Wednesday, 7 September 2011

And It Hurts With Every Heartbeat


Ever since I was 14 I've had a problem with my heart. It was nothing serious – otherwise I’d probably be more than dead right now seeing as I had done little about it up until recently. Having said that it was an inconvenience all the same.

I had a condition called SVT. Otherwise known as supra ventricular tachycardia.

Say it with me now,

Su-pra ven-tric-u-lar tach-y-car-di-a. :)

It’s a disorder when there is an irregular electrical pathway in the heart. Triggered by an unknown cause, this pathway can result in the heart beating very fast (a fast heart rate is known as tachycardia for all you non-medical people).

So the very first time I experienced one of these episodes was when I was 14, like I said earlier. I was at school, it was recess and I was hanging out with my friends when all of a sudden...

I became very light-headed, my limbs felt heavy and I was cold. There was an extremely uncomfortable sensation in my chest and throat. I can describe the feeling as though someone was repeatedly punching me from the inside of my chest cavity, whilst someone else was strangling me.

My condition didn’t improve after time and I went home soon afterwards.

Since then the episodes would occur very intermittently and rarely. For the first few years they’d happen once or twice per annum. The length of time they’d last for also varied – from a few seconds to many hours.

Over the past few years my concern for these episodes increased as they happened more frequently. I asked my mum what she thought about it. I got the strangest reply.

I didn’t really think that she was correct. There was no way my heart felt healthy when I was having an episode...

It wouldn’t have really bothered me to have these episodes. Like I said they were more of an inconvenience when they were occurring. I can describe what happens to me when I’m having an episode with pictures.

Mum then thought that it was lifestyle related – like I didn’t exercise enough or something... pfft. I didn’t think it was. My lifestyle is quite healthy I always thought. And the episodes weren’t triggered by anything either. It wasn’t caused by stress or exertion. I could be having a shower, hanging up the washing or even just sitting down and it would happen. And I mean it when I say violent – you could see my whole chest vibrating because of it.

It took until the time I was barely 19 for me to go and get it checked out. I went to my GP who referred me to get a blood test and an electrocardiograph (ECG). I never had an ECG before. So I was quite surprised when I got there...

Anyway, the results all turned up normal. I wasn’t surprised, neither was my GP. Her advice was to go to emergency the next time I had an episode so they can assess me as it’s happening, therefore hopefully being able to make a diagnosis.

So, one day...

There wasn’t anyone available at home to take me to emergency, so I ended up driving myself there... looking back now, it probably wasn’t one of my best ideas.

(My car doesn't look so manly by the way...)

But I needed to hurry and get there – I didn’t know if it was going to be one of those really short or really long episodes.

And when I got there I took a bit of extra time to find all-day parking. Even in a critical state I refuse to pay for parking...

I could never really do much when experiencing an episode. My only option was to rest. So driving myself to emergency and walking a fair distance isn’t necessarily prescribed.

I made it to emergency a little worse for wear.

I went inside the hospital and walked up to the triage nurse.

1 minute later.

So my heart rate is normally 60 beats a minute. The average persons heart rate is between 60 and 80 bpm. When I was admitted to ED it was 200 bpm. I was hooked up to a vital signs machine, had to give a urine specimen, had many ECGs, chest x-rays, got put on 6L of oxygen, had an intravenous (IV) needle put in, was given some drugs and got asked heaps of questions.

The emergency doctor came up with the diagnosis of atrial flutter and I was given a referral to go see a cardiologist and have an echocardiogram (an ultrasound of the heart).

I also got advised not to drive myself to emergency if I was having an episode...

The echocardiogram was alright, except when the probe tried to restrict the passage of airflow in my neck. The cardiac technician did say however that I had the best trachea he’d ever seen *smug*.

When I had my appointment with the cardiologist some months later he told me the diagnosis was SVT.

By then I was so glad to get diagnosed and to know that it was nothing life threatening. However, if left untreated it can cause some problems in the future. For example, I wouldn’t be able to handle the episodes as well, or there’s a small possibility of a stroke – but I didn’t want to think about that (O_O)

So I was given one of three options. One: do nothing. Two: go on medication. Three: have surgery.

I was given some time to think about it. There was a chance that it would go away on its own, but I can’t risk having an episode whilst working. Nursing isn’t the kind of job where you can simply sit and rest for twenty minutes whilst your heart has an electrical fit. So doing nothing wasn’t an option. Straight and simple I didn’t want to go on medication either. No thank you.

At the start of this year I met up with another cardiologist to go on the waiting list for the procedure. It is called an electrophysiologic study and catheter ablation.

Basically, the surgeon makes a small incision under the clavicle and another near the groin. Then they’ll insert a few tubes in the incisions, and then insert some wires through the tubes into the vessels. The wires will then go all the way into my heart. Then I will receive a series of electrical shocks to try and trigger the SVT. Then the pathway can be identified and burned.

Oh and did I mention I have to be awake during the procedure?

After approximately 6 ½ months of waiting I finally got a call to book me in for the procedure. At this time I was just about to go in for an interview at a hospital for a graduate position.

Understandably I was no longer so nervous about the interview.

I was booked for the following Friday.

Then that got cancelled one day beforehand and postponed till next Friday.

Then the day finally came.

The surgeon explained the procedure to me. I’ve heard it all many times before. He also outlined the risks which I’m also well aware of. The complications of the procedure may be that I might need a pace maker if things go wrong. There was also a chance of having a heart attack or stroke. Big risks, but a very small chance of them occurring.

I won’t go too much into detail about experiencing the procedure – something about the sensation of feeling the wires move around inside you and being able to feel parts of your heart being burned with a probe may make some people feel uneasy. A local in the groin wasn’t that fun either.

However I did enjoy the midazolam and fentanyl.

But it wore off pretty quickly, so I needed a few more doses (as the procedure went for 2 1/2 hrs).

The operation was successful I’m happy to say. I was discharged that day too. I just had to be kept under observation for a while and had to keep my leg straight – and as a tall person who likes to sit in awkward-looking but surprisingly comfortable positions that was quite difficult.

I am now 5 days post op. Over the weekend I was extremely weak and became exhausted after minimal exertion. For example, mum and I went down the street the other day.

I also kept getting heart burn – and it’s not gastro oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) either. Well, I have to think of it as an actual burn wound in my heart. Eeeeew. But it’s getting better, and I’m finding it easier to move around again. I’m also pretty lucky because there is very minimal scarring from the incisions.

And best of all, if this procedure falls into the comfy 95% range – my SVT will be fixed!

Whilst my procedure was pretty straight forward it was still an operation on the heart. And I don’t think I’d ever want to go through that again. Seeing as there’s a small possibility that I might need another procedure is disturbing enough.

So people, don’t take your health for granted. You never know what will happen to you. I recommend being the healthiest you can be so you’ll be prepared if you ever need an operation. Smoking, drinking and a dodgy diet will each contribute to bigger risks and longer recoveries - as well as further complications with your health.


-TO YOU!!!!

PS. Thanks for reading this very long post. It's hard to believe there's still a lot of stuff I had to cut out... But oh well. It's all in the past now!
By the way - didn't I look so CU-UTE in my St Mary's uniform? XD