Justification

Nothing pleases a hypochondriac more than a diagnosis. It’s justification for all those years of medical research and vague complaints. And the more serious the diagnosis, the greater is that satisfying feeling of justification.

I just got my diagnosis, and it’s very serious. Hooray! I’m proud to announce that I have Atrial Fibrillation, otherwise known as AFib. I won’t go into all the details, except to say it could kill me. And that’s a prognosis any hypochondriac can sport with pride.

I spent a few nights in emergency rooms last month, where they told me I probably had AFib. But last week a nice, kind cardiologist confirmed that diagnosis and made it official.

It appears I’ve had AFib most of my life. Basically, this is a disease that makes your heart lose rhythm and race like an IndyCar with a flat tire. Usually this disease starts in middle age or old age, but not for me. I’m one of the rare few who started to have AFib attacks in my teen years.

I just didn’t realize what they were. And that’s because they’ve always been short-lived, sort of like Whitman’s Sampler AFib attacks. Or previews of coming attractions for my old age. They’ve usually lasted only a few seconds, and never longer than a minute. But last month they must have gone on steroids, because they started lasting for hours.

When an attack comes on, my heart suddenly starts pumping wildly, without any warning. There’s also a fluttering or churning sensation in the middle of my chest, as if it’s full of butterflies, or as if there’s a garden hose turned to full blast. It’s a weird sensation, and actually kind of fun to experience as long as it only lasts a few seconds. It’s like getting a rush from drugs without actually shooting up.

I never thought much of these attacks, due to their short duration, and never told a doctor. It’s a good thing too, or I might have been misdiagnosed with panic attacks and sent to a shrink. Hell, I could be living in a rubber room by now.

This has happened to some AFibbers. They get misdiagnosed with mental illness. It’s true that anxiety can sometimes trigger an AFib attack, but usually they come out of nowhere. They’re bolts from the blue, with no rhyme, reason, or pattern to them.

They happen to me at odd times. I could be busy with a chore, or shopping in a store. I could be cleaning my email of spam, or I could be eating a plate of green eggs and ham. I just never know when AFib will strike.

However, a study of AFib patients in 2015 showed that yoga can reduce the attacks by up to 40 percent. So maybe I really am crazy and need to spend some time in a rubber room. Or at least a yoga studio.

EKG trace of AFib, with no P waves (the normal hump before the high spike), and a heart rate of 150. Provided by James Heilman, MD. CC BY-SA 3.0.

AFib is impossible to diagnose, except by EKG while you’re in the process of having an attack. This is why I’ve gone so much of my life without a diagnosis. Some AFibbers, like me, may go many years having short-lived, undiagnosed minor attacks. But others begin their AFib with a major attack that is immediately diagnosed. Lucky bastards.

Those of us with short-lived attacks eventually have our day of reckoning. One day an attack occurs that doesn’t quickly go away. And that’s when we head to the emergency room, get hooked up to an EKG, and get our elusive diagnosis. From that day on we are vulnerable to having more of these long-lasting, major attacks. It’s the major attacks that can kill.

My cardiologist said there was no known reason for me to have AFib, as I have an otherwise strong heart, and am in overall good health. This is a terrible thing to say to a hypochondriac. No hypochondriac wants to hear that they’re in good health.

However, what he meant was that in many AFib patients the cause can be traced to an underlying condition, such as hypertension, a damaged heart, or obesity. But in patients like me the cause is a mystery. We’re an anomaly, and are sometimes termed Lone AFibbers. And I’m not lying about that.

My diagnosis of AFib has come as a surprise to me. It’s a pleasant surprise in one regard, as I now have the justification all hypochondriacs seek for the complaints we make. But it’s unpleasant when I consider the ramifications of having such a serious heart condition.

One of the unpleasant ramifications is having to pop pills several times a day. These mutherfucking pills have side effects, such as dizziness, depression, memory loss, lazy eye, swivel neck, molting of skin, chrysalis, and spontaneous limb detachment. I’m adjusting to them though, so I should be getting back to my regular routine soon. Which includes lots of naps.

