Out of Rhythm
As I write the first part of this post, it’s December 5th, 2020, and I ain’t in rhythm. Right now the electrical currents in my heart are zinging about helter-skelter, dancing to the beat of a drunk drummer.
This is a heart arrhythmia event, and it can go on for hours, even days. I get them just about every day, nowadays. I think they began when I was a teenager, or at least that’s my story. I can’t prove it, but I’ll use any excuse to vindicate my life-long laziness.
But I may be running out of excuses. Some damned doctor has decided I need heart surgery. And if this surgery is successful, I’ll have to get off my shiftless ass and start doing more chores around the house. Fuck.
My last cardiologist was more than willing to do nothing. But he and I got into it and I got feisty and found a new heart doctor. It’s my pride, you see. I don’t like to lose.
My new sawbones is an electrophysiologist (EP), and EPs specialize in heart arrhythmias. The surgery he’s planning is called a cryoablation. This crazy son-of-a-bitch plans to run a thin catheter from my groin, through my blood vessels, up to my heart, and freeze the hell out of the supercharged areas that he believes are short-circuiting my ticker. Talk about a cold-hearted thing to do.
I only hope he won’t make a mistake and freeze my balls off in the process.
And hopefully this will put an end to my nuisance heart condition, that has been diagnosed as Atrial Fibrillation (Afib). Except that I won’t have an excuse to be lazy anymore.
Arrhythmia events feel so unusual, that they are hard for me to describe, and hard to remember how to describe. So if the cryoablation is successful, I fear I may forget altogether what an arrhythmia event feels like, or how to identify it, should this mutherfucker pop up its evil head again.
And so this post is about describing, to the best of my ability, what Afib feels like. I’ll use it for reference, in case my frozen arrhythmia ever thaws out and revives, like The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.
Presently, I feel weak and shaky. And I feel congested, as if I have a bag of dry sand in my chest. It’s the kind of stifling sensation you can get in your lungs when driving down a dirt road, inhaling the dust.
But because I feel shaky, let’s make it a bumpy dirt road.
Another analogy is feeling as if I’ve just run a marathon. I’ve never run a marathon in my life, but my heart has, so I think I know what it feels like. My chest feels raw during an arrhythmia event, and my limbs feel weak, as if I might collapse.
Most of my episodes begin gradually. Afib sneaks up like a slow-acting toxin. In fact sometimes when an event is coming on, I’ve worried that my wife has poisoned my dinner. But I don’t dare accuse her anymore. I’m tired of those dirty looks she gives me, and her threats to never cook a meal again.
When I tell people how I feel at these times, they sometimes act like amateur physicians and diagnose me with hypoglycemia. They advise that I should eat something. But when eating doesn’t help, I realize that these folks are practicing medicine without a license. That’s why they’re wrong. About as wrong as most licensed doctors, who are also piss-poor at diagnosing Afib.
Afib events are uncomfortable and damned tiring. But they are rarely fatal. Which is too bad. There are many times in my life when I’ve wished I was dead, rather than continue to feel this way.
But no, this damned heart condition is only fatal when it leads to a massive stroke, or heart attack from tachycardia. I think my grandfather had Afib. He had a massive stroke when he was 77, that left him partially paralyzed, and with the mentality of a blubbering fool. That’s how merciless Afib can be. But when he was 82 it finally it had mercy on him and took him out of this world, with another massive stroke.
Despite popular belief, it’s common to have an Afib event without a racing pulse. In fact, that’s how my events almost always occur. With no tachycardia. But if you get the racing pulse, you’d better check into an emergency room quick, before your heart gives up from working too hard, and takes an eternal nap.
Some people have Afib events and never even notice them. They’re the asymptomatic ones. Lucky bastards. But also unlucky, because if they don’t know they have this heart condition, they won’t take the anticoagulant medication that prevents massive strokes. They’re walking time bombs, and might be in for a big, unpleasant surprise, someday down the road. The same kind of surprise my grandpa had.
However, the anticoagulants can give you a big surprise also, and right in your wallet. I take Eliquis. There is no generic version available, so I’m stuck with the expensive brand name. A 90-day supply of Eliquis costs about $1,500, without insurance. Thankfully, my current insurance cuts this expense down to about $500.
When I have an event I just want to lay down and sink to the center of the Earth. I want the universe to fold up around me and take me away to an unconscious place where I can rest in total comfort. A place with no weakness and no shakiness.
But when I lay down, the symptoms don’t go away with bedrest. They are only somewhat ameliorated. It beats being on one’s feet, trying to get chores accomplished, but it sure ain’t like a vacation at Sandals.
When I do the opposite of rest, and force myself to be active during an event, I run the risk of getting a splitting headache. I don’t know how the heart connects itself to the forehead, but a strong relationship seems to exist. It sometimes smacks me in the head, and keeps smacking me in the head, as if to tell me I’m a dummkopf for not resting.
When I walk during an event, I stagger like a drunk. That’s because I relax all my limbs, like a ragdoll. It saves energy. But it also makes me appear intoxicated. And my speech slurs and I mumble a lot, as articulate speech requires too much effort.
When I was in the military, my CO’s ordered me to be drug-tested several times, after I was observed in ragdoll form, probably having an arrhythmia event. And so I offered up jars of pure piss, of the finest amber, to military labs, which exonerated me every time. And which no doubt left my CO’s in a pissy mood, for being so wrong.
And speaking of piss, Afib makes me a piss-poor conversationalist. Animation and repartee go right out the window when I’m in an event, and I possess all the charm of a cinder block. You might as well be in the company of a zombie.
I won’t miss having Afib, even though I want to remember what it feels like. It seems impossible that my decades of heart arrhythmia hell may soon come to an end. If indeed, my problem really is arrhythmia, and not laziness. I could just be a lazy bastard, you know.
And maybe the cryoablation surgery won’t cure me. Ablations are successful 70 to 80% of the time, which means 20 to 30% of patients are left shit-out-of-luck. They often have to undergo additional ablations, for any chance of success.
It takes three months to know if the surgery is successful. But I hope one day in the not-too-distant future, my ragdoll days will be over. I hope these events will become a thing of the past, and that my heart will start behaving itself, so I can get back into the rhythm of things.
Today it’s January 11th, 2021, as I’m posting this. Tomorrow I’m going in for the surgery, so this blog will be idle for a little while. I’m taking at least a few days off from blogging, up to a week, depending on how I feel.
Perhaps forever, if I croak in the middle of the operation. That can happen, but it’s rare. Sometimes doctors have butterfingers, and sometimes they get in a hurry and make mistakes. But who can blame them for not wanting to miss Happy Hour?
I have a post scheduled for a week after my surgery, with a simple message that reads, “I’m dead.” But if I survive I’ll unschedule it. Goddamn, I hope I remember.
But either way, it’s been nice knowing all the people who follow my blog. I hope to see everyone again on the other side. And I mean within the next week, on the other side of the surgery.
Until then, so long for now.