Everybody A-fib tonight

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.

Electrical activity during 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?

Electrical activity during atrial fibrillation.

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.



  1. Carter Walker

    Hey D-H Girl!
    Thinking of you and what an amazing job your doing.
    I wish I could be there helping you and Mom along. Your Posts are wonderful, scary, funny, (O R They!?) thoughtful, informed, and many other words come to mind, but I’m not a writer so I’ll stop now. I’m leaving the Beautiful ADKs Thursday. Mom’s /Gammy’s memorial was beautiful and moving along with being emotionally and physically taxing. I know Lee Lee wrote a few words about it. We could talk when you are able.
    Love and Miss You.
    Have you heard of the music group “melodysheep” and their remixes they have titled “Symphony of Science” One of your favorite persons has been remixed into one of their songs.


  2. Ellen Hunt

    So sorry you are going through this… All positive thoughts your way… And hugs too.

  3. Laura

    As Zen challenges go, this seems like a big one. The money part of the heart’s job goes fine, but the top feels like chaos? Not for the faint or feint of heart. Are the beta blockers forever?

    You are so mighty, Summer Ash.

  4. Sending properly ordered and regulated electrical impulses your way! So sorry this is happening. Sending all good vibes and wishes for this to be resolved soon so you can focus on your recovery without this worry.

  5. Win

    You are a thoroughly amazing human Summer. My wife and I have been following the blog very closely, and it’s such a wonderful combination of humanity and scientific curiosity. Just like you. I feel like this blog will help a lot of folks for a long time into the future. xoWin

  6. Andy Ash

    Sending lots of P waves your way!

  7. Barbara Yount

    It’s amazing how many little complications you never hear about in advance….that may actually be good. Hope this is the last little surprise you encounter. Thank you for the detailed explanation; new to most of us on what A-fib actually is. Here are some serene thoughts and wishes for a relaxing day. Love, Aunt B

  8. Lee Lee

    Sending lots of calming thoughts your way and hoping you are feeling better since the last post.
    oxoxo Lee Lee

  9. Karen

    Hi, saw the link to this blog on Rachel Maddow’s twitter. My nine-year old daughter got a pacemaker in April due to congenital heart block. I love your pictures, and would love to know where you found those drawings that are so detailed? I particularly love the ones from this post about the SA node.

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