"You'll see your heart beating, and the dye, moving out of the tube and into the arteries." (This guy sounded like the lady in the traffic helicopter: "Tunnel traffic is barely moving, and the southeast artery is a mess.")
Why did I suddenly find Mordkoff so amusing? Maybe because the decision had been made and some of the uncertainty was gone, though I was still about to have a wonderful experience that might kill me. My coronary arteries were going to be normal, though two doctors didn't think so. I would go home that night, unless all didn't go "well."
I muddled through the next few days, running slowly every afternoon, hoping to raise my HDLs and lower my cholesterol, going for the lowest count in the Western Hemisphere. One night, I dragged myself to a party, where a friend greeted me with "If it isn't Napoleon Bonaparte." She pointed to my right arm, which was thrust inside my jacket, hand over my heart. I realized that I had been doing that a lot.
At 6 p.m. on Thursday, after an elderly technician at Mount Sinai took blood from my arm with one of the world's dullest needles, I was taken to the first $360-per-night room, hospital or otherwise, I'd ever stayed in. I had brought along a book, The Exercise Myth, to help me face facts in case my running career had to end the next day. The author of this book, a cardiologist named Henry Solomon, said exercise was a killer. In a chapter titled "The Dangers of Exercise," I read: "I know patients of exceptional fitness who have severe coronary artery disease.... They may have no symptoms and may be capable of outstanding physical performance with hearts that will kill them." I wished there were a way to unread those lines.
The next morning I was given 10 milligrams of Valium, routine for angiogram patients. Then I was wheeled up to the "cath lab" and strapped into a cradle, a troughlike inset in a table that rotates on its longitudinal axis. EKG leads were fastened to my arms and legs to monitor heart rate, and an IV tube went into my left arm—"In case," I was told later, "we needed access to a vein in an emergency." They jabbed the crook of my right elbow with a local anesthetic. I felt some pressure, then a sense of something going up inside my arm, and then I was staring at a fluoroscope screen, transfixed by the sight of a dark little stick poking around inside my chest. It looked like some protozoan blindly searching for a mate. As I watched, the dye spurted out and my coronary arteries filled; they blossomed, first the left one and then the right, both with multiple branches.
All afternoon, I waited in my $360 room for Mordkoff. First I decided that he had far more serious cases than mine; then I became convinced that he wouldn't keep me waiting if the news were good. Finally—I think I had dozed off—I heard someone say, "Next time you're out running, and you get a little pain, just run a little faster."
"What?" I practically shouted.
Mordkoff the Mysterious, henceforth to be known as Mordkoff the Magnificent, stood grinning in the doorway. He said, "Your coronary arteries are normal."
I did shout. "Unbelievable! But what about the three tests? How does the science of cardiology explain...?"
"There is no science," he said. "I was outraged when I saw the Thallium Scan. The inconsistency was too great."