I had a message from my heart recently… It told me it had had enough of me pushing through its warning signs, and so gave me a much bigger signal that I needed to give myself a break.
If you, like me, love the medical ‘fly-on-the-wall’ TV programmes on Channel 5 or ITV2, you might have seen two patients in recent weeks being admitted to A&E with a condition called SVT (Supraventricular Tachycardia). Had the TV cameras been around on 25th January at the University of Wales Hospital, I might have been the third…
That evening, I had been to the cinema to see Belfast. Just as we arrived, I started having palpitations. This happens from time to time, and generally rights itself after between 20 seconds and 20 minutes. I therefore chose to ignore it and carry on regardless. During the film, I surreptitiously tried the techniques I’ve been taught to reset my racing heartbeat… but as the credits rolled, the thumping in my chest was still there. Hmmmm… that meant we were approaching the 2 hour mark – the longest episode I’d ever had. Faced with the prospect of needing to call an ambulance, I decided I was fit enough to drive home and do so from there. (Note to self – I wasn’t).
So, at 10.30, from the comfort of my sofa and feeling quite tired now as my heart continued to beat pretty fast, I dialled 999. Suffice to say, I did not feel able to wait the 3-7 hours the call handler quoted me as the probable wait for an ambulance. Instead I called on a friend who was thankfully still awake at 11, and she drove me to A&E. I was checked in and sat – not especially patiently, and at times feeling decidedly faint – for a further half an hour, before being called to triage.
From that point, the change of pace was immediate. The single triage nurse took my pulse and blood pressure, and suddenly I had 4 medical professionals in the cubicle, ECG stickers all over me, and a canular in my arm. Just for good measure, I threw up at that point… no surprise to anyone who knows my attitude to needles!! Into a wheelchair, and portered straight to resus. This was definitely turning into an episode of ‘Casualty’!
The number of doctors and nurses in the room had now reached seven. My heart rate was recorded as 212 beats per minute… and we were now into the fifth hour of that rate. They had me blowing into a syringe for 15 seconds, then tipped me upside down on the bed… several times… to no avail. There was talk of administering some drug that would slow my heart to almost stop… but that suggestion was overridden by a consultant who felt my heart rate was too fast for that to be effective. Instead, he explained, they would sedate me to around 95% of out-for-the-count, and administer an ‘electric shock’ (a bit like a defibrillator, but not as strong) to shock my heart back to rhythm. Sounded bloody alarming to be honest! The consultant assured me I wouldn’t remember a thing.
The anaesthesia felt warm… And the next thing I knew, I was coming around and (as predicted) asking ‘Have you done it?’
Heart back to normal rhythm, and boy did I feel better for it!
I spent the rest of the night being closely monitored – machines beeping, blood pressure monitored every 20 mins. My dedicated nurse was wonderful, and never has a cup of tea tasted more delicious than at 3 o’clock that morning. Satisfied that I was now stable, I was discharged at 7am. What an experience!
It has taken me well over a week to feel anywhere near normal… I have slept for England, Wales and Scotland, and my energy levels are still not great. My first week back at work last week was ‘challenging’ to say the least. Without a doubt, this episode has frightened me… as well as making me very aware of my own mortality, and of the need to listen to my body when it tells me life’s stresses are getting too much for it. It has also got me thinking about what I want life to look like from here on in. The thought that I might get to a point where I am physically prevented from fulfilling the desires I have to travel, experience new things, enjoy new challenges, meet new people, is very sobering. I am not ready for that.
The message from my heart is that things have to change… And yes, I am ready for that.