After reading Alex.Tan
's node on Fibrillation
, I thought I'd share
what it's like to experience several heart problems
When I was a kid, I'd occasionally have what is called a PVC, or a pre-ventricular contraction. The heart works like an efficient pump. One chamber fills up, and the heart muscle contracts to push the blood on its way. Sometimes the ventricle basically skips a beat. The chamber gets overfilled, and the next contraction feels like a mule kicked you in the chest. My cardiologist said everyone has mild PVC's and PAC (the atrial chamber version) at least once a day. It's very common.
My first brush with weird heart conditions involved PVCs. Instead of one or two a day, my heart was literally skipping every third beat for weeks on end. When I went in to the Navy hospital in San Diego, they put me on a heart monitor. You could watch the __/\__/\______/\__/\______ on the monitor. They were at a loss as to why it was happening. At first the emergency room doctor said it was fine, that it happens to everyone. I pointed to the monitor and told him to please put that diagnosis in writing. He decided to call a cardiologist in instead. He gave me some medication that helped get rid of the gaps in my heartbeat. Apparently, constant PVCs or PACs can be caused by an electrical problem in the heart, which may require a pacemaker. Sure sounded like a routine problem to me, Mr. Asshole Emergency Room Doctor.
When the heart skips the beat, your breathing is stopped, almost like you have had the wind knocked out of you. It feels like someone punched you in the chest when the heart does pump the double-load of blood. I've had the skipping every third beat problem for literally months at a time (my record was 14 weeks of constant PVCs).
Well, things ended up getting worse. I was out on a ship off the coast of Los Angeles (near Catalina Island) when I was awakened by some serious pain in my neck, arm and chest. It hurt so bad, and my head was so dizzy that I couldn't do anything but lay there. When my fellow buddies noticed I had not shown up for work or breakfast, they sent someone down to wake me up. All I could do was croak, "Go get the Ships Doctor."
The Ships Doctor is an enlisted corpsman (usually a Chief or Senior Chief). He came down and figured I was just gaffing off work. He got me upright and we went to the medical office. By this time my Officer in Charge and my Senior Chief had shown up to see what the problem was.
They plopped me onto the table, and the junior corpsman tried to take my pulse. He was confused, and he asked the Doc to check it. From his expression, I knew that something was amiss. He stepped out for a second with my seniors and spoke for a minute. He then came in and asked if I was doing any drugs like cocaine. I suppose he had to ask, so I didn't take offense. I told him no, because I hadn't. He said he had to draw some blood. Again, I'm sure he figured I had smuggled some crap on board. Then he let me know that my pulse, lying down, was 220 beats per minute. My blood pressure was incredibly low as well, and he was surprised I was awake and lucid.
He called up to the bridge and informed the Captain of my condition. Then he said I had to be Medevac'd off of the ship on my own helicopter, which for some reason really embarrassed me. The ship argued for a minute, because it costs the Navy $400 to land a helo at Balboa Hospital. The Captain said, "Make it so."
I was strapped to a spine board and had an IV attached. My friend was the aircrewman, and he would be sitting there on the flight in. They called Emergency Flight Quarters to get everyone out to start up the helo, which embarrassed me more. I hated being such a bother, especially since my friends and fellow sailors were getting woken up early to get the bird off of the deck.
They had to carry me up a narrow flight of stairs and to the flight deck. I am not a light human, being six-foot-two and weighing in at 240 pounds. They had to hoist me up the stairs with a rope. By the time I was up by the flight deck, my ever-efficient friends had the helo turning and burning. They all showed up to wish me well as I was loaded on the helo. I ended up passing out for a while, and I woke up as we were landing.
They took me in to the cardiology wing of the hospital. It was in the new section of the hospital, and everything looked shiny and new.
It turned out I had atrial fibrillation, and a very bad case at that. I spent a week in the hospital, taking buttloads of medication to prevent clots from forming in the backflow of blood in the atrial section of my heart. The day they were going to stop and restart my heart with an electric shock, my heart suddenly began to beat normally. I had to do some tests, but my heart rate was a constant 150bpm. They were going to put me on the treadmill to monitor my heart. I was supposed to walk until my heartrate ramped up to 150 max. I stood there, still and silent, and exceeded it... 154bpm. They placed me on more medication.
When I had the atrial fibrillation, I felt like I was lightheaded. I was shaky like I was on a severe caffeine buzz. I felt very weak, and couldn't do much without getting tired. It was a scary time, and I was bothered that I put my family through the ordeal.
I did find out that my little son (who was about 2 years old) had a penchant for blondes. I had a very attractive blonde woman as my cardiologist, and my son flirted with her every time she showed up. That's my boy... going after the beautiful smart women. It worked for me, I caught his mother : )
I ended up getting out of the Navy, and I'm rated with a 30% disability. Today, the Veterans Administration is sending me to college, since I can't work on helicopters anymore. If there's any advice I can impart to you, it would be to take care of your heart. If you have something weird happening, go to a hospital. They have specialists who can see you. If something feels wrong, let someone know. I certainly hope that you don't have to go through this kind of stuff beginning at 31 years of age.