When life-changing events happen to you and are still fresh in your memory, you’d likely come to the same conclusion I did: “I need to tell this story, and it needs dick jokes.”
Days ago, my heart went into acute Tachycardia, meaning it was just beating too got-damn fast. SO. I’m gonna lay out for you some important facts that could JUST save your life some day.
Lemme start off by saying I’ve been having panic attacks since I was seventeen. The jackhammering heart, the racing thoughts, the fear I was dying RIGHT THAT INSTANT. Over the years, I tried out therapy, antidepressants, and meditation. A combination turned out to be the most helpful thing, and I haven’t had one in a few years.
So when my heart started pounding away like a ten-man drumline for an audience of one, I was a bit confused, but not overly concerned. I have heartburn. I enjoy steak, pizza, and other evidence that god loves us. This was also not the FIRST TIME this had happened recently, and had gone away on its own after about twenty minutes. Right?
Wrong. After the first hour of non-stop pounding, cold sweats, nausea, and never ending burping, I thought I might be having a heart attack instead. (Insert photo here of Booger from Revenge of the Nerds)
So my roommate drove me to the ER, and I admitted myself.
FYI: if you’re feeling like you’re having a heart attack, call 911. Do NOT just have a friend drive you. I was lucky that it worked out, but a friend who works in medicine told me that it’s way better to be surrounded by trained MEs on the ride over, just in case. This made perfect sense.
I told the registrar calmly as possible, “I think I’m having a heart attack.” You’d be AMAZED how fast that works to get you some quality service. So the doctors took my vitals, and said I was having a bad case of Tachycardia. He politely informed me my heart was going 220 BPM. I was, of course, surprised. I asked him, “How is this any different from a heart attack?”
He smiled without showing his teeth and said, “That’s when your heart STOPS. This is... the opposite of that.”
So then the nurse administered 12 mg of a drug intended to STOP MY HEART, and then allow it to reset at a proper pace. I’d experienced things more PAINFUL in my life, but nothing so scary. An invisible elephant sat on my chest, and I couldn’t inhale or exhale. I felt completely paralyzed, for all of 3 seconds.
It didn’t work.
The doctor was surprised to find the ol’ ticker went RIGHT back into overdrive. He looked at me, then looked at the nurses. “Give him another 12.” Round two of terrible pain, invisible elephants, completely unable to breathe, feeling helpless as a shelled turtle.
It didn’t work that time, either.
I’ve since edited my memory of these events to include a moment of sheer badassery, where I lifted my head off the gurney and growled at the doctor, “Got another one in ya?”
The THIRD time they administered the drug, there were five terrible seconds of blindness. I couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move. It was horrifying, and THAT was the worst part. The fear. Pain is one thing: it commands your attention and it’s hard to ignore. Not knowing if you’ve got another breath coming is by-god terrifying.
Then it was over. I’m not saying it worked. It didn’t. My heart was STILL pounding away, so the Doctor told me they were going to sedate me, then administer small shocks. I got him to call it “The ol’ zappy zap” (this part is true), and agreed to go under sedation.
I woke up in a hospital bed with IV tubes in both arms, and a blood pressure cuff to boot. It was still Tuesday. I hoped that they’d keep me overnight for observation and maybe run some tests the next day.
I assumed I’d simply lost the war against Steak and other delicious foods, and they’d give me a gamut of restrictions and I’d be home in time for a low-calorie supper.
I was wrong.
Between the tests, the checks on my vitals, and posting on Facebook to let friends know I was still alive, I was bored out of my mind. They kind of discourage you from doing anything resembling WORK in a Hospital Bed. Funny thing, that.
This seems more cynical than it sounds. All I mean here is that when you announce you’re in legitimate danger, people you haven’t seen or spoken to in weeks (or months) will come out of the woodwork. Some will show up in person, but by and large they’re going to be messaging you or commenting to let you know they’re concerned. (Insert picture of Gondor Bonfire)
Folks you haven’t seen in half a year will call, or show up to check on you, and you’re reminded that you got-damn MATTER to people. It’s incredibly humbling.
I was lucky enough to wind up at INOVA in Alexandria. Come Wednesday, I found my Cardiologist had already scheduled an Ablation for Friday— just in case the tests proved my cardiac marathon wasn’t the result of blood pressure, cholesterol, or my thrice-avowed love of steak. (Insert photo of filet mignon with blue cheese on top)
The doctor KNEW I didn’t have insurance, but he didn’t care. He knew if I left the hospital before getting the Ablation, it probably wouldn’t happen. I was immensely comforted to know he was looking after my health first, and not my financial statement.
The procedure I had, the Ablation, starts with inserting an extremely thin tube into the femoral arteries— on both sides of your junk. I awoke post-op to find they’d been thoughtful enough to shave the areas in advance. Not just because of sanitary concerns, but so it would HURT LESS when the tape covering the spot was eventually removed.
I have no idea if it was a man or a woman who man-scaped my bathroom area, and it couldn’t matter less. When they’re going to be working on (potentially) saving your life, modesty is the least of your concerns. Later on, when the nurse had to check on the insertion points, I’d lost all sense of propriety. She was a complete professional. I mean, these people were saving my life. They earned a look at my junk.
I’m also grateful that when it came time to remove the bandaging, it was significantly easier than taking off the EKG pads. Let’s just say I left the hospital with a lot less chest hair than when I went in.
Okay: so Friday morning, I was wheeled on a gurney into the prep wing. I really only could see UP. I was disoriented, and a bunch of strangers were having me sign things and making sure I understood what was about to happen. Then we went into the OR itself, and my anxiety was super high.
Then, I reminded myself that whatever was gonna happen in the procedure, it couldn’t possibly be worse than being awake for feeling my heart stop. Three times. I felt a wave of relief, and the whole situation got a lot less scary after that.
Turned out I had an extra passage on my Atrioventricular Node. That tiny lump of tissue controls how fast your heart beats, and it’s only supposed to have two wires. Mine had three. They did some tests, identified the flaw, then they SENT IT TO HELL.
Remember how I said I thought this was just a panic attack? I’ve been having those for twenty years. The fact that it felt and looked like a panic attack at the time, didn’t mean it was one. I’ve admitted myself to the ER before for really bad ones, but they tended to die down before someone could see me. THIS time, it was going non-stop. They checked me out, ran tests galore, and figured out what WASN’T the problem first, before performing the Ablation.
Since I got out of the hospital, I’ve made a complete turn-around. I feel LOADS better, namely because for the first time in my life, my heart is working the way it’s supposed to.
Keep in mind that I was very, very, VERY lucky. If you THINK something might be wrong with your ticker, for god’s sake go to your doctor. Get it checked out. Don’t WAIT to blow a gasket before you wind up in a hospital.
If you’ve liked this story, then please do click here if you’d like to help out with the medical bills. Turns out getting an invasive procedure done while staying in the hospital for half a week isn’t cheap! Who knew?