Sunday, July 01, 2012

Sacking the Tach: Part 3 of ?

This series is still ongoing, because my heart isn't fixed yet. You know that thing where your car is making a weird noise, but as soon as you bring it to the mechanic, it quits? That was basically what happened to me. The doctor was unable to force my heart into a prolonged tach attack while I was on the table despite shooting adrenaline into it for three hours, so he wasn't able to definitively pinpoint exactly where the issue is. Apparently this happens to 20% of patients - information that would have been useful to me three days ago. As it was, I didn't even know that was a possibility and subsequently spent the next hour crying, the tears running down the sides of my face and pooling in my ears. Now I'm back to wearing the dreaded monitor. The doctor narrowed the issue down enough that he's confident he can work off the information provided by the monitor if I have a long enough episode in the next couple of weeks. He also supplied me with hypoallergenic sticky pads since the entire operating staff collectively gasped and jumped backwards when they saw the rashes, blisters, and scabs all over my abdomen.

The good news is that I met my out-of-pocket insurance maximum for the year, so the next time I have it done, it'll be free. If we can catch a definitive episode on my monitor, I can be back on the table in a matter of weeks.

Now! The fun part. Documenting the entire process. I'm mostly doing this for the benefit of strangers who are scouring the internet for blog posts detailing personal experiences with cardiac catheter ablation (I certainly scoured).

We arrived at the hospital at 10:30, even though my procedure wasn't until 2. The doctor ordered an echocardiogram to take place that morning to ensure that there wasn't an underlying issue. My mom and I checked in and made ourselves comfy in the waiting room while Jon handled the parking of the Jeep. Long story short, he locked the keys in the car and missed my echo whilst dealing with the repercussions. Jon never does stuff like that, so I knew he was really apprehensive about the procedure. I was feeling shockingly calm, so thanks to everyone who prayed or sent good vibes my way. The majority of the day, I was mostly worried about A) witnessing someone throw up (people are always doing that in hospitals) and B) whether or not the dog sitter would remember to lock the door after she fed Penny. The true fear didn't set in until I was actually on the operating table, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The echocardiogram (ultrasound) was SO COOL. I saw every chamber of my heart and every valve. I was fascinated. The ultrasound tech was a little jabby in a tender place and just when I was starting to feel nauseated, she mercifully moved the handpiece all the way down to my abdomen. I asked if she was looking at my "second heart", and she didn't catch the humor. ("Oh, well, some of our organs come in pairs, like the kidneys and the lungs, but we only have one heart. One heart and one brain.") I wanted to take a picture of the screen with my phone so you guys could see it, but she wasn't sure if that was allowed.

From the echo, we went to the outpatient waiting area. The email from the scheduler had said, "After the  echo, you'll be prepped for your ablation at 2 PM" so we weren't exactly sure if my ablation was at two, or if I'd be prepped at two. We settled in for a long wait, but after only about ten minutes my name was called.

I went back into the prep area by myself. It was a large space with probably ten "rooms" sectioned off by curtains. I had to give a pee sample, which no one told me about beforehand (luckily I didn't have time to seek out a bathroom while I was in the outpatient waiting room), then I changed into my gown. A nurse took about eight vials of blood for testing and when she was done and I finally peeped over, my IV was in! I had no idea. At some point she also ran an EKG.

Jon and my mom were allowed back at that point. We chatted for I guess about an hour. I'd caught glimpses of my doctor in the hallway throughout the day, but when he walked into the prep room my stomach started to tighten. My turn.

He went over the risks of the procedure, blah blah blah, here's Frank, he'll be taking you back. Frank!! Frank was the best. After the doctor walked out, Frank reiterated some of the more important points, told Jon and my mom that he'd be coming out every hour or so to keep them posted, and said that once they find the problem area, they'll "burn the hell out of it"!!!!!!!! It caused me more joy than you can even imagine - that was what I'd written, word for word, in my first Sacking the Tach blog post. I love Frank.

He wheeled me back and let Jon and my mom peep into the operating room ("cath lab"). We all hugged (well, not Frank), and they left.

Everything started happening really fast once I was in there. Introductions, moving me to the table, putting huge sticky pads all over my front and back, giving me oxygen, binding my wrists, putting the blood pressure cuff on (it measured every five minutes during the procedure). The room was so freezing cold and I was so nervous and feeling out of control that I started shaking violently. They brought me heating pads for my chest and legs which helped a lot, but my teeth were chattering during the procedure. Frank gave me the first round of sedative, and they got to work numbing my poor groin.