The drugs don’t guarantee I’ll never have another major attack. In fact my cardiologist indicated that I probably will have another major attack. He indicated this by nervously having me sign a waiver promising not to sue him. Apparently, the drugs only postpone the inevitable. The best I can hope is that they’ll keep me out of the emergency room for a very long time.

I also hope the drugs will help me to live longer than Mother Nature says I should live. I know it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, but I don’t like the alternative. But if one day, in spite of the pharmaceuticals, I succumb to AFib, don’t worry. I’ll be very happy on the Other Side.

For then I will possess the fullest justification any hypochondriac could ever own.

47 comments

  • Patients, especially hypochondriacs, have to be very persistent in their complaints if they want a diagnosis. Most of the time the doctor, who is baffled by their intermittent symptoms and sick of listening to them whine, runs a panoply of tests hoping something that explains it will come back positive. If they are all negative, off to the rubber room you go (in the doctor’s mind anyway). Nice channeling of Dr Seuss. Sorry you have a-fib, it’s a bummer, but glad you finally have an answer. According to people I know who have it, the Indy car and the garden hose are both good analogies for what’s going on in there. Back in my nursing days, some patients would jump the gun and come in already clutching a diagnosis they’d adopted from WebMD or SymptomChecker.com. I wrote a poem about it a few years ago, let me see if I can find it….

    OK, here it is:

    MID-LIFE HYPOCHONDRIA

    Some ailments run in families;
    it’s proven they’re genetic.
    I’m ripe to have a heart attack
    or wind up diabetic.

    I found a scary-looking mole;
    I’m positive it’s cancer.
    But Doc will say it looks benign,
    his standard go-to answer.

    I’ve put on six or seven pounds,
    my hair is falling out.
    My thyroid must be out of whack;
    too low, without a doubt.

    I suffer from exhaustion
    and my feet are always freezing.
    According to my online search,
    anemia’s the reason.

    My allergies are flaring up.
    I’m riddled with arthritis.
    This sharp pain in my abdomen
    could be appendicitis.

    My check-up turns up nothing
    but alas, my mind won’t rest:
    I know there’s something wrong with me!
    Please, Doc, just one more test?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love that poem. It describes me sometimes. I have to be careful to approach sites like WebMD with a great deal of circumspection, or I’ll imagine I have all kinds of ills.
      I’ve baffled quite a few doctors in my younger days, but I finally got tired of tests, so I stopped complaining about stuff. But I do think this AFib might explain my struggles with stamina, and my lifelong affinity for naps. Or . . . maybe there’s something else wrong with me. Hehe.

      Liked by 1 person

  • I guess I am just a normal everyday chondriac. I figure as long as insurance companies will have to pay out if I die, I probably won’t die, because insurance companies really hate to pay out. They may be slipping me vegetables in my sleep for all I know.

    I hope your heart continues to do well. There are still a lot of puns left in you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I knew I should have bought some life insurance, years ago. Oh well, just be sure you don’t cancel your insurance, or they may stop slipping in those vegetables.
      Thanks, I hope my heart does well, too. As long as it can keep pumping out blood, I’ll keep pumping out the puns.

      Like

  • I’m glad you got a diagnosis. Sorry that you have Afib. Sorry you have to take a lot of meds. As you know, I know how not fun that is. On the bright side you didn’t list anal leakage as a side effect of the meds you’re stuck on! That’s a good thing right?!

    Now you know why you’ve been so tired. I’m glad in a way that you had a major attack as it probably saved your life. We need Tippy and his Unicorns around for a long time.

    I think it’s now time for you to get waited on hand and foot indefinitely. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  • Congrats on making Doctor’s shake their heads in wonder, I have been doing that for years! After all not everyone can be an easy patient that goes by the book. Make the Drs work for their money, but stay out of the ER!

    I do pray that the pills help without adverse side effects, especially the sudden limb detachment. That wouldn’t be fun!.

    Take Care and yes, prove Mother Nature wrong!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I imagine it must have been a challenge getting your Celiac disease diagnosed. It’s frustrating to feel sick, then have doctors run tests and they come up with nothing.

