darned gown thing worked.

OK, the procedure. You’re lying flat on a table, arms folded above/behind your head (not suspended in air or anything, just lying on the table behind you). You’re asked if you can hold your breath for 10 seconds (um… yeah), explained that a voice will tell you what to do (which sounds a bit creepy, thinking about a line from a song in the 80s “My voice is the last you will ever hear. Don’t be alarmed.”), and keep your eyes closed. The object is to lie perfectly still.

It starts. The voice says “Breathe.” OK, I’m breathing. I’m breathing. I’m still breathing! Then it says “Hold your breath.” Maybe it’s a full 10 seconds before it tells you to “breathe” again, but it seemed shorter than that. You’re told to “breathe” for maybe 20 seconds, and then “Hold your breath” again. Cycle repeats. Over. And over. And over. While holding your breath, you can hear the machine, which encircles you, move forward or backward, a step at a time. There’s also a whirling motion, which eventually stops, then restarts at a different pitch (changes speed).

My assumption is that the “Hold your breath” part is the only time they’re taking x-rays/pictures of you, the idea being that you’re motionless when holding your breath, for a better picture. Or maybe it’s because it helps to maintain a fixed position over time; holding your breath doesn’t allow you to relax into some semi-random state.

Eventually, it’s over. Might have been 10 minutes, but I can see where it might seem far longer than that to some, shorter to others. Not sure why they had me close my eyes; other family members who have had cat scans weren’t told to do that. I do wonder if the entire process could have gone more quickly if they could change the “hold your breath” timing to something longer. 15 seconds would have been fine; even 20 would be comfortable.

Now I wait to see what super-detailed pictures of my lungs look like. My guess? Gross. Just like everybody’s else’s. Last test in this series will be an ECG, to see if there are any heart-related issues that might be the culprit. I’m actually looking forward to that part, as the only ECG I’ve had previously was for a life insurance physical, some years back. Not a bad thing to know what shape my heart’s in, I’m thinking!  –Mike–


The 44% Solution (my drug-free days coming to an end)

This morning I may have seen the light at the end of the tunnel, the reason that I voluntarily set up a doctor’s appointment for the first time in 30+ years (“voluntarily” as in not a visit to fix something broken). That light came from a trip to Kaiser’s pulmonary testing lab, where my lung capacity was measured with, and without, “help.”

You’re hooked up to a breathing tube, your nose is pinched off, and you have a Doctor/Tech/Coach who’s telling you to breathe normal, breathe normal, breathe normal etc etc etc and then, at some random point, suddenly raises her voice and says “BREATHE DEEP!” followed by “EXHALE FAST! KEEP GOING! KEEP GOING! GET EVERY LAST BIT OUT OF YOUR LUNGS! DON’T STOP! KEEP GOING!” (and that “keep going” goes on long after you feel like there’s simply nothing left you can exhale, leaving you wondering what possible reason exists for the last 20 seconds of the exercise, but she insists that it’s important to keep trying to get rid of every last non-existant molecule of air that might still be in your now-collapsed lungs).

Waiting for the start of each breathe deep/exhale fast session is similar to the Drop Zone ride, where you’re sitting at the edge of a precipice, not knowing when you’re suddenly going to be dropped so fast that your stomach and mouth trade places. You try to anticipate, look for body language telling you she’s about to switch gears, but you can’t spend too much effort doing so because you need to have all the strength you can muster to perform the breathe deep/exhale ritual. And being competitive, I want to do as well as I can!

After going through this routine maybe 5 times, I’m then fed a new breathing tube, this one sending some sort of fine mist into my lungs. You breathe this stuff in & out normally for maybe 5 minutes (seems longer; it’s not very exciting), and then do the breathe deep/exhale session again.

Result? Whatever was in that mist improved my lung capacity by 44%. This is the most seriously-good-news I’ve had in a long time. Better life ahead through chemistry. Maybe I can stop wheezing on the climb up Kings in the morning. Maybe I won’t face the humiliation of having to get off the bike for a bit on a steep climb in France ever again.

But wait, there’s more! The woman running these tests? She’s a cyclist. She and her husband are totally into the Tour de France. She’s also a nut for Sunflower photos, of which, sadly, I have none from my most-recent trip. But the bike connection is real, and she’s going to get me set up on the V02 measuring bike, complete with EKG measuring. Basically a stress test and V02 all-in-one. Cool not just because it’s cool, but also because there are times when one wonders about mortality issues related to being 50+ and a stress test can identify all sorts of usually-correctable things that could cause issues.

So overall, I feel like the ordeal of having that thing I fear pretty much more than anything else, a blood test, which kept me away from Doctors for ages, may have been worthwhile. That’s how I feel today. Ask me after I’ve been through a colonoscopy, which is likely hiding out there, ready to show up any day now on my appointment calendar.