"Heart block occurs when the AV node has problems passing on electrical signals from the SA node to the ventricles. It can be caused by problems with either the AV node or the bundle branches. If the ventricles don't receive a signal, they don't contract. This may happen only once in a while. Or, the signal may be blocked all the time."
There are several types of heart block. In my case, I was told I had a total heart block with no coronary heart disease, no hypertension, no atrial fibrillation. The only "classic" symptoms I had were sudden weight gain in the abdominal area, heartburn, and episodes of what I thought was an acceleration of the vertigo I experience from a long time diagnosis of Meniere's Disease.
"As of October 2016, about 600,000 people in the USA get pacemakers implanted each year, according to the American Heart Association (AHA)." The other unusual symptoms I recall having prior to the emergency implantation were double then triple blurred vision and extreme vomiting. After the vomiting, I also remember crying between vomiting that I didn't want my husband to be dead. I have little memory after that for approximately 3-4 days. As I've written before, my younger son found me blue and without a pulse.
As per the handbook I was given during the first hospital stay, Understanding Pacemakers, most people have more warning, actually plan when to get their pacemaker, have some say in the location it is placed on the chest, and recover in a few days. This was not my experience. My cardiologist and the electrophysiologist who performed the surgery both were flummoxed not only by my atypical symptoms, but my prolonged recovery, as well as three subsequent hospital stays.
I was seen by a string of specialists who ordered differing lab work and tests, most of which ruled out awful and rare conditions I don't have. I was treated for pneumonia twice, although I didn't have it. I was quarantined for 24 hours. Talk about strange happenings: suddenly, everyone coming in my room wore face masks and blue plastic sheeting, even the cleaning staff. For no reason other than I was told they didn't know if I was contagious or if my immune system was too weak.
Lest you think I was staying in some second-rate hospital, I was not. I was actually in a five star, modern wing devoted only to heart patients, which I was but wasn't at the same time. The perks were a private room, small specialized cardiac nurse-to-patient ratio, hypoallergenic, botanic personal hygiene products, and better than average hospital food. However, there was often miscommunication between the hospitalist and the cardiologist, as well as the nursing staff. I took to writing EVERYTHING down, after being given the wrong dose of thyroid medication two days in a row and being awakened several times to have my finger pricked because someone wrote down I was diabetic...and I'm not.
I have not been back in the hospital since discharge on February 20, 2017. My recovery is still up and down. I am extremely grateful to be alive, as my primary doctor said several times if not for my son's quick thinking, I'd not be here. Even he has no idea why I had a total heart block, as I had seen him two days prior to the heart event; he just thought I was mildly depressed from husband's death. He prescribed an antidepressant and heartburn medication that I only took one night.
Recent CT scan with contrast showed no more pulmonary embolisms, heart working fine, not even needing the pacemaker. This week, I had more blood work done, requested by cardiologist and rheumatologist. Last labs showed inflammatory markers were lower, but still abnormal. I just take the medications and try to get some exercise. Even though I'm sleeping better, I fatigue easily, weight fluctuates daily more than it should, and my fingers are more swollen than I'd like. All of this I will tell the doctor next week.
I'm still perplexed by all that happened. I left out a lot, but felt if this might be helpful to someone else, it will be worth having written it. Some people think it was a delayed reaction to the stress of being a caregiver to my husband as well as his death. My adult children thought it was a drug reaction. Both of these are plausible but don't explain pulmonary embolisms nor unusual blood work. If and when I get a definitive diagnosis other than total heart block, I'll revise this.
sources: Understanding Pacemakers, 2014
Setting the Pace, 2016 http://www.radiologytoday.net
*special thanks to our resident doctor lizardinlaw for feedback as well as support above and beyond