Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A curious case of apathy

By Moristotle

Entering the offices of my cardiologist’s practice yesterday morning, I felt (or, rather, failed to feel) in a way that I could only think was apathy. Apathy in the basic sense of lack of enthusiasm, or impassivity, or ennui. Usually, whenever I approach a receptionist – whether in a doctor’s office, a Starbuck’s, Elliott’s Pet Spa, or wherever – I feel primed to banter, to joke, to say something I hope will sound witty.
    But yesterday morning, nada. I didn’t want to say anything. When the receptionist – by whom I have been received perhaps dozens of times over the years, and whose name I remember (Laura) even if she doesn’t remember mine – asked me what I was there for, I dropped my driver’s license on her desk. She could look me up and retrieve my appointment.
    When she saw who I was (and remembered that I live in the same residential development as her daughter, whose book club I participated in for a while), she must have remembered how I usually presented myself, for she asked, “Are you okay?”
    I managed a Harry Trumanesque “I’m fine,” however noncommital it must have sounded without Mr. Truman’s standard exclamation point. She nodded and told me that Jody would be with me shortly, and I sat down to wait.
    My waiting felt different too. Usually, when I’d waited in those offices, I’d worked a Sudoku from the day’s edition of the Daily Tar Heel, or checked my email, or read a magazine. But yesterday I closed my eyes and rested my head on the wall behind my chair.
    And it was then, I think, that I put a name to my feeling (or lack thereof). I had so little interest or passion, though, that I didn't inquire as to why I seemed to be apathetic that morning, but simply fell into an impassive state of...waiting.

Soon Jody was there in the doorway beside Laura’s desk, smiling a greeting of invitation to “come on back.” I did manage a smile, but followed Jody in a manner uncommonly loggy for me, and didn’t engage her in conversation as I usually would.
    Upon reaching the examination room, Jody, undaunted, gestured me in, bade me remove everything above the waist, and set to work to begin the procedure I was there for, shaving some of my chest hairs and placing the connection patches for the EKG machine.
    By the time the preliminary echocardiogram was completed, and we had come to the “stress” stage of the procedure – at which point Jody was reminding me how long I had lasted the previous time (12 minutes, through four stages of the Modified Bruce Protocol) – I found my engagement growing, if not garrulous. I did manage to say, however, that I thought I might go to Stage 5 today, and maybe do 13 or 14 minutes.
Modified Bruce Protocol
    So then my doctor came in with another assistant, and I stepped onto the treadmill, which was still motionless, waiting for another blood-pressure check and for the doctor to remind me how I should hold the bar and how I should make my right arm available for a few seconds during each stage, while she checked my blood pressure again.
    The treadmill started so stodgily slow, I hardly had to move my legs to keep up with it. But a few seconds in, I was visited by an image of Hercule Poirot’s mincing gait and commenced to imitate it with quick, tiny steps, commenting that this would get me warmed up more quickly.
    The point of being on the treadmill – besides their being able to get an EKG reading at faster heart rates – was that the echocardiogram would be repeated immediately after I signaled that I couldn’t (or didn’t want to) go any longer on the treadmill, so that my doctor would have images of my fast-beating-&-pumping heart to compare to the earlier images.

A few years ago, I could fast-walk at about 4 MPH, or a mile in 15 minutes. Nowadays it’s about 3.5 MPH, or a mile in 17 minutes. But that’s on more or less level ground. The Modified Bruce Protocol calls for the incline to increase along with the speed at the beginning of every subsequent stage [see above]. I suppose that, even including the 5 MPH rate of Stage 5, I could have gone at least 15 minutes, and perhaps entered Stage 6 – except for the incline, which, in Stage 5, is 18 degrees. about 13 minutes I called a halt and quickly got off the treadmill and lay back down so that another echocardiogram could be done while my heart was still beating at nearly the rate of 140 beats per minute that I had attained on the treadmill.
    I discovered that I was now feeling alive, curiously pleased, my breathing perhaps harder than at any time since my most previous stress treadmill test. Jody repeated the echocardiogram, and my doctor compared the images, concluding with the verdict, “A 40-year-old man would be quite pleased to have gone that long on the treadmill and have images like yours.”

    Instantly, my revived zeal for living was confirmed, and the mystery of my curious case of apathy that morning seemed to have been solved, as tidily as in a Poirot by Agatha Christie: I had been apprehensive that something untoward might be discovered about that vital organ near the middle of my chest!

Copyright © 2017 by Moristotle


  1. Glad everything went well and your zeal returned dear Uncle Mo !

  2. Sounds like you needed that spirt of adrenaline to bring you back to norm! Some people get that kick from caffeine or chocolate but sometimes no matter what that dull feeling persists When I get like that it's so easy to give in to it but like you achieved yesterday I take a brisk walk and once that blood is pumping, the heart pounding and the adrenaline flowing it lifts me right up!
    Keep on trucking Morris!
    See you soon :)

    1. Well, Penny, as a matter of fact (even though I didn't mention it), I had to go without caffeine yesterday morning, in preparation for the stress echocardiogram. But it was more than that, and I didn't mention the absence of coffee so as not to muddy the narrative. Last Thursday, for example, I HAD had my coffee, but when I went to get a haircut I was feeling the same way...apathetic. Of course, the explanation for that occasion can't have been concern about my heart, so who knows? The psyche (anyone's) is a complex thing, a can of worms, or perhaps Pandora's box....
          But you're right about the exercise. On the wall I faced while on the treadmill, there was a quotation from Paul Dudley White: "A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world." Note that Mr. White seems to be equating apathy to unhappiness generally. But I don't think we need to get into semantics.

  3. Glad to see you pass the treadmill test 🏃 Not to worry my friend about apathy 😐I am so apathetic I don't even have a cardiologist🙈

    1. Jim, as always, I admire your witty play on words, reusing "apathetic" in a different sense, perhaps that of "nonchalant" or "aloof" or "insouciant." Good on you. We'd love to have an article for publication – on any subject – in which you could indulge in such creativity at greater length. May your muse bless you!

    2. Jim, with respect to my invitation that you submit "an article for publication – on any subject," I have thought of a subject that many of us desperately need from you. Shortly after the election, you indicated that you were going to relax, sit back, and enjoy the entertaining spectacle you predicted we were in for. I assume that you have not been disappointed?
          Would you be willing to write an article telling us what you are finding especially entertaining about Trumpoline’s first weeks in office, maybe including advice as to how we who are not feeling entertained might adjust our ways of looking at the spectacle so as to start to share your enjoyment? Such an article would be greatly appreciated, and I suspect that you are our only staff member who could do us such a sanity-saving service.

  4. Good on you, mate! Shirley and I watch Hercule Poirot every week here in Western Australia. But that walk of his - whew! It's very precious, huh? Your reference to it gave me a good visual.