The Executive Evaluation Center sits on the top floor of the Sentara medical tower overlooking the swath of water which surrounds the city of Norfolk, Virginia. Its purpose is to provide to people with the most comprehensive day of medical testing possible. People seek this type of place out to get a complete picture of their health and to try and catch issues such as cancers and risks of heart attacks and strokes. My grandparents generously purchased one of these examinations for me as a graduation gift, so on Thursday (6/15) I got up at the crack of dawn to go see pictures of my insides.
My exam, while made up extensive but not unusual tests, was a really unique experience. Most people don’t consider bumming around a medical center a good time. I had a blast. Here’s what happened and what I learned both about my body and health in general.
The women at the front desk received me excitedly as I walked in at 6:45 on the dot (I had to get up just before six to get there in time… I was tired) and showed me to my room. Because each day of evaluations hosts a small number of people at once, everyone gets a suite of their own. The rooms are a perfect blend of hotel room and hospital exam area. I had a cozy chair to sit in, a desktop computer and telephone, a TV, and a closet to put my stuff in. A doorway led to a small room with a exam table/bed and some supplies. A very sweet nurse named Joy introduced herself to me and told me she’d be taking care of me throughout the day. They had me change into a pink medical gown and gave me a super cozy robe to wear over it. Joy took my height, weight, and blood pressure.
I sat in the armchair in my room and watched another nurse wheel in a big cart full of vials and syringes. My stomach knotted up. I really, really do not like needles. Most people are pretty afraid of them as a kid and eventually they just learn to deal with it. I seem to have only ever gotten worse. At 18 years old, I started shaking when this nurse stuck the needle in me. That’s a first.
Joy came back in and did an EKG and a test I don’t remember the name of, but essentially she tested the blood pressure in my legs and in my arms to see how my circulation was at the points closest and furthest away from my heart. They had a personal trainer come in and talk to me about my lifestyle. We had a pretty good talk about food and training and came to the conclusion that I need to do more cardio, mainly because I told him right off the bat that I don’t do enough cardio. He seemed to like what I’m doing otherwise with my food and training.
I was then led out of the room and into a meeting room with big spinny chairs, a long table, and a glass of water ready for me. Like most of the rooms I’d been in, one of the walls was covered in huge windows that overlooked the water. It was a grey day, so the natural light was soft and pretty. A doctor greeted me in a surprisingly British accent when I entered the room. He introduced himself as Dr. Jones and explained to myself and another patient that this part of the Evaluation was called “mini medical school”.
He explained that the Executive Evaluation was conceived when a bunch of doctors got together and asked themselves the following question: “If we could put together a day of testing that would give us the best picture of our health, what tests would we include?” He also told me that usually these tests aren’t administered without an order related to a specific concern and that they wanted to use this evaluation to give people the opportunity to get these tests done as they wished.
The bulk of the presentation explained some of the testing that would happen that day, why they picked those tests, and what they would tell us. He also gave us general health information that would come in handy for understanding our results. He talked about factors that lead to strokes and heart attacks and the functions of different organs and what kind of things can go wrong with those. Long story short, they threw a bunch of information at me in a short amount of time.
I went back to my room for some small tests with Joy and changed into tennis shoes for my stress echocardiogram test. I remembered seeing this one in the movies: they did an ultrasound of my heart, then had me go on a treadmill with all sorts of little things hooked up to me so they could measure my heart rate at various speeds and inclines. Dr. Oelrich, the cardiologist, was awesome. We looked at the pictures of my heart and he showed me the different parts and helped me understand my results. He also gave me advice for maintaining a strong heart and avoiding complications in the future. He was incredibly friendly.
After that, I moved into the ultrasound room for abdominal, carotid artery, and uterus/ovary imaging. This took a while, but I closed my eyes and tried to rest a bit to recover from getting up so early. When I wasn’t doing that, I looked at the ultrasound tech as she looked at the screen and tried to see if anything was wrong with me based on her facial expressions.