      Yes, I very much want to stay out of the ER. When I’m having an attack I’m very sensitive to needles, for some reason. I was screaming every time they tried to put in an IV, so they darn near broke my arm holding me down, to get the job done. My arm still hurts. I hate ERs.

      Although maybe my arm hurts because it’s getting ready to spontaneously detach. Gotta be careful with those side effects.

      So far I’m proving Mother Nature wrong, but I suspect one day she’s gonna win.

      Like

      • Yes, it was, but its really been that way all my life. I don’t have typical symptoms. Drs. were convinced I didn’t have appendicitis even though when they pushed the spot where my appendix was I about shot off the table in pain! They had to run test after test, for my WBC wasn’t high, which typically is with appendicitis. By the time they did the surgery it was very close to almost having burst.

        There are lots of meds I can’t take for I get the side effects that are listed as the really rare ones. So you are right it can be very frustrating. I am glad they were at last able to diagnose you. There is no surgical procedure that could help? Not that anyone wants heart surgery but just curious.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Wow, it’s a good thing your appendix didn’t burst. That’s practically a death sentence. I’m glad you got the surgery in time.

          Hmm, you must be one of those types who gets spontaneous limb detachment. It’s okay, you just have to pick the limb up and reattach within ten minutes. But on rare occasions, both arms detach simultaneously, and then you’re in trouble. You need to have a helper around, to fix that problem.

          There is a surgical procedure, called an EP ablation, that can help stop the AFib attacks. But I understand it only helps for a few years. And I think it’s considered “elective”, so there’s no chance I can get it while the coronavirus panic is going on.

          Like

          • Thanks, me too!

            If I ever see limb detachment listed as a side effect I am staying far away from that drug. I will play it safe! But thanks for thanks for the consolation that double limb detachment is really rare.

            Yes, ablation. I couldn’t think of the name but I thought I had heard of a procedure that could help. Though I didn’t know that it was only good for a few years.

            Liked by 1 person

            • You’re welcome. Just be sure to read all the side-effect warnings so your drugs won’t cost you an arm and a leg.

              Yep, only a few years. If ablation was good for the remainder of my life, then I’d be more interested in it.

              Liked by 1 person

  • Not sure what is worse — anal leakage or the spontaneous limb detachment. In this toilet paper shortage, it’s probably the leaks that will get ya first.

    Liked by 3 people

  • Well, it’s good to have a diagnosis at last and know that what you have been experiencing is real and not in your head. I hope you have many many more happy years yet ahead of you, TG.

    But feel free to go all Fred Sanford on your near and dear ones – you know clutching your chest and proclaiming it’s the big one and “I’m coming, Elizabeth!” Although Mrs. TG might have some questions about that, so maybe not…

    Deb

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, I will try to have many more happy years. Maybe the meds will help.

      I’ve definitely been contemplating the Fred Sanford routine. I think it would come in handy for getting out of all kinds of things. Maybe when no one is looking, I’ll rehearse the chest-clutching act.

      Liked by 2 people

  • My dad used to ask, “So… what’s the worst that could happen?”
    “I could die!”
    “And then what?”
    I quit worrying about the AFib a long time ago… still run, drink coffee, enjoy my life… and take a half an aspirin before bed.
    But if you go for the diagnosis, the doctor can’t recommend that “off-label” aspirin. Rather, she’s supposed to defer to whatever expensive, FDA diagnosis-approved, patent-worthy studied pharmaceutical that does the same thing… though often with some nasty side-effect (anal leakage, limb-detachment?).
    So I suppose the answer to my dad’s question really depends more upon the pharmaceutical than the diagnosis.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dying was kind of the answer my cardiologist gave. I was trying to get by on low-dose aspirin, like you. But he told me I was playing Russian Roulette that way. So now I’m taking Eliquis, with a $42 copay per month. Dying doesn’t bother me so much as having a big stroke that leaves me partially paralyzed and in la-la land, which happened to my grandfather.
      I hope your AFib will go for many years without a major attack. I had two such attacks last month, which put me in the emergency room. It’s not a fun experience. So I’m taking the meds they prescribed, with the hope that I’ll stay out of the ER for a long time.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Getting my heart rate up (running) every day has helped to keep it under control, and it’s not a constant problem… yet. My cardiologist has been reluctant to make an official diagnosis, citing how little is actually known about the condition and that I’m still maintaining O2-levels during episodes He’s also been of the opinion that in my particular case I should stay on the aspirin as long as possible, even if it means a higher dose, due to some other issues that nix the Eliquis (and some others). Biggest problem for me is just the difficulty falling asleep when every few beats feels like a trout flopping around in my chest.

