Things started to get a bit surreal as it dawned on me that I was the “Cardiac Emergency” just announced on the hospital PA system.
I’d arrived home from my backpacking trip midafternoon. I then had to get cleaned up, de-ticked, plus clean and put away my gear. By six pm I was ready for food and we went out to our local Indian restaurant.
One nice meal and a beer later we were back at home; I was studying the Fitbit record of my trip: sleep, heart rate, number of steps/calories, etc… when Ginger the observant asked why my current heart rate was so high — 90 bpm — I thought I had indigestion or anxiety, but nothing untoward. Well, actually it felt a bit like there was a troop of hamsters tap dancing (badly) in the top of my chest.
Ginger said we ought to go to ER. Nope. No way did I want to spend the night waiting to be seen in the ER. I decided to have a lie-down and see if things sorted themselves out.
While I was lying on the bed Ginger had a quick listen to my heartbeat, and said it was very fast and irregular. Okay, off we trundle to the local ER. The hospital is only five minutes away, even allowing for red lights. We spent more time parking than we did driving there. I didn’t feel the need to be dropped at the door, I was okay, but probably a bit slow walking from the parking lot to the entrance.
I walked up to the receptionist and told her my heart was running erratically and a bit fast. She reached over and took my pulse — I wasn’t expecting that — and immediately picked up the phone, handing me off to her buddy who proceeded to try and get some personal details out of me. The damn hamsters were a bit distracting by now, and I had trouble getting at my Social Security number. No worries, a nurse had arrived to escort me to a room; so much for sitting in the waiting room for hours, “that’s cool,” I thought. Then things started to get a bit surreal as it dawned on me that I was the “Cardiac Emergency” just announced on the hospital PA system.
The nurse offered me a wheelchair, but I said I preferred to walk, she replied with a knowing “I thought not…” Arriving at the cubical I was asked to put on a gown and was immediately hooked up to a heart monitor.
Instant diagnosis: my heart was in Afib — Atrial fibrillation is a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.
According to Ginger, my heart rate went up to 168 beats a minute, and presumably, my blood pressure must have dropped right down, as it took seven or more attempts to get a needle into me because my veins had all collapsed (a week later and I have huge bruises on the backs of my hands and arms from all the failed attempts). The nurse called for reinforcements and a second nurse managed to get a needle in me via a vein in my upper arm. I was given a full EKG, and an x-ray (to check if my heart was swollen). Once the drugs arrived I was put on a drip and that calmed my heart rate down.
Even more surreal (if that was possible) was the arrival of a hospital administrator with a bunch of questions culminating with a request for me to sign off the (hefty) bill. Have you ever tried signing a credit card slip while you are hooked up to various medical devices? It wasn’t easy, and I thought it rather tactless. It’s not like we don’t have insurance.
The good news was that the lab work on my blood showed that I hadn’t had a heart attack. Four hours after arriving I was discharged with a prescription for drugs to keep my heart rate down, instructions to take an Aspirin a day to ward off a stroke, take things easy for a while, and to see a cardiologist asap. My heart was still in Afib, but the hamsters seemed to have toned down their dance a bit.
Yesterday (June 3), I had another full EKG, and I’m glad to say that my heart is no longer in Afib. However, I’ve been told that I need to keep taking the meds for six months. I still have to take things easy until I have an echocardiogram, which will show if my heart has been damaged. I was also advised not to go hiking or backpacking for a month or so in case the hamsters start their dance again where I’m unable to get medical attention. I agree. Had this hit in the morning I’d have been in the wilderness without cell phone coverage. So I think it may be time to invest in the satellite location beacon/ texting system I thought about getting after I fell ill while backpacking in February.
Was I concerned? No. I worry about the minutiae and details. I deal with the big things, or sit back and enjoy the ride, ‘cos there’s bugger all I can do about them. There was a certain amount of gallows humor involved too. When the nurse tried to set up a drip in the back of my hand, I said, “Oh no! Not my hand, that’s where they inject the cats to put them down. You’re not planning on putting me down are you?” he grinned, but I’m not sure the joke was appreciated. I also spent a lot of time blaming all the tick bites for my predicament.
Afib is very common and sometimes appears and then never comes back. Hopefully, that will be the case with me. I’m not looking forward to six months of the meds I’m on as they slow my heart down a lot and make me feel woozy. With luck, the echocardiogram will be clear and I’ll be able to mow the yard soon. In a month or so I hope I’ll be back on the trail. Meanwhile, I guess I’ll actually have to make use of the gym membership I’ve had for ages but not taken advantage of. At least then if the hamsters decide to start tap dancing again I’ll be near a medical facility.Copyright © 2019 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.