254 beats per minute, ut-oh.
One week after completing cardiac rehab, it was a Monday, and I was at work as usual. It was Halloween and I stopped to buy some churros to take to work as a treat for my co-workers. I get to work, I sit down at my computer, I log in and then suddenly my heart starts racing. I started feeling hot, slightly light headed. I stand up, walk to the window to catch my breath, the air is cooler by the window. My heart is still racing. My cell phone alarm reminder beeps, I have a meeting. I take the churros upstairs to my meeting. My heart is still racing. I am the first one in the conference room. I decide to call my cardiologist. I have his cell phone number and this is starting to seem more and more like an emergency. My heart is RACING! It’s never beat this fast before even when I was exercising, it’s really loud too – remember I have mechanical valves – TICK TICK TICK TICK. It felt as if I was on the verge of vomiting my valves.
I am on the phone with my cardiologist. He gives me some instructions; “hold your breath and bear down pushing your stomach out.” I do it. No change. He says, “massage your carotid artery – neck area – in a circular motion, with pressure.” No change. He asks me to take my pulse. I tell him I can’t. He asks, “you do not know how to take your pulse?” I reply I do know how but it’s beating too fast. He asks where I am, I say work. He says go to Northwestern Memorial Hospital and that he will let them know you are on your way.
I walk into the meeting room and tell my supervisor I am not feeling well and am going to the hospital. I tell everyone to enjoy the churros. At this point, I have to go back downstairs to my desk, to grab my coat and bag. I didn’t log off my computer, I figured I’d be right back. I realize I have no money to take a cab. I walk a block to the cash station, then walk around the block to catch a cab going in the right direction. All the while my heart is racing, and I am having shortness of breath and dizzy spells. I get in the cab and tell him to take me to Northwestern Memorial Hospital ER. The cab drivers says, “ohh, someone is not feeling well?” I reply, yes, me! He drives there, fast. I sat in the back seat, trying to remain calm, but feeling very hot, sweaty, dizzy, short of breath and like I may pass out. I focus on my cell phone and answer a few emails, one from my brother and on from my mom.
My boyfriend is in California on business travel. It’s 8:30am in Chicago so it’s way early in California, I decide not to call him. I get to the ER, I walk in and give my name, they were already expecting me and had called my doctor back because they hadn’t received the ambulance call. Ambulance? Who said I was going to take an ambulance! I guess my cardiologist assumed I would. Ha! Shows how well he knows me, never would I want that kind of drama/attention at work.
At this point I knew something was seriously wrong. The nurses start to undress me. Usually they give you a gown and ask you to change, the nurse literally was unbuckling my bra and putting the ECG stickers all over my body. I ask what’s going on. They say I am in a very dangerous heart rhythm. Wow, this must be serious. In less than a minute, before I was dressed in the gown there were 10 people in my room. They tell me they are going to give me some adenosine and it will feel weird but it should help bring my heart rate down. My heart rate was 254 bpm at it’s peak. They inject the medicine, it has no affect. They give me another dose – it only bring it down to 216 bpm. They tell me they are going to cardiovert me. Cardiovert? What’s that? They explain they are going to use electricity to bring my heart rate back into a normal rhythm. Wait, is that the same as the paddles? Yes, it is.
I ask if I can call my boyfriend, they say there is no time this is very serious and my heart may just stop. They ask for his phone number. I think, this will be the worst phone call he has ever received. My heart has been in this dangerous rhythm for over 30 minutes. I never lost consciousness. They are all amazed but said time is of the essence. They anesthetize me, I’m out. They cardiovert me. I wake up later feeling tingly all over. You know that feeling when your leg or arm falls asleep, well, that times 10. Whoa!
The nurse says it took 2 max jolts to get my heart back into a “normal sinus rhythm”. A couple hours later, they move me to the ICU.
More doctors, more needles, I feel as if I am back to square one. I just finished cardiac rehab the week before and here I am back in the hospital with heart problems, again.
My brother had come to visit me while I was still in the ER, and my friend Steph came to visit while I was in ICU. By 10pm that evening my boyfriend was by my side in the hospital. He looked pale, completely frightened. He explained the awful phone call. He said the nurse spoke so slowly, he was just shouting to her “Is she still alive?!” He was terrified, the nurse said I was in a very serious condition. He rushed home.
I spent 5 days in the hospital! 5 days!! When I had heart surgery I was only in there for 6. Oy, you can imagine my aggravation. First they wanted to “observe me,” then they had to get the coumadin levels down. Then they started all the test. They did what is called an “EP study”. They did a cardiac catherization, and tried to re-enact an elevated heart rate to see where in the heart the problems was. I was only slightly sedated. I recall talking to the nurse about lasik eye surgery. I felt my heart start racing, but not nearly as fast as when I arrived at the hospital. They only took it up to 175 bpm or so. They were thinking that some scar tissue may have caused tachycardia event and the would cauterize that tissue – but as it turns out it’s in a very precarious location and they could damage the electrical system in the heart if they cauterized there. They opt to give me medication.
At they end of all the test, day 4, they explain I will have to give medication a try to keep my heart is a normal rhythm. If the meds don’t work I will be getting a pacemaker. On Day 5 I am begging to go home. The tests are done, why do I have to stay here?!
At 3pm the nurse comes in and say I will be discharged but I need to give my self injections twice a day for the next week. WHAT THE……!!!!
Ok, if it means I get discharged I will figure out how to give myself lovenox injected. They make me watch a video and say I will have to give myself the first one, with nurse supervision, before I leave. I immediately feel light-headed. How will I do this? I hate needles. I tell myself buckle up buttercup you just have to do it.
It was awful, and I have no idea how I didn’t pass out. I feigned courage. I should get an Oscar for this performance, acting like it was no big deal. Now, I am ready to go home.
Burn Marks Heal
…but the psyche took a beating.
When they cardioverted me, they put this sticky pads on me, one on my chest, one on my back. They send 200+ joules of electricity through me. You know, when you see on tv that they “paddle” someone, they wake up feeling perfectly fine. Well, I did feel better, though tingly…but I also had burn marks!!! They gave me some benadryl cream to rub on the burns marks.
In the days and weeks after being released from the hospital I really started to think I suffered from a form of PTSD – post traumatic stress syndrome. I was terrified this could happen again, at any moment. I mean, I had just finished cardiac rehab and really felt “cured”. I figured I was completely done with the cardiac drama – but apparently I wasn’t. Mondays scared me too. This happened on a Monday and I have read about the theory that most heart attacks, cardiac arrests and cardiac events happen on Mondays. Every little palpitation, every twinge, tingle or hiccup I would freeze, is it happening again?
As time passes I feel better and more secure with my heart, but I no longer think I am free and clear. I know anything can happen at at moment and I need to be cautious. I need to be in tuned with my body, listen and not blow off any symptoms I might be having.
I’m a different person after all of this. I no longer feel invincible – well, actually I sort of still do but my ego is much more in check. And with every tick I hear of my heart I remember everything I went through.