For almost 17 years of my life, I avoided a hospital stay. Sure, I visited both my mother and my father in the hospital, and I went to the hospital with my grandmother, but a medical problem had never warranted a hospital stay. But, shortly before my 17th birthday, I checked into the hospital for a Radiofrequency Catheter Ablation, a procedure designed to fix a problem with the electrical system of my heart. This problem is called Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT), a condition which causes the heart rate to jump substantially. My resting heart rate sometimes approached 200 beats per minute for up to two hours. Fortunately, it generally happened at times when I wasn’t physically exerting myself. Usually, it wasn’t very serious, and after a cardiologist told me that it would probably go away as I got older, I learned to ignore it. But, halfway through my junior year, disregarding this became very difficult.

One day, about halfway through running the mile in gym class, I felt the condition kick in. I stopped running, and began walking. Despite decreasing my exertion, my heart continued pumping at this incredibly fast rate. As I continued walking, I began to see white creep into the sides of my field of vision, and it eventually overcame me, and I passed out. After the class, I called my father and told him what had happened. I had already talked to both a cardiologist and a cardiac electrophysiologist (a specialist in the heart’s electrical system) about a similar experience from a few months earlier in which I hadn’t passed out, and so my father called the cardiac electrophysiologist again. Although he had already said that surgery was probably the best option for curing the problem, after this experience, he decided that it should take place fairly soon, and so the surgery was scheduled for April 5th, about three weeks later.

Between then and the surgery, I told many different people about the surgery, and explained that it was a lot like an angioplasty, and wasn’t all that serious. Still, they all seemed worried, which was odd, because I didn’t feel particularly worried, and I was the one having the surgery. I received this response consistently. But while others seemed worried, I felt disconnected from the experience. I simply lived my life as usual. I went to the hospital on April 5th without any apprehension.

After checking into the hospital, and being called out of the day surgery waiting room, I was taken to a room where they could begin to prepare me for the surgery. I was given a hospital gown and an ID bracelet, and the nurse inserted an IV into my hand. Once again I began to feel the same detached and light-headed feeling that had characterized my experience on the track. I awoke about a minute later, and after resting for a few minutes, I was wheeled away on a gurney to yet another room where I was further prepared for the surgery into the “cath lab,” the site of the operation.

During my operation, I fell in and out of consciousness. At times, I would wake up for several minutes, and at other times, I would be conscious for only a few seconds. During one of the lengthier periods of consciousness, I saw the x-ray that the doctors were using to guide the wires through my arteries and towards my heart. I saw the wires, and I saw my vertebrae, and I saw organs. I noticed my lungs moving with my breath, and I breathed in and out, so that I could watch them move. Watching this screen, and the movement of my lungs allowed me to reflect on how amazing life and the medical technology we have created to preserve it are. The twin realizations of the fragility of life, and that I was actually looking at my internal organs was a very profound. However, after a few short minutes of watching and reflecting, a piece of equipment was moved into my field of view, and I quickly fell back asleep.

The operation had seemed to take only about 15 minutes, but it had actually been nearly two hours. I was still moderately dazed as I was wheeled out of the lab towards the hospital recovery room. People leaned over my bed, and my parents came in, but it all seemed very surreal. The breeze from the movement of the gurney, and the ceiling of the elevator are all I really remember from this trip.

Although I had to stay overnight because my blood pressure would drop every time I stood, I recovered swiftly. And despite the haze that the painkillers had placed over my memories of the operation, I still remembered my view of the x-ray. It seemed hard to believe that it had actually been a picture of me. I still felt disconnected from the entire experience. My life didn’t change after the surgery. I continued to live my life, and didn’t think about my surgery very much. But, since then, any time that I have a negative thought about life, I can look back to that screen, and remember how much of a miracle life is.

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