Overdue! The Therapeutic Post for Me

I’m overdue for a post, but what else is new? The rabbits have been continuously evaluated and some Silver Fox and American rabbits moved on to their new homes. I’ve lost another intermediate rabbit (sadly :(). More rabbits have kindled and some have lost litters, some babies are doing well and growing into proper bunnies. We’re getting ready for the Maryland Poultry Swap. There are piles of chicks everywhere, the ducklings are turning into ducks and my garden….

Well, I have a lot of planting left to do.

But the updates are for another post.

I’m going to get personal for a minute. So if you don’t like overshares, don’t bother reading. If you’re struggling with a heart rhythm disorder, feel free to read. Maybe I’ll give you some support, or maybe I’ll piss you off because our situations just aren’t the same.

This is a long story because I have to get it off my chest, not because it’s a particularly good story to read. It’s not life-changing for anyone but me. It’s about my anxiety, and my stress, and my need to feel normal again. And how one little [big] thing can throw that off. I’m not going to die, at least not today, and that’s the feeling I need to hold on to.

About 6 years ago is when I remember having my first episode. The first feeling like something was going to explode inside my chest. Like little mice were flipping inside, butterflies battering against a cage. I’m not sure how long it lasted. Fifteen minutes. Maybe thirty. I was in the middle of Being Extremely In Shape but trying to convince myself to enjoy running on a treadmill (Spoiler Alert: I still hate running on a treadmill).

I think I had episodes before then, but this is the one I distinctly remember.

After that, I talked to my doctor. He said they were normal, just palpitations. Some people are more sensitive, but if they happened more frequently I should go to a cardiologist. When they happened more frequently, I went to the cardiologist: Palpitations, some people are more sensitive, don’t be so stressed, you’re perfectly healthy, you’re young.

So I carried on. They hit me but they weren’t debilitating. They lasted for 15-30 minutes at a time. They’d catch me off guard and make me a little nervous and then they would go away. I’d move on and forget about them. They only happened every few months back then. Then we moved, I got a new job, life continued on.

They never really stopped. They always made me pause, get nervous, regroup. But I didn’t know what they were, so I kept saying it: Palpitations, palpitations, palpitations. Think of it like a steady heartbeat when you read it, like a drum: Palpitations, palpitations, palpitations.

So as they continued, I returned to the doctor and saw a new cardiologist. The same spiel, the same tests: You’re perfectly healthy, it’s stress, lose weight (I was in the middle of Trying to Impress a New Job and Eating Too Much), be calm, you’re young.

So every few months they came and went. Structurally my heart was fine. I needed to lose weight and every time I tried, after two weeks or so my heart would do it’s race again. I felt like I’d swallowed a helicopter, or maybe a hamster wheel. This constant whirring for 15-30 minutes.

The first time I remember it lasting longer I had just finished a 9-mile hike with a friend. I was feeling great. Nine miles, even though I was out of shape, and I felt beautiful. I was drinking Sangria and eating goat cheese. I was buying fresh vegetables and munching on peaches. I was young, I was healthy, I was trying to lose weight.

That day it last four hours. I was wearing a heart rate monitor at the time (calories in, calories out!) and my heart rate wouldn’t go under 150 for four hours. Even when I was sitting perfectly still.

I hated that feeling. For some people, it lasts for days. How do you survive that? Mentally, how do you handle it? Because for me, four hours put me on edge. It felt different, I felt shaky, I felt nervous, I felt– I felt everything. Urgent care was closing and so I just repeated my mantra: Palpitations, palpitations, palpitations. Anxiety–that had to be it.

A few months later when it came back in full-force, it lasted two hours. I had been in the middle of exercising. I was wearing my handy-dandy heart rate monitor. I had walked 9 miles two days before (this time with more pain, more anxiety about something). I had exercised for 30 minutes at lunch. I was in the middle of my 15 minutes and then–

Oh my. How my heart beats.

I’m mildly hypoglycemic, too, so sometimes these episodes would be quieter. They would start, I would eat, they would slowly go away. So I ate a granola bar and packed up my things and drove home.

Forty-five minutes passed, and my heart still raced. I ate a banana, I chugged water, I sat on the couch and watched my heart rate churn at 150.

An hour and a half passed and I thought: This is my chance. I can know what it is, and I can move on.

So off to Urgent Care I went. I drove myself, watched my heartrate skyrocket. By the time I was at urgent care, my heartrate was a steady 180-190 when sitting down. I don’t know about you, but my heartrate doesn’t even get that high when I exercise. When I would stand up, I’d hit 200. 220. 230. I felt sick, I felt nervous, I felt–scared.

By the time they took me back and did an EKG, they knew exactly what it was: atrial fibrillation. This was about the time when I started to freak out. My husband (then-boyfriend) was on a camping trip and I was at home alone. The only things I have ever heard about atrial fibrillation were bad ones. The feeling was uncomfortable, and then I had a doctor asking me if there was anyone who could take me to the hospital because they didn’t want me driving, and otherwise they would call me an ambulance. They didn’t want me to risk passing out on the way to the hospital.

I was crying, I was freaking out, and even though we have lived here for a few years, most of my friends live over an hour away. Except my one friend Victoria, who I knew pretty well, but we weren’t close. (Spoiler Alert: We got closer after this, and she is a wonderful great friend up here; I don’t know what I would have done without her that night.) So I called my friend Victoria who I only ever talked to about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and maybe a book or two. And she came and drove me to the hospital and sat with me and told me it was all going to be OK, and stayed until 11pm or later, up to the point when they decided they were going to hold me for the night.

