One woman’s perspective of life after heart surgery in your 40s with special thanks to the American Heart Institution and Swedish Heart & Vascular Institute

One woman’s perspective of life after heart surgery in your 40s with special thanks to the American Heart Institution and Swedish Heart & Vascular Institute

In late August of 2015, I had literally just turned 40 years of age the day before, when I walked into Swedish Heart & Vascular Institute as a first time stress test patient. This appointment had be scheduled to figure out if I was having panic attacks and if those then what was affecting my heart and my lungs. Thinking this would be a standard procedure, I was already envisioning myself heading right back to my downtown corner office, on the waterfront, near Pike Place Market. Little did I know that within a few hours of that stress test and heart echo, I would be somewhat sedated and rolled into emergency heart surgery. What in the actual #$%?!?!?

Fast forward to four years later, and I walked back into Swedish for my annual routine stress test and heart echo. I love Swedish. They saved my life. They helped my birth my son back in 1996. Pulling into the parking garage, and by freak coincidence, the exact same parking stall was available. It was the only one available and the exact same one from 2015. Level PB, which after over 40+ visits to this facility in the last four years, I had fondly nicknamed the Peanut Butter floor. My heart started to race and tears welled up in my eyes as I bravely headed towards the elevator that was greeting me with all of the bright yellow warning signs that say if you have recently been ill you should take precautions or return later when you are well. Here’s the thing: I get the point of their concern to not further jeopardize hospital patients, I really do, but I’ve always felt like this is mixed messaging. Aren’t many people entering the hospital because they are sick? And didn’t they have to enter through similar elevators if they didn’t arrive by ambulance? Not everyone is going to do the valet service. I can never turn off my marketing brain. Like seriously, never. (Although props to you Swedish! I secretly love the valet service when I’m in a rush and I am guilty of treating myself to valet at my appointments because sometimes despite the fact my legs work just fine I always seem to be in a hurry) Regardless of my thoughts on the signage, I’m always happy to see the Costco size tub of hand sanitizer that is readily available for me to bath my hands and arms and any other piece of Alysse exposed flesh that I can reach without causing a scene on the Peanut Butter garage floor level.

Medical bracelets, the new on-trend accessory for fall.

Ladies and gentleman, there is nothing fun about a stress test. Not at any age I would imagine, but ask me again in 30 years. And if by chance, you are a woman (or a man) that has double D size breasts that are real (meaning they have actual movement), then you can really appreciate the pain front and back that will happen once I take to the treadmill. (The pain is real people!)

I patiently wait in the lobby alone, eying the other patients that are waiting. They are for the most part, all white men, double my age, sitting there with their wives or partners or family members. I’m wondering AGAIN why I didn’t ask someone to come with me. I literally have 20 woman at the ready that would drop their entire lives and come sit with me for this test, given what happened the first time around when I was here alone and it was such a disaster. But do I call and ask for help? Nope. Of course I don’t. Not this year. I did for year 2 and year 3 (patting myself on back), but my stubbornness of my “I can do everything all by myself” has returned in full force and good luck trying to change my mind when it’s been made up. I nervously spend the wait time checking work email and creating my 1,001th pinterest board. Because that “A is for Alpacas” board is really going to come in handy someday. I’m not in the mood to swipe left on a bunch of dating apps today. That’s not going to lift my nervous and anxious mood. Alpacas are cuter anyway.

The appointment starts off being covered by thick, heavy, duck-tape like stickers. They basically double for a waxing service later when they remove them, but sadly they are never in the places that you actually might need waxing. I was asked to remove all clothing items from the waist up (including the sports bra, please dear lord no!) and put on a lovely lavender colored cotton wrap shirt that opens in the front. Forgot to mention, you leave your modesty in the lobby when you check in right after you do your paperwork.

