Cardiac Ward Ranger
The River Rat Ranger left his readers over a week ago with a story of health problems and a certain amount of discouragement. Suddenly everything changed… I started out with intentions of following Dr. Ganesh’s rules to the letter. I walked 5 miles each day for three days. I cut back severely on my food intake and lost several pounds. Things were looking up. I could DO this.
Saturday morning I woke up at 0415 with the feeling a rat was scurrying around in my chest. I felt my pulse. It was racing and irregular. Atrial fibrillation. I was certain of it. I went into the kitchen and listened to my heart with my stethoscope. My pulse rate was 158 with numerous irregularities. The long pauses are the danger in Atrial Fib. Blood pools in the heart and can clot. The clots travel to the brain and it’s a stroke. If they go to the lungs it’s a pulmonary embolism. Either can be fatal or even worse. So I swallowed four aspirins to thin my blood and took my morning blood pressure medicines. Then I called my family doctor. He told me to get to the Emergency Room. So Mrs. RRR and I drove the 50 miles to the Big City and the hospital where I work part time. It’s an odd feeling being in your own hospital, like standing in a mirror looking back at yourself.
The ER staff kicked into high gear and did all the necessary actions; EKG’s, drew blood for laboratory tests, started an IV, and put me on a monitor. The job in Atrial Fib is to “convert”—that is, to get the heart to convert back to a normal heart beat called “normal sinus rhythm”. But my heart didn’t seem to WANT to convert. They ran in Cardizem, the powerful anti-arythmatic and blood pressure medicine I usually take orally as an IV solution. Nothing. The rapid, irregular rate continued. They kept increasing the amount of Cardizem. Still the Atrial Fib would not convert. But my blood pressure went lower and lower till at last it seemed there was no choice. I was going to have to be cardio-verted. This is done just like in CPR, by giving a jolt of electricity through the heart that makes it beat normally again. The cardioversion was scheduled for early Sunday morning and I was admitted to the cardiac floor.
I was now wearing a transmitter that continuously sent my heart information to a screen in the nurse’s station. All of this is mechanical and terminological. But it doesn’t address the feelings involved. We count on our hearts. They beat away quietly and efficiently from a few weeks after conception for up to a century. I seldom give it any thought. But when it doesn’t work and you can FEEL it not working, suddenly your mortality becomes very real. I thought about this as we drove in to the ER. I held Mrs. RRR’s hand and thought about the third of a century we have together, of the good times and bad and knew every one of those irregular scurryings in my chest could be the last. In the ER the quick efficiency of the staff and all the technology was reassuring. “Everything’s going to be OK. They are going to fix me.” But I wasn’t fixing. By noon I was lying in bed realizing that the technology wasn’t my salvation. The nurse came in with a new medication: Betapace.
“The Dr. wants you to try this…” I took the tablet.
In a short time I became drowsy. Then drowsier. I remember thinking, “If I have to die, this is sure an easy way to go.” There are certain things a man wants right in his soul before he meets the Maker. My mind went to them… then drifted and I seemed to sink down into the bed as I slept without dreams. An hour later I awakened alone in the room. For a second it seemed… no, I wasn’t through the veil, I was firmly on the mattress in the hospital bed. I found myself disappointed a little. To wake up in heaven would have seemed natural and proper. But there was a change in my body. The bubbling, scurrying feeling was gone from my chest. Mrs. RRR came into the room smiling from ear to ear.
“You’ve just converted to a regular heartbeat; the nurse could see it out at the desk!”
The Betapace had done the trick.
Four more days in the hospital making sure the Betapace wouldn’t turn on me and have a paradoxical effect and I came home. I’m still here readers. You won’t escape me that easily.