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THE TELLTALE HEART
Dan Levin
May 20, 1985
Was the chest pain the author felt while running a sign of serious heart trouble? Trying to find the answer cost him many sleepless nights—and $8,983
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May 20, 1985

The Telltale Heart

Was the chest pain the author felt while running a sign of serious heart trouble? Trying to find the answer cost him many sleepless nights—and $8,983

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"I want to resolve this," I said. "Every twinge, and I...."

"I know what you're going through. You'll be out running in the cold, you'll get a little constriction in the chest, and you'll say, 'Oh, my gosh, is this it?' But I would like a chance to listen to your heart [by now I had visions of cardiologists lining up for the privilege] and to attach a device called a Holter monitor to check out your palpitations."

For more than six months I'd been experiencing occasional fluttering sensations in my heart—floomp—when I ran, as if the whole mechanism were turning over. But in the previous two weeks they had been occurring more frequently, sometimes even when I sat reading.

"Everyone says they're nothing," I told Mordkoff.

"At this point, we can't be sure of that," he replied.

I went out and took a half-hour run on the treadmill at my health club, and when I noted it in my Fixx diary, I underlined its quote of the week, a line from Much Ado About Nothing: "He hath a heart as sound as a bell."

After my run, I went to Mordkoff's office and one of his nurses hooked me up to the Holter, a tape recorder-like device attached to a belt around the waist, with wires connected to electrodes on the chest. Late that night, so that Mordkoff might have something interesting to work with, I ran up 10 flights of stairs in my apartment house.

At 3 a.m., with the Holter on the floor beside my bed, I woke with a start, all tangled in wires. I'd been thinking that day about Barney Clark, the first person to receive an artificial heart. That man had wires. Extricating myself from mine, I was more annoyed than anxious, a welcome relief from what I'd been feeling at other recent 3 a.m. awakenings. I flicked on the bedside light and looked down at the tape twirling away, wondering what horrible secrets I was revealing. Then I reached for my watch and—I don't know why—took my pulse. My heart was beating 48 times per minute and it sounded mighty fine. But what did I know?

That afternoon, after the Holter was removed, and after I'd made one appointment to be examined by Mordkoff the following Monday, Nov. 26, and another appointment for a second Wall Motion Study on Tuesday at Sinai, I went, tomograms in hand, to see Scheidt. He listened to my heart and heard nothing alarming. He said that thallium and Wall Motion Studies have a 10% to 15% margin of error.

"But both tests say the same thing," I pointed out. I was such an expert now that I could argue either way.

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