Syracuse Online

Chest Pain

The Heart of the Matter

Published March 10, 2003 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

On a cold winter day, I went out for my regular noontime run with two fellow engineers. We had run the same course hundreds of times, but that Monday proved eventful. As we hammered up the first hill, I felt tightness in my chest and a gripping pain towards my left shoulder. I slowed down to catch my breath as a sense of peace overtook me: "I am ready Lord. Thy will be done."

My chest pain lasted eight seconds. I kept running alongside the engineers, oblivious to their technical chatter. I listened to my heartbeat. On the way back, my chest pain returned up the same hill. I slowed down. The pain subsided. I called it a day, and walked in.

I phoned my physician, who arranged to see me. An electrocardiogram and a chest X-ray revealed no evidence of a cardiac event. Blood tests showed no abnormalities either. So, he prescribed a treadmill echo stress test.

In the morning, I reported to the hospital ready to run. The nurse proceeded to shave parts of my chest, and attached a dozen electrodes. She took baseline electrocardiograms and echocardiograms, and explained the test protocol, named Bruce.

Bruce required me to walk normally as the cardiologist monitored my EKG. Every three minutes, Bruce increased the speed and incline of the treadmill to increase the stress on my heart. The nurse exclaimed that the world record on that treadmill was fourteen minutes.

I walked the first six minutes chatting about the running scenes in "Alias". I jogged the next three minutes, and ran the following three minutes with both hands off the handles. I eyed the world record. At twelve minutes, Doc asked me if I wanted to continue. "Of course." The treadmill raised and raced. I pumped my arms and breathed harder. My quads burned. I felt no chest pain.

Doc called off the test at thirteen minutes despite my protests. The nurse rolled me on my left side onto a bed, and took an echocardiogram of my racing heart. My pulse recorded 185 beats per minute. I panted frantically. My chest expanded and collapsed rhythmically.

Then came the good news. "There is nothing wrong with your heart. Keep jogging."

I was not sure if shaving my chest or calling me a jogger was a greater insult, but that was the wrong time to argue semantics. Relieved and disoriented, I toweled off and went searching for a cappuccino.

© 2003 The Post-Standard.

Kamal Jabbour has given up steak-n-eggs before running. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at