I quietly followed the nurse into the prep room, where I’d get ready for the procedure. She didn’t seem that much older than I was, but she immediately took a calming, motherly approach with me. My nerves must have been pretty obvious.
“Don’t worry, sweetie. It’s not that bad, I promise. I know you’re really nervous, so we’ll give you a little something to help you relax. Here,” she handed me a neatly folded pile of hospital garments, “change into your gown, and we’ll get your blood test and IV started.”
I put on the hospital gown and socks, stored all my clothes in the plastic bag that was included, and climbed onto the gurney in my prep area. I was shaking. Partly due to nerves, partly because I was freezing. I knew this wouldn’t bode well for me. I have tiny veins, and when I get cold they shrink up even more, making them impossible to find.
It took over an hour for the nurse to get the IV in, even after she had brought me two warm blankets and a heat pack. After eight or nine attempts (a few different nurses tried), they finally got it. By then I was faint and nauseous, on the verge of passing out. Don’t worry, the worst is over, I thought to myself. Now that you have your IV they can give you anesthesia, it’ll be over before you know it.
A few minutes later another nurse came in to check my blood pressure – it had gotten pretty low during the IV troubles. “Ok, your blood pressure is back to normal. Now we can give you a little medicine to help you relax,” she said.
“Ok. Am I going in soon?” I asked.
“Well, it took so long to get your lead in that the doctor had to take another patient. But you’ll likely be next. Just try to relax, maybe close your eyes and take a nap,” she suggested as she put a little sedative in my IV. I didn’t feel relaxed at all. Rather I felt even more anxious that I’d missed my procedure time.
I kept waiting for my nerves to go away, but they persisted, in full force. My first nurse came in to check on me, “How are you doing, sweetie?”
“I’m okay, I’m so nervous, I just want it to be over with.”
“We’ll get you in there as soon as possible, don’t worry. I’ll give you a little more medicine to help your anxiety.”
She gave me more sedative and I remember thinking, I hope it’s okay that I got two doses before the anesthesia?
Finally, it was my turn to go into the catherterization lab. I was wheeled in on the same gurney I’d been laying in all morning. The cath lab looked just like an operating room from Grey’s Anatomy. There were big screens behind me, huge bright lights, tall silver tables with all kinds of tools – I tried not to guess what they’d be used for. Considering all the time I’d spent in the hospital the past few weeks, I hadn’t been in a room like this before – at least not while I was conscious. It totally freaked me out. You’ll be put under soon, just relax, I told myself. It’ll be like taking a long nap.
A group of nurses and doctors came in and began to prep me. Electrodes to monitor my heart were stuck onto my chest. An oxygen sensor was clipped to my pointer finger. Another nurse started to clean and prep the artery near the top of my thigh where the procedure would take place. A blue paper-like blanket was placed over my upper body, up to my chin. I was told to stay as still as possible and not to take my arms out from under the blanket. The blanket also blocked any view of my lower body.
Soon enough the doctor who was performing the procedure came in to speak to me. He was wonderful – direct but kind, clearly brilliant but with a great sense of humor. He was the Director of Cardiac Catherterization, so I relaxed a bit, knowing I was in the best possible hands.
“Ok, Cristina. We’re going to start by numbing your groin with a local anesthesia so I can insert the catheter into your artery. I’ll guide the catheter through your arteries to get a closer look at the arteries in your heart. We’ll be giving you contrast through the catheter, so you may feel a warm sensation. If I see any blockages, I’ll try to open and stent them if possible. Apart from the anesthesia shots, you shouldn’t feel much. Just let us know if you ever get uncomfortable.”
It was then that I realized I would be awake during the entire procedure. That brief moment of feeling relaxed flew right out the window. Being that I was all prepped, on the table, and tucked under a paper blanket, I resolved not to panic. But inside my nerves were going crazy.
“Ok, time to numb you,” the doctor said. “You’ll feel some pinching, but it’ll be over in a few minutes. Ready?”
“Ok,” I whispered. I squeezed my hands into fists and shut my eyes as tight as possible.
“Alright,” he said. “Take a deep breath. Just a few shots. Here we go…”