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Paroxysmal AFib: Living with the Reality
Here We Go Again
Last Sunday, for whatever reason, I decided to mow both the front and back lawns. I had to rest a bit in between but got them done. When I finished, I came inside to relax. Instead, I decided, for who knows what reason, to get on my stationary bike for about five minutes. Then I turned on the television and started watching some mindless show. Twenty minutes later, my heart went out of its regular rhythm and into atrial fibrillation. I am one of the lucky ones with AFib who have symptoms and know when my heart isn't beating properly. Many people don't. I told my husband that if I said I needed to go to the ER not to argue, just take me. When I was sure, I told him we needed to go.
The first and only other time I had AFib was two years ago. With that episode, I had no idea what was happening and was pretty sure I was going to die. This was different. I knew what it was, knew that it can be treated, and knew it wouldn't kill me.
The nurse who greeted me at the emergency room took me back immediately and put a pulse oximeter on my finger. She told me my pulse was 134, which is fast, but nothing like the 170 from the first time. She had another nurse do a quick EKG and they took me to another room. During the course of the evening, I saw seven cardiologists. The comforting thing about seeing them was that several of them told me that my regular doctor was their boss. That made it seem like he was there in some way. They let me rest and just lie hooked up to monitors and see if my heart would reverse back to regular rhythm on its own. After an hour, they began to talk about using a new medicine, Flecainide, to reverse the rhythm. They told me if it didn't work, they would have to shock my heart. Now, that's a procedure I am striving to avoid at all costs, although I may have to do it at some point. The doctor sedates the patient momentarily, literally for just a few seconds, and they give the heart an electrical shock. They gave me two small shots which I had the choice of having in my stomach or the back of my arm. I'm sure no reader is surprised that I chose the arm! These shots were blood thinners, administered as a precaution in case they had to resort to shocking. Thank goodness, they were wasted!
Hurry Up and Wait
I asked for something to help me calm down. It seems anytime my health is at risk, I become pretty much anxious. I'm not ordinarily an anxious person, but show me a nurse or a doctor and let me smell that hospital smell and I'm done. They agreed to give me Ativan and one of the doctors teased me about my choice, saying I liked that feeling! I chose it because they gave it to me with the first episode. (I did like it, actually.) It helped me be calm and not exacerbate the problem by being afraid. Around this time, I sent my husband home. He looked so totally uncomfortable and miserable on the small plastic chair and, as I told him, what would he do, watch me sleep? I spoke to my daughter, who also offered to come, but there was just no point. I knew it could go on until shock time the next day!
At some point they brought in Ativan, two Flecainide and other various pills which I swallowed. I just didn't care what they were. Then the waiting game began. It was around 11:15 and I knew I had the rest of the night for my heart to reverse rhythm. About this time, several policemen brought in a very large man who had a head wound. He was moaning and groaning really loudly and I was glad for the Ativan because it would have been very unsettling without it. I asked one of the doctors if the man was going to be okay and he closed the door and told me to quit worrying about everything. (He said it jokingly.)
At around 12:15, I began to pray. I'm funny about prayer. I generally don't ask for favors for myself unless it's dire. I don't think God needs to be involved in whether I get a parking place, lose weight, win the lottery, etc. By this time, I felt it was appropriate to ask for my heart to reverse. About ten minutes later, I was talking to one of the doctors. He was sitting next to the bed and I was lying on my side. He looked up at the monitors and said: I see you're still in AFib. He stayed a few minutes after that. Within two or three minutes my nurse, a true angel named Sarah walked in. All at once, she had a huge smile on her face and said: "Let's see what we have here. I'm going to do a quick EKG." When she was done, she raised her hand to high five. It had reversed. The only thing I could think of was no shocking!! Of course I said a silent thank you for an answered prayer. I hope I don't have to ask for anything else for a very long time as that was a big one.
The doctors kept me in a room on the observation floor for the rest of the night because I had never taken that particular drug before and they wanted to be sure I didn't react to it. I went home the next morning and was showered and dressed in my Pierre Thomas jersey in time for the Saints game and the grandkids, who came with their parents to watch the game. That's the thing about AFib, once it's over, it's over. Or is it? That was the difficult part when I had it the first time, allowing it to be over. I realized after this experience that I have come a very, very long way with worrying and wanted to share some of the things that have helped me. After the first episode I worried for weeks that it would happen again. After this one, I worried the first day, a little yesterday, and haven't thought of it at all today until I began writing this. If you are a worrier, please take what I say here to heart. I write the things I write hoping that it will strike a chord with someone and help change a life for the better. Letting go of worry erases a ton of negative energy that lurks around those who do it. When it's gone, there is room for all sorts of good things to come in. In addition to educating everyone a bit about atrial fibrillation, I hope some of the things I say here will make you at least aware of the time you waste with worry and the fact that you are bringing negativity into your home when you worry.