The heart echo is the first thing they do and without going into medical terms I don’t really even understand, I do know it is basically an ultrasound for your heart. (At 44 years of age, I was relieved to see there were no babies up in there) They mark all these beats on this machine that looks like it was around during the filming of War Games (one of my fav movies of all times, filmed in Seattle in case you didn’t know) and they ask you to hold your breath, not hold your breath, hold your breath for different lengths of time, yadda yadda. Minus the somewhat luke warm lube jelly on the heart echo magical wand being shoved into your chest and under and around your left breast, it’s really not that bad. And the pillow they give you smells clean, steryl and is surprisingly soft. You could almost even take a nap if you tune out the jabbing wand and the beeping sounds whirling around your head.

Lucky sneakers bring me (NEW) BALANCE #seewhatididthere

After these series of tests are complete, it’s treadmill time. I crack my knuckles and my neck and do a few stretches like I’m getting ready to compete in the Olympics Triathlon. The nurses don’t seem to appreciate my level of athleticism and approach, but they smile and nod anyway. I get up on the treadmill, hooked up to all the wax strips stickers that have now been hooked to countless number of heavy wires all over my body hanging from me to another machine alongside the treadmill. It’s almost like I’m a volunteer for a full body scan for some new, super cool, Oculus VR experience, but not nearly as cool.

Now keep in mind, I’m still rockin’ that lavender cotton wrap shirt that opens in the front with NO SPORTS BRA ON UNDERNEATH. For extra measure, they added some thick medical tape across the front of my lavender shirt to keep it from flying open and giving them all a peep show. In my head I’m thinking I’m very entertaining. I tend to joke around a lot when I get nervous. The nurses are just doing their jobs in really the most professional ways possible. I’m sure none of my jokes are originals that they haven’t heard before.

My thoughts start to wander and I start wondering if the lavender medical wrap was inspired by the well known Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress from 1974, before I was even born. Then my mind wanders to the time she, the real DVF, took a photo of my handbag at a book signing. (Her book signing, just to be clear in case there was any confusion). OK, I’ll stop talking about my breasts and medical fashion and my 5 seconds of fame with DVF and get back to the treadmill portion of the story. But I just want to go on record that the fashion industry has really not yet fully tapped into hospital wear. There is so much more than could be done outside of crazy fabric print scrubs. And think about designer bandages! They could be all the rage! I can picture the Kardashians in Fendi casts already!

The goal of the treadmill test, besides passing it obviously, is to go at a set speed and incline. Every 3 minutes it would increase in speed and incline. I was to go until I couldn’t go anymore. I always struggle with this part. There isn’t a certain amount of “rounds” to aim for, trust me I have asked many, many times and the answer is always the same. It’s not a competition Alysse. Oh but trust me, it is. With myself. And I’ll tell you what, that treadmill pace, it starts off at a pretty damn good clip to begin with. They aren’t wasting any time.

Competitive by nature, I was determined to beat last years time of 9:30 minutes and a super high incline (basically straigh up in the air), when they told me I had the heart of a 40 year old. (I was 43 at the time, please save your applause to the end) Thankfully one of the nurses pulled out an epic 80s playlist that keep me motivated. The irony is she was a millennial (sorry to those of you in this category, but most of you deserve the heckling) and she had NO IDEA what most movies the songs were from or the bands that played them. How did she even GET this playlist was the question I wanted to ask in between my huffing and puffing? I’m talking the theme song from St Elmo’s Fire, Whitney Houston, and Dirty Dancing. Finally, the last song came on and it was Prince and it seemed to register with her, kind of. And by “kind of” I mean it was Purple Rain and guess what? Her favorite color is purple. She probably had a say in the lavender medical shirt wraps. Not my normal choice of treadmill tunes, but sometimes you have to let someone else play Nurse DJ, especially if they are investigating the health of your heart. (Note to self, next year bring my own playlist)

