"Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!"
Herman Melville, Moby Dick
So, I haven’t been to my own Tahiti in the backyard for a while - or to this blog - because I encountered my own white whale in the middle of July. Following a day working outside, I began to feel the horrors of the half known life: the now-familiar racing heartbeat I recognize as atrial fibrillation.
I had spent the third day in a row outside, cleaning up the backyard after the guys put down dg rock where nothing will grow. I moved flower pots, chairs etc and generally rearranged the furniture. I had everything swept and tidy and spent the last hour watering and generally appreciating how lovely everything looks. I take great satisfaction, and Ireceive great peace when my work in the yard is complete. The best part of the day is hand watering and then sitting still to enjoy the fruits of what I considered healthy exercise and hard work. So much for that little theory. I had experienced irregular cardiac symptoms over the past few days and chose to ignore them: when I felt funny heartbeats, I'd stop and sit still for a while until things settled down. Apparently, you shouldn’t do that, despite the fact that I felt ok at the time.
I had some left over dinner while talking to my sister on the phone for a good half hour. I then hit the shower, which is where the unannounced and uncontrollable heart racing began. My pulse went up to 155 over the next hour, and included what the doc calls "palpitations". That word conjures an image of an old lady wearing a flower-print dress with a lace collar, sitting in an overstuffed chair fanning herself with a hankie and complaining of having the vapors. The actual medical term is premature ventricle contractions. To me, it was the kind of pounding and thumping that you can feel in your chest after running too fast too long, but it was irregular and jumpy. I took a few atenelols and tried to get some cat purring therapy, but Lily wasn't particularly interested in rocking quietly on my shoulder, the ungrateful little bitch. At least, I didn't hyperventilate and/or panic like I did when this happened on my birthday a few months ago. So, Tech Support Guy and I decided it was time to avail myself of the health care system’s benefits. Being concerned about hurting delicate feelings, not to mention incurring legal liability, let’s just say my health care system’s name rhymes with Geyser Vermin and Tea, or GVT for short, and the names below have been changed.
So, we drove to the ER, taking it easy on surface streets. TSG had discovered a flat tire on trying to go to the grocery earlier in the day. At least AAA had already been out to change the tire, but we were using the little toy spare tire and didn't want to take the freeway. This time, we didn't snark at each other out of misplaced panic like we did on the ER run a couple of months ago, and by now, the palpitations had stopped. My heart was still racing, but it seemed to be smoother, and we took that as a good sign.
I got right in at the ER by sitting down and calmly explaining I was in a-fib and presenting a list of blood pressure and heart rates and times and meds taken in the prior hour. So far, this was pretty much like before. The difference began when they gave me the first IV med and it didn't stop the a-fib in its tracks. Watching this on a hospital monitor is very instructive. I am convinced I should be able to do some biofeedback and make it smooth out, but no such luck. The pulse rate actually went down to the 100-120 range thanx to the meds, but the distances between the tall upward pointy spikes in the heartbeat continued to be unevenly spaced, and that's what is called atrial fibrillation. By now, it's about 20:00 and we are not amused.
It took about 6 hours and several variations on type of med and type of delivery before my heartbeat settled back into what they call normal sinus rhythm. By now, they were insisting I had to be admitted - something we were both determined to avoid. This isn't out of some misplaced idea that I'm a superhero. It's because the ER is a very loud and stressful place, and the last time I spent the night in the hospital I brought home some bad bug and mother ended up in a rehab facility, and I just wanted to go home to sleep in my own bed. It took until 3:00 am before the very busy ER admitting doc got to us. He not only looked at me instead of the monitor when he spoke, he assumed I had a functioning brain. He also said I should stick around and he could get me a quiet room. So TCG drove home slowly and texted me on his safe arrival (on the toy tire) and said he got to bed at 4 and later said that he got to sleep at 5. I finally got to a room at 5:30 but this talkative nurse kept me up until 6:30 doing her on-line questionnaire (Do you feel safe at home? Do you want to see a Chaplin? I know, but we have to ask this etc.). I finally told her I was exhausted and to leave me alone and fell asleep promptly until awoken exactly one hour later for more shit like getting my temp taken and my IV untangled and making sure I turned over so I wouldn't get bedsores ("I know, but we have to do this" - apparently even if the patient dies from sleep deprivation). As I once again realized, I'm not at my best when cranky and nap-deprived.
By 10:30 the next morning I was off the IV and my heartbeat was regular. I was seen by two shifts of nurses, including 2 more shift supervisors, a dietician wanting to know what I wanted for dinner, an attending doc, a cardiologist, a pharmacist and at least 4 other people who went over several variations of my prescription drugs (though curiously, all reading presumably the same online version of my file) and I think either Zombie Mother Teresa or a homeless bag lady with a hospital ID she stole from a nurse who must have caught her going through the hazardous waste trash looking for syringes and who she had to shank. Pretty sure that's what happened. I had breakfast (that sat there for 2 hours while I tried to nap in between visits from people who didn't realize I wasn't wearing my hearing aids and that I was faking understanding them just to get them to leave me alone). I had lunch. I finally got to pee all by myself. BTW, did you know that when you get several gallons of saline intravenously with a tiny bit of drugs, it goes directly to your bladder? Someday, you'll thank me for this important information. It's apparently something completely unknown to professional medical people.
I finally got discharged at 3:00 just when Nurse Betty promised me she'd let me out. We stopped to pick up my new drugs, and listen to the bored pharmacist read from the pile of papers in front of me and tell me not to be worried by all the DIRE WARNINGS IN CAPITAL LETTERS sprinkled through the quarter-ream of package inserts. The ER Admitting doc mentioned that one of my new prescriptions (Coumadin/warfarin) actually includes an anticoagulant ingredient used in rat poison. Ahh, the miracles of modern chemistry never start to cease to amaze me.
The scariest part of this particular episode was about midnight when nothing would make the a-fib stop and some idiot who took a chest x-ray explained that he was a medic in Iraq and my ER nurse, Heather, (who was about 16 and very competent and nice) was new and he knew this because she didn't want to let people die who were going to die anyway but tried to save them when she should move on to other patients who might actually not die. Upon completion of the x-ray he said: I hope I didn't scare you. The douche.