The lack of blogging has not been because I’m dead, fortunately. But I was hospitalized for a few days for atrial fibrillation (AFib). I’ll tell the story in case it helps any readers.
We were getting ready to go to the store when I suddenly felt my heart flutter in a very strange feeling way. If it had just been a second of that, I probably would have dismissed it. But it lasted long enough that panic set in. I knew something was wrong, but I was not sure what. I had no chest pain or shortness of breath, but my heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest and run off to New Jersey.
“I think I need to go to the ER,” I told Bitter, as I got to the top of the stairs, “Something isn’t right with my heart rhythm.” Then she starts to panic. In the car I start to calm down and debate whether I’m just having a panic attack. But I was feeling my pulse and felt like it was off.
We got to the hospital, and I told her to pull into a parking spot near the ER so I could get a better sense of how I was really feeling. I took my pulse again now that the car was stationary, and it was all over the place. Strong, weak, weak, strong, and not in a steady rhythm. I start thinking “I wonder if this is AFib? Is this what AFib feels like?”
To me, going to a hospital for treatment is one of my big phobias. It’s probably more acute than Indiana Jones laying in a pit of snakes. But when your pulse has all the rhythm of two nerds dancing at the prom, you tend to think in terms of lesser fears, and dying is the greater fear. Yes, please be sure my bed has extra snakes! I’ll take it.
I told Bitter to pull up to the ER and went up to the check-in desk and very calmly announced “Hi, I’ve never been to an ER before, but I think there’s something very wrong with my heart rhythm. I have a racing and irregular pulse.” They immediately took me back to the EKG and I was on an ER bed in minutes. I later saw on my chart the computer had flagged “Atrial Fibrillation” on the EKG, which I thought was pretty neat.
First they got me IV’d up and started me on Heparin, an anti-coagulant. AFib is not generally a life threatening arrhythmia, but it is a big stroke risk because the irregular rhythm can send clots flying around.
Then they started me onÂ Diltiazem, a calcium channel blocker, to get my pulse rate and blood pressure down, both of which were sky high, the former from the AFib, and the latter from the sheer terror I was experiencing. Later the first blood work came back and showed I had very low potassium, so they started another IV for that. That shit made my hand feel like it was on fire until they dialed back the rate.
My pulse and BP did indeed come down, but I didn’t come out of AFib, so they admitted me for the night so I could consult with a cardiologist in the morning.
The Cardiologist said probably the best thing you could say to a phobic patient, or at least this phobic patient: “This is a pretty common thing. It’s a little less common in someone as young as you, but you have absolutely nothing to worry about. I will fix you. I’m going to start you on an anti-arrythmetic, and I think that’s going to get you back to a normal sinus rhythm probably on the first pill because you’re young and have never had this before. Worse case scenario, I have to do a ‘Cardioversion’ which is a slight electrical shock of the heart to bring you back into normal rhythm. But I’m really confident medication will fix you and you won’t need that.”
And that’s basically what happened. Within 6 or so hours of the first dose of Sotalol the night nurse came by before his shift ended he told me “Your heart is trying. I can see it go normal for a bit, but then go back into AFib. But I’m betting when I come back you’ll be in a normal rhythm,” and I was. Great. Can I go home now?
No! I had to get an “echo” ultrasound of the heart. But the main reason, I think, was that any person starting on Sotalol has to be monitored continuously for three days in a clinical setting because it has a serious but rare side effect of, well, killing people. Yeah, OK… you can keep me for three days then. Though by the second day I was thinking I’d rather take my chances.
Anyway, I’m back to a normal rhythm, though I’m on a blood thinner and the Sotalol at least until I follow up with the cardiologist, but probably longer.
Hospitals suck. The staff were very attentive and caring, but there are always communication issues, and I found it’s very important to keep mentally aware of what’s going on, what they are doing to you, and what they are giving you. Be able and willing to communicate that to staff as shift’s change, etc. You effectively cannot sleep in a hospital. I decided to sleep with earbuds in playing white noise, which helps, but they still come in to take vitals and that wakes you up.
I felt more exhausted and weak walking out with a normal heart beat than I felt going in with an abnormal one, and all I needed was some drugs and observation. I can’t imagine what it’s like for someone like the 88 year old gentlemen I shared a room with. He was also in AFib, but he had so many other problems they couldn’t safely cardiovert him until those problems were death with. I’m half his age and don’t have 1/4 of his problems, and I feel like the process chewed me up and spit me out.
The nursing staff strongly suspect I have obstructive sleep apnea, and since they have me wired up and check on me all night, I believe them. They referred me to a doctor for a sleep study. The Cardiologist said, “The stress you’ve been under, your low potassium level, and the fact that you have sleep apnea, were probably a perfect storm and your heart is now basically just pissed off.” He seemed skeptical of how much diuretic I’m on for blood pressure control. I have a feeling he might change out some of my BP meds during the follow up. Fine by me as long as it works.
Ultimately I’m glad I made the decision to face my fears and anxiety about over being poked and prodded, and the loss of personal control that comes with being in a hospital. Eventually I was telling the numerous phlebotomists I was introduced to, “Use the hand. You won’t get anything out of that arm. If you want to try, that’s fine, but I’ll wager you good money you won’t succeed.” Didn’t get any takers once they started looking at it.
Anyway, that’s my story. I hope someone finds it helpful.