OK back to the treadmill dets, still no sports bra and my double D situation and oh by the way…every few minutes they also have to also take your blood pressure while you’re still running hooked up to all of the wires, while you’re still running straight up in the air with no sports bra, by placing one arm on a nurses shoulder who is standing next to you all while you are at a very fast speed. If you know me well at all, then you know I am VERY accident prone. I should wear a helmet it’s so bad. I’m concentrating so hard on not flying off the back of the treadmill that is now angled basically straight up towards the sky, holding my breasts for dear life so they don’t hit me in the face or hit the nurse, and also trying not to take the other blood pressure taking nurse with me on my way down. (Thank you Whitney “Dancing on the ceiling” helped, since I basically WAS, may you RIP)

OK Bryson, Keep your head in the game my inner voice says. Don’t fly off back of treadmill and beat the clock while getting my heart rate over 150 BPM. My two main objectives. That and basically do not have a heart attack in the middle of the stress test like I did back in 2015 that NO ONE saw coming. It was like Gray’s Anatomy episode but in real life. I never ever want to feel that way again. Stomping along at a quick pace with my short little muscular legs, I’m starving because there’s no food or drink 4-6 hours before with the exception of water. All I want is an iced americano with a splash of cream, a nap, and a Peanut Butter Perfect Bar (thank you Megan W. for introducing me to the gateway drug protein bar and thank Costco for selling them in bulk. You can get all of my money Starbucks!). It’s the longest 10+ minutes of my life.

I have reached my point of exhaustion, beating last year’s “record” by almost a full minute. (although they keep repeating to me that it’s not a competition). Once I hit exhaustion and indicate I can go no further, they whipped me around quickly in what felt like a choreographed dance from a Super Bowl halftime show, and had me back over to the table for the 2nd round of the heart acho (aka heart ultrasound) to compare before exertion and after. This part is really not much fun after you’ve worked up a sweat, are out of breath, clinging to your breasts, while covered in heavy duck-tape stickers and wires. Plus, I have asthma from years of being a former smoker so my face is now almost as purple as the stupid medical shirt that has thankfully not flown open. (Kids don’t smoke. It’s ugly, and smelly and not worth it. Adults if you still smoke, stop. Like now. Bite your nails instead. No one has ever died from too many manicures)

Dizzy and catching my breath, I quietly whispered, “Did I pass?” (Please say yes, please say yes, I can’t tell what any of your War Games inspired screens mean screams the voice in my head) Per usual, they told me my cardiologist would need to review and assess the reports, but that overall things looked good. HOORAY! I did hear them whisper about something that my doc would need to take a closer look at in the results, but I’m guessing they’re just so impressed with how BIG my heart is that is probably what they were whispering about. (Insert winky face emoji here) I’m such a giver. Or maybe they were just whispering thank goodness that one is done. I wouldn’t blame them if they did. Nurses jobs are hard people! I know I could never be one.

AND, for now for the best news ever. Drum roll please (drums fingers on mousepad)… I now have the heart of an 36 year old! I’m basically the Benjamin Button of Seattle and it’s for sure time to lower my age requirements on the dating apps I’m on. Younger men you better watch out, there’s a new cougar in Issaquah on the loose!

Benjamin Button
Alysse “Cute as a” Button FaceTune Age Challenge that went viral in 2019

At my core, I’m a storyteller (with humorous undertones) and my best stories are my real life experiences. I hope to continue to share more about what happened around my heart disease leading up to it, how I’ve lived with it over the last four years, but for now, my 36 year old heart wants to get away from this screen time and go do something fun and wild. And by fun and wild, I mean a long walk with my dogs followed by a hot bath and a Netflix binge or a good book. My heart may be 36 but my body is still 44.

American Heart Association – promoting healthy and regular walking tips

If you are someone you know are experiencing any heart related symptoms or want tips on how to have a healthy heart, please check out this page from the American Heart Association as a resource or go to your nearest hospital.

To read more about story, that includes a video of me speaking at the Go Red for Women luncheon for the American Cancer Association go here.

This wasn’t far off from my real life experience. I encourage all busy women to take 3 minutes and watch it,
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Alysse Bryson
Alysse Bryson

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