Atrial Fibrillation – Nine Years of Management till Cardiac Ablation

I still remember the look on the RN and ER tech face in 2012 as the EKG machine spit out my rhythm as Atrial Fibrillation (A Fib) – Heart Rate 150s.  This isn’t what a normal rhythm should be for a 37 year old lady.  This was the first time that I had the EKG capture the irregular rhythm.  That was in 2012 – but I was pretty certain it wasn’t the first time experienced A Fib. 

First Atrial Fibrillation Experience

Back in 2008 my mom and my sister, Megan, ran the Chicago marathon.  I, being a professional spectator at such events, was at the 15 mile-ish mark with mom when we figured that my sister must have slipped past us and was ahead of her.  After Mom took off running again, Megan appeared.  With poor cell service we couldn’t get mom to answer her phone.  Megan needed to stretch a bit & we didn’t want Mom to get too far ahead.  I left my bag with Megan & Dad as I sprinted off to see if I could catch up to Mom.  During that short sprint (Mom made it just over a block) I felt my heart thump.  Now, being a young mom with three boys, I knew I was out of shape & assumed that was the issue.  I delivered the message to Mom about Megan and she kept on her way.  As I walked back, I knew something was amiss.  I was out of shape, but not THIS out of shape.

Once Megan started back on the marathon path, it was Dad & I turn to make our way to Chinatown.  Our plans were to hit the Blue line and head over to the next viewing area.  Problem was I felt horrible.  I was a bit out of breath, little shaky and the palpitations were working a bit overtime.  Here I was, in the middle of the Chicago marathon with my Dad chasing after my mom & sister.  So I did what I thought was the right this to do – I ignored it.  I was kind enough to give Dad a heads up on something wasn’t right.  Since I was the only one with a cell phone I showed him how to make a call with my fancy new iPhone 3 in case something happened.   His response was priceless; “don’t let anything happen” was the fatherly advice I was given.

Once in Chinatown I got a bite to eat, drank some soda and just tried to rest.  At the corner we were waiting for Mom & Megan there was a Chicago Fire Department station.  I did approach the  medics sitting outside and asked “What would happen if I had them hook me up to a monitor & it showed an irregular rhythm? ”  Their response was I would earn a trip to the ER.  The thought of the medics whisking me away to some downtown ER with my Dad with my iPhone and my Mom & sister finishing their marathon – what could possibly go wrong?  So I declined any medical attention.  Walked back over to a sitting area where we could wait for our runners & hoped that everything would return to normal sooner than later.

Thankfully everything returned to “normal”.  By the time our runners passed through Chinatown I felt this rush of relief.  Almost like I had stopped running, even though I was just sitting.  I was tired the rest of the day but the funky feeling in my chest with crazy palpitations were gone.  Should I have gone to my doctor right away?  Of course I should have.  Did I?  Of course I didn’t.  Since things were “normal” I didn’t think much about it.  Every once in awhile things didn’t seem “right” but never as bad as the marathon adventure.  Then 2012 happened.

First ER Visit for A Fib

In November 2012 spent the morning at the gym on the treadmill.  I didn’t feel well during a sprint so I went home, spent the remainder of the day being a bit lazy because I just felt tired.  That evening I had a night out with girlfriends and on the drive home (before 10pm, mind you) I could have easily pulled to the side of the road and taken a nap.  As I started to get ready for bed I told my husband my heart just felt like a ping pong ball was inside – and after a quick pulse check (perks about having a firefighter/paramedic husband) he insisted I go to the ER.

Like any good nurse – I insisted that I drive myself to the emergency room & told my husband to stay home with the kids.  When I arrived in triage at the ER I told them that I had palpitations.  They took me back & hooked me up to the EKG machine.  Knowing what I know (I worked in the ER quite a bit) I knew what they were thinking & all probably expected this to be nothing.  Watching their faces change as the EKG spit out of the machine was priceless but also scared the sh*t out of me.

The EKG showed Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) with a pulse rate in the 150’s.  That’s a great pulse to have when you are exercising, but I wasn’t doing anything.  So I earned an evening in the ER followed by an admission to the cardiac unit on a cardizem drip.  Thankfully my heart rhythm returned to its Normal Sinus Rhythm (NSR) by the next day all on its own.  My new cardiologist said this could have just been a fluke.  Most people who get Afib are older or may have had a past surgical heart history.  Here I was at age 37 with no risk factors.  Things were pretty uneventful the next year although I did take some medications intermittently (you know, because nurses are very compliant with their medical care).

Third Time the Charm

In December 2013 it happened again. This time it was much worse. By the time my husband got me to the ER (there was no driving myself this time) I could barely speak in full sentences.  I sat down to have my blood pressure and pulse taken and the pulse initially read 74…then 87….then 109…then 147…then 164.  Again – after some meds and time – I converted back to NSR.  This time cardiac medications became more routine – all in hope of this not occurring again.  I would still have the occasional palpitations, feeling my heart skip a beat or my heart racing. While my days were pretty uneventful, I knew something had to change.  I did start running on a regular basis and it really made a difference.

2014 & 2015 were two years that my running most certainly helped my heart rate and keep the palpitations at bay.  I felt better, was in much better shape but still would have issues from time to time.  No ER visits was a sign, to me at least, that things were a bit under control.

School. Stress. Lack of Time. Kids in three schools.  Life gets in the way sometimes and keeping up with a regular work out schedule isn’t always practical.  Even when I was running on a regular basis, sometime it just wouldn’t make a difference; the palpitations would still occur.

Towards the end of 2016 the heart rhythm was getting a bit more out of hand.  The problem was I couldn’t capture it for any length of time – there was never a chance to go to the ER and prove it was still happening (trust me, I tired).  Then one day I was at the gym running on the treadmill and the thump happened again.  This time it took my breath away.  I had to stop, sit down and was *this close* to having them call the paramedics.  But then just as fast as it started it flipped back to normal.  I, however, had enough.  I made another appointment with my cardiologist and then finally made the call to the electrophysiologist who would do the cardiac ablation.

*Disclaimer: This blog does not provide medical advice. Be advised information provided is opinion & should not be taken as medical advice. There is no substitute for the face to face relationship between a medical provider and patient. See your physician, osteopath, nurse practitioner, or other qualified and licensed health care provider regarding any questions you have about your personal health or medical condition.

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