A few years ago, I began reading everything I could find about worry. I knew it was a choice but didn't quite know how to stop. Many long years ago, I talked to an astrologist I visited a few times about worrying about my children. This was back when they were coming in late and doing kid things. I was a nervous wreck. She said, "If you worry about things enough, you can bring them to your doorstep." Well, that got me thinking. I am a student of metaphysics and I believe in the power of thoughts and it absolutely made sense. From that moment, although I'm concerned about them at times, I don't worry. I want my thoughts and feelings to bring good things to them, not bad. However, I still worried about other things, most of the time incredibly silly things like what I would do if my perfectly healthy cat died or whether I could find my gate at the airport on a trip I'd planned or if I could find a parking place when I went to the Quarter to meet friends from out of town. Things like this got blown totally out of proportion in my mind and caused me to actually lose sleep at night. Then one day, I had an epiphany. It was the state of mind that goes along with worry that I was looking for. In order to achieve it, I had to concoct something to worry about.
I'm sure this sounds bizarre, but think about it. In the big scheme of things, how important could any of these things be? I believe, and it's backed up by some minds much greater than mine, that we recreate the atmosphere we grew up in. Whether it's pleasant or unpleasant, it's what we know. That was the time when we were "home," protected in the nest, so to speak and we want to go back there. My parents were huge worriers, worrying together for long periods of time. They would say: "Let's talk about it." That meant worry. It also meant that they fed their own fear and anxiety by adding another's to it. I learned it from them. Worrying as an adult took me back to that mindset, that feeling of tension and anxiety that, although unpleasant, smacked of home for me.
Breaking the Cycle
I seldom worry any longer. I worked on it for months and finally was able to stop. First, I asked myself: "Why are you worrying?" The only thing I could come up with was that I couldn't stop, and I knew on some level that that wasn't true. I also knew there was no intelligent reason to worry. It accomplishes absolutely nothing. Then a light went off in my head. It is true for me. It may not be true for some of you reading this article. I felt that I should worry. Somehow, I felt it was wrong for me to live my life, be happy, and not worry. I felt an OBLIGATION to worry. That was a turning point for me. At that point, I remembered my parents and other adults saying to me as a child, if I said, "I'm not going to worry about it," "Well, you better worry about it!" Somehow some of us have been indoctrinated by parents, teachers, adult relatives, society in general to believe that we are not worthy people if we don't worry. I think it is especially true of women. We are more indoctrinated, likely because our mothers worried more because my mother's generation often stayed home and cleaned house and when they finished, had little else to do besides worry.
So stop it.
Try this exercise. It was such a help to me. For a week, at a certain time of day every day, I allowed myself to worry for 15 minutes. I worried about everything I could think of. Then I made myself stop. Try it. You will prove to yourself that you do have control over worry.
And I am here to tell you that being happy, being worry free does not mean you are a bad person. It means you are a person who has enough intelligence not to spend another moment on a totally useless, non productive, pointless exercise that creates negative energy around both you and your family.
As for AFib, yes, bad things happen. AFib is a bad thing. Much worse things than afib happen. Sometimes they happen often to the same person. When that occurs, it is harder to go about your life without fear and anxiety. Until my mom died at a young age, I didn't really believe anything bad could happen to me. Until I lived through Katrina, I didn't believe a disaster of that magnitude could happen in our country, much less that I would be involved. The answer for me has been to no longer fear "the worst," no longer give in to anxiety and the thought that anything can happen. My answer has been to work on my coping skills, work on being in the present moment and not the past or the future, work on my sense of self, spend time meditating, spend time reading spiritual material, spend time praying and strengthening my faith in the divine, in the universe, and in myself to the point that I know that no matter what happens, I will be okay and will be able to handle it with some degree of grace. I am not completely at that point every moment of every day, but I'm getting there. I believe when we reach that point, there is nothing left to worry about. I hope to get there before the shocking becomes necessary!
Postscript. I had a moment of insight today about worry, dealing with my own daily routine. I believe one of the reasons we worry about certain things is that we feel if we don't, we could be caught unawares by something devastating. One of the hardest jolts of my life was learning that my mom had breast cancer. I felt if I had had some hint or had even been "worried" about her beforehand, it wouldn't have been so hard. Now I realize that is flawed logic. If I had known beforehand, I would have ruined my everyday moments with worry and when the truth finally came, it would have been just as devastating. Don't worry, believing that you're avoiding being shocked with bad news. It does not relieve the shock and it takes away more times that could be joyful. Learn to trust your own ability to handle what comes. We are all stronger than we know.
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