But, you see, that's the thing about atrial fibrillation - it's a bit like Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition in that nobody really expects it. At least I wasn't. It had been a good week with healthy food, lots of sleep, a bit of exercise and no alcohol. And, at about 3 or 4 years since the last episode, it was also the longest stretch I'd had without incident. I was so over this!
Anyway, so it was that a couple of hours later we ended up here...
... the delights of Addenbrooke's A+E at 5am. We've lost count now of the number of times we've done this journey but are incredibly lucky to have such a fantastic hospital just 15 minutes down the road. It felt quite apposite to be receiving first class primary health care, free at the point of contact, just when its very existence may be under threat. And, while the circumstances of each visit may be slightly different, the one constant has been the amazing staff who work there.
First thing after checking in was to have an ECG just to confirm what was going on. Here it is...
It's abnormal, but it's not exactly racing, which I can only put down to being in better shape than in the past. Usually at this point it's 120-130 bpm just sitting down, which is a completely different ball game.
Fast forward a couple of hours and it was time to have a little chat with one of the doctors...
Him: "How are you feeling?"
Me: "I've felt better!"
Him: "Can you describe the feeling in your chest?"
And then he came out with this:
Him: "Well, I know I'm supposed to reassure the patient, tell them everything's going to be OKAY, but really, we love zapping you guys. I mean, we zap people all the time and that's okay, but they're PLANNED, they're SCHEDULED, but a RANDOM zap, we're practically queuing up to push the button."
Me: "Well, I'm only glad to be of help. Christmas seems to have come early!"
He was very, very funny. Here he is wearing green. I'm the guy on the trolley.
|"We LOVE zapping you guys!"|
By zapping, he meant cardioversion where they shave your chest, give you a short acting general anesthetic, hook you up to the mains and shock your heart back into normal rhythm. It's a fairly straightforward procedure, but does have some risks, the main one being stroke caused by blood pooling in the heart and clotting due to the irregular rhythm. When they give you the shock those clots can dislodge and career their merry way around the body until they cause a blockage somewhere. If it's in the brain they cause a stroke, if it's somewhere else it's an embolism. Either way it has the potential to be rather unpleasant. Anyway, risks aside, once we'd decided to go ahead with it, Crocket and Tubbs came down from cardiology, all sharp shirts and pants (none of the scrubs of the A+E department) and looking about 12 years old. Introductions were made, electrodes were attached, the button was pushed and sinus rhythm restored. All good.
And then after a bit of faffing about, 13 hours after going in, we arrived back home as though nothing had happened.
Except it had.
So, what now?
Apart from the thought of being referred back to the cardiology people at Papworth to see if I need another ablation swirling around my brain, there a few things floating around in my head, namely:
1) This time was different. There was no warning, I'd been healthy and it came out of the blue. My heart wasn't racing, it was more of a slow rumble. All things considered it was a much calmer experience than usual. [I'm slightly weirded out by the use of 'than usual' here, but there you go.]
2) I didn't feel guilty. Every time this has happened before I've been racked with guilt that it was my fault: I drank too much, ate the wrong things, smoked, got stressed, etc etc. Not this time, and that lack of guilt was really rather freeing. Afib feeds on the stress that guilt breeds. If you don't feel guilty you don't feed it which makes it easier to deal with.
3) Don't let it define you. This happened on Monday and I was back in the gym on Wednesday, admittedly for a much more sedate version of my usual workout. Obviously you need to be careful, but it doesn't mean you can't do your normal thing. Just listen to your body.
4) Gratitude. 30 years ago this all wouldn't have been possible and the Afib may have progressed. That they have the technology to rebuild you is beyond remarkable and I'm eternally thankful for it.
5) We take the NHS for granted at our peril. I've had about 10 cardioversions (I'm not sure of the exact number) and one ablation. Under an insurance based system I probably wouldn't be able to afford the premium by now, if indeed I could find a company willing to take me on, which I doubt.
So, after all that, the scores on the doors are:
Weird shenanigans in the chest in the middle of the night - 1
Trips to A+E 1
Very funny doctor accidentally putting you at ease - 1
Amusingly shaved chest - 1
Rather nice drug they give you just before sedation - frankly not enough
Cardiologists - 2
Cardiologist who looked about 12 - 1
Cardioversions - 1
Wonderful staff who looked after me - loads
Intention to repeat the experience - zero