        I get the stroke thing. Eliquis, (and something else) were mentioned at one time. My old doctor (just retired) was very reluctant to make a diagnoses due to the prescription issue, and agreed with my cardiologist. (He had a definite opinion regarding pharmaceutical companies.) At some point for me, it will likely be more of a decision regarding a pacemaker, although I guess there’s now a surgery that helps some people.

        I wish you well. And if the $42/month keeps you writing here, I’m all for it! (ツ)b

        And BTW, my dad was a physician.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hmm, I’ve never heard of a pacemaker for AFib, as they ordinarily are used to increase heart rate, and with AFib you want to keep it down. You may have a version of this disease unlike the kind I have. But I wish you well with it. Hopefully you can stay off meds and pacemakers for a very long time.

          Liked by 1 person

  • Ummm … congratulations?

    I appreciate you’re trying to make light of an otherwise serious situation. Like you, my older sister was also diagnosed with AFib and told she’s likely had it most of her life. Unlike you, however, her heart isn’t particularly strong. I think all your hiking has helped keep it as healthy as possible. I hope your ticker continues to tick … preferably in a moderate manner … for a long, long time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. What a bummer that your sister has it. My cardiologist pushed me to exercise as much as I could, so I think you’re right about hiking keeping my heart healthy. I can’t handle as much hiking as some people in my age group that I know, but I do what I can. I’d hate to have to ever give it up.

      Like

  • I feel ya. I have AFib AFlutter and SVT. Had four buggies and three ER visits to restart everything. I fun but full of excitement. They tell me I need to get an ablation. If not now, it’s inevitable. Since I’ve met my deductible for 2020 maybe I should. But not much is going as planned in 2020 so there’s that. Doc said he has something go wrong about every five years. I forgot to ask when the last problem was. Hmmm gonna think about it some more. It’s interesting living with a moody ticker. Hope you have a long long time with no problems.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. Sorry you have AFib and all that other nonsense. It can be miserable going to the ER to get the ol’ ticker slowed down.

      For me the biggest problem is fatigue. I can’t do anything strenuous with being hit with fatigue like a ton of bricks a few hours later. I guess physical stress is my big trigger. Mental stress, too, probably.

      I’m looking into ablation, but am running into resistance. I suspect my cardiologist doesn’t do ablations, but I’ll be having a talk with him in a few weeks over the subject. My PCP told me that ablations are very rare for people with AFib, and that I should drink more water to cure my fatigue. This all sounds a little fishy to me, especially the water part.

      Good luck in your battle with this dastardly heart condition.

      Like

      • I hope you’ll see an electrophysiologist. They specialize in this. When the heart goes out of whack they explained it as like running a marathon. Your heart is exhausted after an episode. The fatigue is the result. I hope you’ll. Be your own advocate and keep searching for the right person to work with you. I’m on a blood thinner called Xaralto to prevent stokes from blood clots. Many people have ablations in Charlotte and do well. I’m a little chicken I must admit but I’m sure I’ll have an ablation eventually. Take care of you.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think you’re right about an electrophysiologist. I’m going to push for a referral to one, as they know much more about Afib than the average cardiologist, I believe.

          I was taking Eliquis to prevent strokes, but decided to stop after evaluating my stroke risk compared with my bleed risk. At my age (61) it seems a little too early to be taking anticoagulants.

          From everything I’ve read, ablation is superior to antiarrhythmic drugs, and can even cure Afib in some people. So I want to bypass the AAD drugs and go straight to ablation.

          Liked by 1 person

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