Terrified, terrified, terrified.

There’s not much more after that. I self-converted, which means my body was able to get back into normal rhythm on its own. My husband came home from his hunting trip the next day to take me home from the hospital and help me pick up my car. He helped with the dogs and went back out, because I was fine by then.

That was in November of 2012. Since that day, I haven’t (or hadn’t? dare I say?) been the same. I’ve always been a nervous person, but this made it worse. I had this thing hanging over my head. I was paranoid, I had routine doctor appointments. I was told I was perfectly healthy, just take this medicine, just take this pill, if it gets worse we’ll discuss other options–

I was scared. More scared than I should have been in retrospect, but you can’t control your level of fear sometimes. So I let it take hold of my life. I was afraid to exercise because every time I got back into it, it felt like the episodes would start. If I ate well, the episodes would start. If I ate poorly the episodes would start. I hated being by myself because–the episodes would start.

A lot of it was just coincidence, I know now. It just happened. Stress can make it worse. Exercise seems it could have been one of my triggers. But so was low blood sugar, low potassium, and sometimes just the sensation of my heart beating.

So I’ve spent almost two years being terrified of my own heartbeat. Any little pitter-patter and I pause. I stop. My body locks up and I wait. Is it starting? Is it racing?

I was afraid to go on trips by myself, because–what if? I was afraid to go in an airplane because I couldn’t handle the stress of an airplane coupled with the stress of an episode. You can’t escape it in an airplane.

At my 6-month appointment (turned 10-month appointment) with my cardiologist I confessed it had gotten worse. Monthly, or every other month. The episodes lasted anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours, and I had them one or twice or…. keep adding a month.

Within a month I had been given my holter monitor. Mine was a 10-day monitor, hooked up with electrodes to three spots on my body 24-7. I could only take it off to shower. When I was getting it put on, the nurse joked about the reception of the device being off because I was big chested. We laughed; I said it wasn’t likely I was going to have an episode. I’d had one a few days before, and was nearing the time when they went away.

Five hours later as I started to drift off to sleep–

Racing, pounding, hurtling.

That night may have been as terrifying as the hospital, all because I was getting phone calls. You see, the holter monitor automatically sends events to the company that owns the device if it detects any problems. And I was having an episode for two straight hours, so they kept calling: Are you OK? How are you feeling? Sit tight.

It was terrifying, but also comforting. Someone was there. I had less to worry about because if my heart beat out of my chest or if I passed out, someone would know. (My husband was sleeping, and I hate worrying him.) As I was falling asleep, the sensations finally going away, my doctor called me. I was to go straight to the pharmacy and get started on a new medicine.

So much for sleep.

It was stressful; I was worried. I took off work the next day I was so tired. I was edgy all day, I was pushing my “event” button for the smallest things. I went to the cardiologist and she wanted to get me in with an EP (electrophysiologist) by the end of the next week. I was being rushed, I was being worried, I was wondering what is wrong with me that doesn’t go wrong with everyone else.

Once I finally saw the EP, finally–finally–I was able to calm down. I was told that what they thought I had wasn’t atrial fibrillation, it was supraventricular tacchycardia. The SVT was agitating my heart enough to trigger a-fib. I could continue to live with it, and it wasn’t life threatening (provided I continued to not pass out). But it would get worse. It would go from being a few times a month to a few times a week, to possibly persistent. My heart would start thinking this was the new rhythm it liked. I could probably continue to go into a-fib, because as he said, you could get anyone’s heart to go into a-fib if you tried hard enough.

My heart eventually would weaken, and really–I would just be miserable. I was a very happy, but very terrified (and that’s a form of misery to me) person.

The way to fix it it’s called a catheter ablation. The procedure isn’t a particularly risky one, but you’re still passed out for it, they stick a catheter in your groin and guide it to your heart to burn or freeze the bad pathways. I was absolutely terrified. I left the office saying I would call them back but, even as I walked away, I looked to my husband and said. “It’s a no-brainer.”

I could continue to live my life terrified, afraid to go anywhere by myself, where my husband didn’t want me to go anywhere far away by myself (five hour car trip without a friend? out of the question). Or I could get this procedure, which my doctor thought would give me a 90-95% chance to live normally.

It was a no-brainer, and within three weeks it was done.

It was over.

My procedure was a week ago today. My leg is a little sore, but I think that’s from lack of use. I’m still getting some racing heart and some palpitations, and I’m not sure what is or isn’t normal after a procedure like this. I went through the procedure with absolutely nothing astounding about it, except the fact that I was terrified and a mess beforehand (sedation is my friend). I’m exercising 15 minutes a day. Slowly, just because I’m still worried. Just because I’m still paranoid.

But I have a bathingsuit to get into, or I guess really a Halloween costume to get into with the amount of time I need. I know that whatever it is won’t kill me. I know that there is a very very good chance it’s gone away forever.

I was going to talk more about the procedure for people going into it for SVT, or AVNRT in particular (atrioventricular nodal reentrant tachycardia) so people could hope their experience was as straight-forward as mine.

But the truth of the matter is the waiting was the hardest part. The waiting before the procedure, and the waiting every day and in every unfamiliar situation to know if an episode was coming.

So, I’d do it again. I’d definitely doing it again knowing there is less to be afraid of and more to gain from it, but I really hope I won’t have to.

But I’m hoping for less anxiety. I’m hoping to be able to change myself, even if slowly, back into the person I once was. A little crazy, a little anxious, a little shy. But a lot of life, a lot of wanting to put herself out there.

I need her back, and this is a great first start.

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