I made my way back upstairs for some food. All I had left was a physical and then to go over my results. I met my main doctor, Dr. Daman, who sat down for me with my consultation. We talked through family history and went through a packet I’d filled out beforehand. She gave me ideas on how to deal with little day to day issues that I had (headaches, for example) and advice on supplements. Dr. Daman was a smart cool lady doctor and I liked her a lot.
We did a physical where she looked inside my mouth, ears, did some eye stuff, and showed me how to self-examine for signs of breast cancer. She also did some weird tests that I’d never heard of. For example, there was one where she tickled the bottoms of my feet and the way that my toes curled was indicative of possible brain issues.
After some feet tickling and reflex checking, it was time to see my results.
Results and what I learned
Overall: I’m healthy.
Although I was a baby about the needle, the blood tests told me a lot. Almost all of my levels were completely good and normal (take that, people who think I’m deficient in things because I’m a vegan!). The one notable deficiency that I had was vitamin D, which was puzzling because I take a supplement. When I went home, I discovered the reason: my D supplement is D2, not D3. I can’t believe I didn’t realize that! My supplement is basically useless.
The only other discovery of note on my lab work was that my white blood cell count is pretty low, but Dr. Daman said it could be that I’m naturally that way as opposed to anything fishy going on.
My ultrasounds didn’t show any abnormalities. My heart has a slightly leaky valve, but Dr. Oelrich told me that this was so common and so negligible that it isn’t worth thinking about. I did later receive a phone call telling me I’m a carrier for the hemochromatosis gene, but that I don’t have it myself. I’m grateful to be in good health.
Other than the things I learned specifically about myself, I learned a lot about health in general. Here are three big lessons I learned while at the Executive Ethvaluation center:
1.) Healthy habits are really, really simple.
When it comes to health, of course there are things we cannot help- genetic things, diseases and conditions we’re born with, cancers, etc. But there’s a lot we can control. Being nice to your body and taking good care of everything isn’t some crazy secret that requires a apple cider vinegar “detox” and an acupuncture treatment every week. All it really takes is eating good food most of the time, taking a multivitamin to try and keep your levels up, and getting some exercise. Get some sleep. Drink lots of water. Also, don’t smoke. Dr. Oelrich stressed this one a lot. I didn’t say that these things are easy, but they are simple. They’re habits that you can build at any age and if nothing else, they’ll just help you feel better. These are the little things our doctors tell us to do that we shrug off, but these are the most basic fundamentals of living a healthy life. None of the doctors at Sentara told me to do anything crazy or difficult to maintain my health, just to keep up with these habits.
2.) Preventative healthcare is the best healthcare.
The Executive Evaluation Center’s slogan is “What you don’t know can hurt you.” I think this is pretty accurate. Most of the time we go to the doctor because we have symptoms. With little things like the flu, this makes sense. It doesn’t work quite as well for big things. Dr. Jones showed us side by side pictures of two people with lung cancer. One of them was experiencing symptoms, one had the cancer but no symptoms yet. The difference in what was in their lungs and in the treatability of the cancers was astonishing. We can’t always catch everything early, but doing things like keeping up with checkups and physicals and getting an idea of when to start screening for certain cancers based on family history makes a huge difference.
3.) Education is so important.
Look, I’m not saying everyone needs to get up and get an executive evaluation right now. I learned a lot while I was there though, and everything they taught me was really practical information that was relevant to me and my health. I was pretty amazed at how much basic information about my body that I didn’t know. You don’t need a medical degree, but it helps to do some research here and there and gain a better idea of how we work. The internet has an abundance of unreliable information, but also a ton of pretty trustworthy websites. It’s 2017 and there’s no good excuse for ignorance.
Overall, I had a fantastic time at the Executive Evaluation center. I learned a lot and all of the staff were absolutely wonderful. Also, they had yummy food. Isn’t that all we need in life?