I was more awake than I thought I'd be. I was aware of everything around me. An assistant gave me so many numbing shots that I asked how many more there were. I remember the doctor explaining he was putting the catheter IV into my vein. A few minutes later, I suspected from the motion of his hands that he was threading the wires in, so I asked if that's what he was doing. Yep. About a minute later, I was stabbed from the inside of my vein somewhere inside my abdomen when one of the wires veered off course and I about jolted right off the table. That was the worst part of the entire thing. The doctor apologized profusely, and after that I didn't feel any more pains. But I doubt I'll ever forget that feeling. If I think about it too long, it makes me sick to my stomach.

I gave in to the sedative at that point, though like I said, I was always aware of where I was. Sometimes I'd close my eyes and dream, but I was dreaming about what was happening at that moment. When I became interested in what was going on, I'd just open my eyes and be totally alert. My heart raced and raced, revving like an engine. I chattered myself awake once, and at one point the doctor asked me to hold still - I guess I kept turning my head to watch the screen as they did the electrophysiology study.

After three hours of trying to force a tach attack with adrenaline, the doctor called it quits. They pulled the wires out and put pressure on my leg for a while before taping it up and transferring me from the operating table to the gurney. Frank, sweet Frank, wheeled me to the recovery area, collecting Jon and my mom along the way. She sponged the tears out of my ears. Frank asked me what I wanted to eat - my first food in 20 hours. My mom fed me, since I had to lay completely still for three hours after the procedure. I wasn't even allowed to lift my head. Someone came in every fifteen minutes to check my bandage.

Eventually I was moved to a private room WITH A TV. Once the three hours were up, a nurse came in to help me to stand. She started with me wiggling my feet for a few minutes, then bringing my knees up. My right leg was completely dead, so it was a while before I could swing my legs over the side and sit. Once I felt okay sitting, the nurse encouraged me to stand. As I labored to my feet, she said, "Let me know immediately if you feel a 'pop' or if whaa whaa whaaaa" she lost me at 'pop.' All the blood rushing to my puncture wound, my groin throbbing, and the idea of my vein popping....I very nearly threw up. That was the second worst part of the entire experience (after the vein stab). I ended up back in bed for a while longer before I was ready to attempt it again.

We came home that night and I've been camping on our mattress, strategically placed in the living room, ever since. For the first half of the day yesterday I mostly just slept (my heart did a lot of work on Friday!!) and occasionally hobbled to the bathroom. After 24 hours, I was allowed to take the bandage off. A puncture wound, seven needle marks from the anesthetic, a small bruise, and what looks like a couple of burns were all I had to show for my ridiculously gimpy walk. IT'S A SENSITIVE AREA, OKAY?? Today, though, I feel tons better and we even went to dinner at my aunt's house. I'm planning on going to work tomorrow.

I think my body tolerated it all pretty well. From how I understand it, the EP study is the hardest, most tiring part, and all I needed was a good night's sleep and a long nap afterwards. All in all, the procedure AND the recovery weren't nearly as bad as I was expecting. I'll definitely be less terrified next time.


See also:
Part 1 of ?
Part 2 of ?
Part 4 of ?
Part 5 of FIVE!!!
Stuff I Distinctly Remember Saying During the Operation
The last post about my heart (I promise this time)


  1. oh man i was cringing as i read that. i had to skim over some of the "sensitive" parts because i'm seriously the biggest wuss. i was reading it and writhing in pain just thinking about it!

    i am so sorry about this failed attempt. you should sue everyone...

  2. Replies
    1. Hahaha. I should have mentioned that I still LOVE my doctor. It wasn't his fault, it was my stupid TRAITOR HEART!!!!! He was almost sadder about it than I was.

  3. So interesting and so sad. I'm sorry they couldn't take care of it all the way. I wish you a speedy recovery and resolution.

  4. Also, how the heck do you know Robin (above)? I've been meaning to ask for forever.

    1. Oh, wow, I thought you knew each other from before. Obviously I don't know you in real life but I think you're probably a lot like Robin. That's a really good thing.

  5. Gosh, it sucks that it wasn't taken care of the first time! Hopefully they can figure out exactly where to "burn the hell out of" soon! And, although I know it's for the best, it feels weird to pray for you to have another tach attack, you know? But it's all for the greater good, right?

  6. oh the violent shaking from the freezing cold room and the nerves is the worst feeling. making me almost vomit just reading this. sorry you have to do it again :(

  7. I felt gross just reading this, so I can just imagine how you're feeling! Hopefully they can take care of it soon! Surgery sucks!

  8. I had my 1st attempt at an ablation in May and it was unsuccessful as well. They decided it was too risky and decided not to do it once they got inside and found where the problem was. I definitely understand how darn frustrating it all is!! Have they talked about trying the ablation again? They are going to consider trying to do mine again in January. Thanks for the detailed post!! xoxo Kelsey