My latest setback is brought to you by the letter ‘A’ and by the numbers “all over the place.”
I woke up yesterday morning to my heart rate racing, skipping, slowing, pounding…you name it. It was very disconcerting to say the least, especially when I started to try and measure it. It would hang out at 100 bpm, then jump to 146 bpm, then down 83 bpm, down to 46 bpm, up to 125 bpm and so on. It lasted for about 15 – 20 minutes and the beats were so strong, they were impossible to ignore. Then as quickly as it started, it stopped. And when I say stopped, I mean all of the sensation came to an abrupt end. So much so that for a second I was convinced my heart itself must have stopped because in contrast to the pounding beats, the normal rhythm that returned felt almost undetectable. While I rationally knew that my heart was still beating because I was still aware of my surroundings and scared out of my mind, the split second when the sensation disappeared was one of the most frightening moments in time I’ve ever experienced. Needless to say, this was not a great start to the day.
I called my cardiologist immediately and after describing the episode to him, he concluded I had experienced atrial fibrillation, or A-fib. Apparently this is a side-effect of the healing process. Approximately 30-40% of open heart surgery patients experience some level of A-fib, but more often then not they are (a) male and (b) within 3-4 days of the operations. As you know, I’ve always dared to be different.
One reason A-fib happens is that the heart tissue is inflamed and enlarged from the operation and becomes predisposed to erratic electrical behavior. In normal sinus rhythm (i.e., your normal heart beat), the heart muscles contract first in the upper right atrium of the heart; an area known as the sinoatrial (SA) node. The SA node is colloquially called the pacemaker of the heart. Technically all of your heart’s cells have the ability to generate electrical impulses and contract on their own, but the SA node is the band leader and in normal sinus rhythm conducts the symphony that is the wave of contracting muscle cells from upper right to lower left producing the heart beat.
This schematic shows the path of electrical impulses under normal sinus rhythm.
Now contrast that with the schematic below illustrating the electrical impulses produced in the heart during atrial fibrillation. Talk about chaos theory, right?
Let’s just say it feels as crazy as it looks.
Now that I’ve joined the A-fib club, the plan is to up my beta blocker medication which should help to quite down these episodes to the point where I don’t feel them. This is ideal since they freak the hell out of me and I have already had an additional five more episodes overnight and into this morning. Please send good electrical impulses STAT.