It has been a year since my short stint as a patient. Thankfully after undergoing a cardiac ablation in 2017, I am happy to report that I have been A-fib free for an entire year. This experience has been quite educational not only as a human that will probably use a hospital again sometime in my life but especially since I spend my working hours as a Nurse Practitioner.
The wonders of social media have a tendency to remind you about great (and not so great) moments in the past, and today this one popped up regarding my first day home following the overnight hospital stay via a Facebook post from 2017.
Few fun facts from today:
1. Hospital gowns suck
2. Every RN should have to use a bed pan once before licensure.
3. Got to pull my first call light in a bathroom
4. Got to yell at the nurse “please don’t run to help me” after I pulled said call light (what if she fell?!?)
5. Understand now why little old ladies feel guilty pulling call lights (still going to do it as I’m an awesome patient)
6. The chicken here was AWESOME! (That is NOT the drugs talking.)
7. Red > Orange Jello
8. Never knew xarelto was in the shape of a ninja star (that might be partial drugs talking)
9. Bed rest SUCKS. Sucks even more when you’re not allowed to bend or move your knees.
10. Sitting up & walking after bed rests makes you age about 60 years but pretty certain 91 year olds walk better than I did
11. Being a patient sucks – but when it helps get you better you do it. So don’t procrastinate on your own issues (damn, thought I would stick to patient stuff only 😂 the nurse in me snuck in!)
It was certainly an experience being the patient. I knew it had to happen – the previous year my A Fib episodes were starting to happen a bit more often. While there are medication options, I felt that undergoing a cardiac ablation was the right step for me at this time – and I still feel I made the right choice. Just remember, there are no “walk in the park” procedures, and no one should think that they’ll be “back to normal” the next day.
The following month of recovery was much more difficult then I expected. That’s right, I wrote month. While my doctor had told me to take it easy for “a few days” and go back to work the next week, this experience reminded me that not every patient recovers the same. My ‘week’ off of work actually turned into two weeks. Once I did return to work, I didn’t feel I was at 100% until the next month. This kind of sums up my recovery and this past year.
- Everything could hurt: I’m not talking horrific pain – I am referring to achy everything. My back and my legs ached. Those are expected because you are on a very hard metal table for a few hours.
- Your throat is going to be uncomfortable: My jaw and my throat were so achy from the intubation. Since you have to lay flat for hours afterward, drinking isn’t that easy to soothe that throat.
- You are not going to sleep in a hospital – especially an observation unit. These units expect a quick turnover, so people are always coming and going. This unit was specifically for overnight cardiac patients. There were two nurses (who were awesome!) but they had about 7 patients and we kept them busy.
- Block the light & noise. Bring a sleep mask and some headphones. The hardest issue on sleeping (at least for me) was it was too bright. The rooms had huge glass windows at the top to let in natural light. During the night this also let in the fluorescent lights from the hallways. Headphones can help, too. I did try to pass the time listening to music but that also meant more wires to sleep with.
- Speaking of wires, you’ll feel like you are sleeping with an octopus. I had a blood pressure cuff on one arm, an O2 sensor on one hand. Cardiac monitor included four wires plus the main wire that connected to the main monitor. Tubing from the IV infusions was also a hassle for a bit. Then there is the call light.
- There are not enough pillows. I am pretty certain I had at least five pillows stuffed around me to support my legs, back and arm to feel ‘comfortable’ and still wasn’t successful. Then there is the pillow for my head, and I needed at least three for that since they were so thin. A good rule of thumb, bring your own head pillow if you can.
- There are side effects you might not expect – like a continued elevated heart rate. Since my main reason for doing this was to avoid daily medications I wasn’t thrilled to start taking a beta blocker to help my heart rate. For three days after I was home my heart rate averaged about 120-125 beats per minute. After I started the medication I hovered around 80-90 beats per minute. It took about 8 months to wean off the medications but my heart rate is still about 90 beats per minute.
- Taking medications is hard. I needed alarms and two bottles of medications at all times just to remember to take two pills a day. Kudos to everyone who takes more then this, it isn’t an easy task.
- Listen to your body. Even after returning to work I was exhausted. I would come home and nap because I needed it.
- Start reconditioning as soon as you can. This is my biggest regret. I was running about 2-3 times a week before the ablation. I am still not working out on a regular basis and my whole body can tell. My endurance is lower, my weight is a bit up and I feel like a slug. This past summer I started to bike again and it has helped but I am nowhere near the activity level I was last year.
Even after reading all of this keep in mind that your experience could, and probably will be much different. I still know that ladies in their 80’s have had this procedure, and probably recovered better than I did. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t change a thing. Undergoing the ablation was the right decision. Now it is up to me to return to my prior activity level.
*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.