Thursday, May 5, 2011

I'm fine now! No, really! But...

As I noted in my last posting (a copy of the letter I sent that day to the first responders), I was hauled off to the emergency room by ambulance on Saturday evening. Herewith I expand upon the event.

To be specific, it was a sudden attack of supraventricular tachycardia. As the EMTs and later the ER cardiologist explained it to me, the heart’s electrical impulses normally fire at the top of the organ. Sometimes they instead fire in the center, at the AV node, and that sends the heart into the fast-beat arrhythmia called tachycardia. What triggers it? Stress can (and I’d had a very stressful week); caffeine can (and I’d had a large mug of coffee within the last hour); it’s relatively benign, a problem with the heart’s electrical system rather than the plumbing, as the ER cardiologist put it. Sometimes it’s a recurrent problem; sometimes it hits once and never returns.

Which knowledge, had I known it when things went kablooie, probably wouldn’t have helped much with the “OMG I’m gonna die!” feeling that swept over me when this erupted. SVT produces a sudden sensation of pressure in the chest rising into the throat, a galloping, tumultuous pulse, with added delights of shortness of breath and lightheadedness – not to mention sheer terror: Is this a heart attack? Am I going to die? Right freakin NOW?

I’d had an episode much like this several years ago, that went away on its own after several minutes, so I tried a few minutes of sitting quietly, breathing slowly, and hoping. Didn’t help. So I called 911, reported sudden onset of elevated heart rate, and was told help was being dispatched right away. They weren’t kidding! As I waited I got dressed from housecoat to top, pants, shoes; fetched a jacket and my purse; stuffed a book (!) in my purse – and in those few short minutes help arrived. Quite an impressive show it was for the neighbors, too – not only the ambulance but also a fire engine and a police car.

The first responders were all wonderful – calm, professional, clearly knew their jobs and set about them with reassuring competence. After taking vitals, quizzing me on this, that and the other, and assessing the portable EKG readings, the EMTs rebooted my heart, and my blood pressure (from 200/100) and pulse began to drop back toward normal.

Rebooted my heart? Oh, yes. Hit the reset button, they did. Specifically, had me hold my breath and bear down in my gut while one EMT pressed hard on my belly – a technique which triggers the vagus nerve, they said, to reset the heart’s electrical system. Bonus: If I ever have another SVT episode, I can try rebooting myself!

Once they had me stabilized, they tucked me into a chair thingie, well strapped in, and carried me outside, down the stairs, and to the waiting stretcher. Kudos to their thoughtfulness in asking me what I wanted done with lights on/off, windows open/closed, and pet care, leaving me free to freak out over what was going on inside without having to spare any fretting for external worries.

Then it was off to the hospital – my first (and I hope last) ambulance ride, which is an experience in itself. They zipped me right into an exam room, no waiting room stays for cardiac patients I gather, and got me hooked up to various monitors, IV-portaled, and queried some more about what was going on. Blood pressure and pulse continued drifting downwards to reasonable levels; the EKG patterns steadied to normal, and after a couple of hours the ER cardiologist decided it was safe to let me go home: “Switch to decaf, take it easy, and see your doctor this coming week,” she advised.

I’ve been fine since then. Will be seeing my doctor tomorrow. Trying to take it easy (it helps that work is much slower this week than last). And switched to decaf.


Update, Friday:

Saw my doctor today, and all systems were go; all signs were vitally fine; and I don’t need any further treatment at this point. My tachycardia, based on all the EMT and ER info, is indeed the much less likely to be lethal kind, and unless I start having frequent episodes we really don’t need to do anything. Then we can try Lopressor or some such drug.

Oh, and according to his scales, I’ve lost three pounds since I last saw him three weeks ago (for a discussion of arthritis beginning to twinge in my fingers, sigh). So I must be doing something right.

And now, off to make another cuppa decaf.

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