Thank you for all the prayers and support with My Experience with Atrial Fibrillation Part 1. Finally, the vomit in our house has stopped and everything has been properly sanitized and Lysol-ed. I did not realize how uncomfortable sharing this story would be, I’m feeling like I have a nudey picture on the internet. So thank you again for all the kind words. I especially appreciate the women sharing with me how this has been a great reminder not to neglect their health and how important self care is. Another blogger posted this recently and I could not agree more.
So here’s where I left off. I left the cardiologist’s office that day scared to death and confused. I think I had been in so much shock, I had stopped processing the information being thrown at me. This is normally when The Water Man would take over all listening and start hammering the doctor with questions. I just left. I guess I was on overload. I got home and no one was impressed with my confusion or lack of information. The Water Man researched and I ignored the situation entirely. Who has time to chase a 1-year-old eating bugs off the ground and worry about their heart.
My electro physiologist (my cardiologist calls him a heart electrician) is amazing and he was kind and clear and honest in our appointment that Monday. I brought the big guns with me and all the doctor google knowledge he could house. I listened as The Water Man asked countless questions. They did another EKG and my heart had an episode. The doctor listened to my heart and it did it again. It was happening more and more often every day. The doctor confirmed I had a form of SVT, possibly PAT like my brother. Unless I wanted to do a pretty strong medication, the only way to fix it was a catheter ablation. He said it would continue to get worse and eventually turn into Atrial Fibrillation which is a more dangerous and a more difficult fix. I asked him how long it would take to turn into A-Fib. 5 years? 1 year? 5 months? Yes, he said. There was no way to know. We had a decision to make.
Finally having a high deductible paid off. After talking about it, we decided to do the procedure right away because I was getting worse, I was exhausted every day and we had already met our very high deductible for the year. It was supposed to be a simple out patient procedure, I wouldn’t be able to lift for 3 days and it wouldn’t be a painful recovery. I wasn’t going to be put under, just twilight anesthesia which is where you are not unconscious, just sedated. It seemed simple enough.
The SVT catheter ablation is where they would go into the the veins in my legs with a catheter and up to my heart, find the area sending off the arrhythmia and use radio frequency electrical energy to cauterize those cells. Although no one is impressed with having anything burned on their heart, with a 96% success rate for an hour under sedation and 3 quick days of recovery that The Water Man was referring to as “mom vacation”, we made the decision and scheduled the ablation for the end of December.
As we waited for the procedure to begin at the hospital, I mostly annoyed everyone whining about not be allowed to have coffee. I was wheeled back in my gown into a meat locker they called an operating room with a giant TV screen over the table I laid on. There was a room full of people, male and female. The sweet pregnant nurse who was clearly on her first baby because she still had respect for my modesty took meticulous care to shimmy my gown off and slide wires under the blankets sticking monitors all over without exposing me. I was introduced to the anesthesiologist as another more seasoned nurse was telling me how they hoped my heart would “act up” while I was there. When I told her not to worry, that my heart was having an episode right then, everything happened quickly. I heard the anesthesiologist tell me to think of something happy and before I was out, that seasoned nurse took my blankets off in front of everyone. Not exactly the happy thoughts I was hoping to start with, and then I blacked out.
I woke up surprised to be in a lot of pain, my throat was killing me, my chest was on fire, the pressure felt like I might burst and I could feel painful spots bandaged on either side of my groin. I was so confused. I knew I would have to lie still for a while after the procedure and I knew what time I had gone in. When I looked at the clock, it had been hours. What was going on I wondered. I heard one nurse ask the other what procedure the patient had had. I faintly heard something about atrial fibrillation and about her heart being shocked. Now I was scared, they had the wrong patient. Why was my heart shocked? What was going on.
I kept asking her to get my husband, I kept asking her if someone had called him. I knew he was probably worried if I had been out that long. She was only telling me how important it was to be still, she gave me the impression that she would restrain me if I moved. I kept still and she administered morphine through an iv. A little while later, they finally brought The Water Man back. He explained to me that I had been in A-Fib and that they fixed it but my throat hurt because I had to be put completely under and a thermometer was put down my throat to make sure my esophagus didn’t get too hot from the amount of burning they had to do on my heart. I was wheeled to a room to spend the night and 6 hours later I could move.
The next day the doctor came in to explain that when they got in there, I was in arterial fibrillation and that they had to change the surgery they did and the equipment they used. He told me I had stitches in my legs and that my heart was very swollen because they had to cross my heart chambers by puncturing a hole in my heart. He said they had to burn nearly a hundred spots on my heart to stop the episodes. I think I just blank stared at him. He went on to say they did have to shock my heart a couple of times but that I went back into rhythm on my own. He was so calm as he told me he would be having an AFib specialist come talk to me and explained the blood thinner protocol and the 15% chance the surgery would have to be re-done.
Then the specialist came in and explained what happen again and compared the condition my heart was in to that of the skin of branded cattle. I was to be on blood thinners for at least 6 weeks and would be sending in recordings of my heart for 6 months. There was a 50% chance my heart would be back in A-Fib for 3 months while my heart healed. Then she explained what to look for in my legs in case I started bleeding internally. Hospitals are fun, aren’t they.
When we were finally alone, I just lost it. My heart was shocked, there was a hole in it. What kind of time was this going to take off the life of my heart? Surely that can’t be good and at only 35 years old and what if I had to do it again. The shock of what had happened and having no time to prepare myself was scary. Being told what had happened to me was an unnerving feeling.
I am almost a month into recovery now. The first week was harder than expected. I am not good at being still. Unfortunately, I am in the 50% that still has symptoms while my heart heals. Some days are worse than others. We will have to wait until March to know if I am in the 85% success rate. That’s a bummer. But… I am thankful. I am thankful I listened to my symptoms and went to the doctor. I am thankful we decided to do the surgery right away. I am thankful I didn’t know I had gone into A-Fib before the surgery or I would have been terrified to do it. I am thankful for the amazing support we have in our lives and that this kind of technology exists.
If there is one thing God has taught me over the last year, it is to be still. To be content in the circumstances I am in, living only for what this day brings, not tomorrow or next week or March. This is hard for me. I am a work in progress. What this experience has taught me so far is that you must listen to your body. You must take care of yourself so you can take care of your people.
If you haven’t read about what a rock star my favorite bedside advocate is, then read about my clutch husband, The Water Man here or how I am learning to be still in the new year with one life changing resolution.