Tilt Table Torture

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Trapped to a table, angled upward at eighty-five degrees, my mind began to wander. With the Velcro straps secure enough to hold me upright, yet loose enough to breathe, and the blood-pressure cuff squeezing my arm in a continuous fashion, I couldn’t help but think I had lost control of myself and reality.

Earlier that day, however, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It was a quiet February morning; the only noise was the crunch of the grass underneath my feet as I walked to the car. As my parents and I took the hour and a half ride to Children’s Memorial, my stomach began to turn on itself in anticipation. Today I would be tested for a rare condition, and although scary, having an answer to an illness I had been suffering for three years, I was ready to know what was wrong.

Entering the doors to the hospital, my mind was full of unknowns. My family was ushered to the cardiology wing of the hospital and seated in purple plastic chairs. I tucked my leg to sit on, while my other leg shook up and down vigorously. Other families sat in the waiting area. One by one the sick kids were taken from their parents to the operating room, their final destination. Finally it was my turn. An older, petite woman called my name. My legs shook radically as I took each step that I hardly noticed the woman who came to take me to the operating room was blind. It was a fairly quiet trip down the elevator and through the corridor to the OR. However, the methodical tap, tap, tap of the woman’s walking stick kept my focus. At the end of the hall, we were greeted by a young vibrant nurse who began talking immediately. As the older woman walked away, the nurse gave me a gown to change into. In the bathroom, I tried to put the gown on as quickly as I could. As I tried to clasp the snap buttons at the shoulders of the gown, my sweaty hands started twitching erratically. I managed to clasp the buttons after a few minutes, returned to the smiling nurse, and finally taken to the operating room.

The doors opened and immediately the brisk air caught my attention. My nose burned of antiseptic with each breath I took. The high ceilinged, dimly lit room overwhelmed all my senses. My eyes darted from left to right, soaking in the sterile supplies, Plexiglas viewing room, and abundance of monitors. The table located in the center of the room, directly beneath the circular fluorescent light that mimicked the sun’s glaring rays.

The nurse led me to the operating table, where I sat until my cardiologist showed up. I started shifting from side to side as my bum began to freeze. I could have been sitting on a giant block of ice. The chit chatty nurse hooked an IV to my left arm, and pushed a cleansing solution to clean out the blood. As she pushed the solution my mouth got a cooling sensation and a mild taste like I had just sucked on a penny. I was laid down and with the help of another bouncy nurse Velcro was applied across my chest and thighs. I began to wonder if this was what someone on death row must feel like.

Finally my cardiologist arrived. My doctor was model tall and thin in the extreme. She wore her hair in her usual grey, spiky manner, and I couldn’t help but think she looked like a lizard. She had the nurses apply stickers to my chest that connected to wires to record my heart rate and a blood-pressure cuff placed around my right, upper arm. The cuff was designed to take my pressure every minute. The cuff would tighten, slowly loosen, take my recordings, and start up again every minute. It took all but three minutes for my arm to tickle unpleasantly with pins and needles, and eventually I lost sensation completely. I lay like that for five minutes, as the monitors continued to record my vitals.

After the first five minutes, the fun began. The nurse pushed a button at the side of the table, which instigated the table to slowly tilt upright, until it hit the eighty-five degree marker. At this erect position, my heart began to jump, literally pulsating in my ears. The doctor and nurses began asking innocuous questions about music and books. My answers were diplomatic as I tried to appease my doctor without alarming her to my discomfort. I averted my eyes from the staff around me, and tried to focus on the room. Concentrating on the ceiling, I tried to pass the time by counting square tiles. The procedure went like that for a long twenty minutes. Again, the nurse pushed the button at the side of the table, and I was gradually lowered. Back at a reclined position, my heart normalized, and I got a visual at the Plexiglas. Behind the clear wall were about a dozen medical staffers standing there, just watching the procedure. I was the rat, and this was their experiment, I thought to myself.

Although uncomfortable, the procedure continued. One of the peppy nurses administered adrenaline into my IV. The doctor told me they were looking at how my blood pressure reacted to my heart rate. About one minute after given the drug, I was panicked. The drug did as prescribed, and quickened my heart. I literally felt I was running miles, while in reality I was laying down. Again I was reclined for five minutes. Sweat began to accumulate, making my gown stick to my skin. My breathing became shallow as I struggled for a deep breath. Although my discomfort was apparent, the test continued. Again the button was pushed, and the table began to tilt upright. The doctor and nurses again began asking questions, but my polite “Yes” answers turned into more of an “Ugh”. Although conscious enough to hear and aware of where I was, my mind was focused on the end. My mind slipped in and out of focus around me, but in the clear moments I noticed the defibrillator in a nurse’s hands, while another nurse had some sort of syringe. I was aware of my arms and legs thrashing erratically, although contained by the restraint. As my body was going wild my head began to gradually become heavier and heavier, until my head hung limp, my chin tucked into my chest. Abruptly, like a volcano erupting. My stomach clenched inward, and I began to retch. Nothing came out as my body continued to convulse with each upheaval movement. A nurse pressed the button and I was back to a reclining position. I was then rolled on my left side and another nurse putting a cleansing solution into my IV. Again my mouth produced a copper-like taste, and the adrenaline stopped as quickly as it started. Minute by minute I was more aware of my surroundings. I lay in a pool of my sweat as I was given graham crackers and juice, and my doctor excused herself from the room.

When my doctor arrived back in the OR, she didn’t hesitate to tell me the news. I had dysautonomia. Hearing my diagnoses I couldn’t help but feel after years of unknowns, and tests that I had no control over, my life was finally my own again.





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writer5 said...
Mar. 30, 2015 at 8:51 pm
Hey Katie, I'm a high schooler with POTS too. I was diagnosed a few months ago, and since then, I've had to stop going to school, temporarily I hope. My new doctor believes that she can help me feeling better with exercise and drinks with a lot of electrolytes. Do you still have POTS? Do you have any tips? Thanks, and great article :)
 
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