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Be still my heart

Post ablation Scott

Post ablation Scott

When a part of you is broken for long enough, it feels weird being fixed.

I have had a couple of heart arrhythmias for several years. I’m sure I had them for longer than I knew about them, but they had to be managed once it was a medical fact. A combo of medications really did well to calm my quivering heart, but my cardiologist strongly recommended I get an ablation.

If you’re unfamiliar, an ablation is a procedure in which they basically stick some electric wires into your heart and scar up a bunch of tissue in the hopes of interrupting the errant nerve pluses that are such a bad influence on your heart. It is more complicated and medicin-y than that, but that’s the gist.

I hemmed and hawed for a bit since taking a couple of pills seemed pretty easy. Then there was a big old pandemic (still is!), and I didn’t want to stay in a hospital overnight.

Fast forward to me trying to refill my meds, only to find out I had to visit my cardiologist before I could get more of those sweet, sweet heart meds.

At the appointment, he once again sang the praises of the ablation with a new twist: it was now outpatient! They only had to make one incision (really three, but in one location), so you no longer had to stay in the hospital overnight to make sure you didn’t bleed out.

Given his blasé attitude and my dislike of taking meds, I decided to schedule the procedure.

It happened on Monday, and I gotta tell you, I think my cardiologist undersold it a bit. I was at the hospital from 7:45am through 6:30pm. I was under anesthesia for 3 and a half hours (!), and my doctor didn’t even talk to me after the procedure (he popped by beforehand, which seems only right if someone is going to be poking wires into your heart).

I didn’t realize just how much they’d have to shave me (I am very hairy, so I get it), nor did I realize how much it would suck to have to be completely immobile for 2 hours flat on my back after the procedure (many people had it far worse in the hospital but this is about me, people!). Plus, I get to continue taking my usual meds for 6 weeks in addition to some new pills (including a blood thinner, which is a lot of fun).

I was told the procedure should take about 2 hours. They wheeled me into the OR; I hopped onto the operating table (featuring a nice heated inflated mattress) and settled in. The nurses chatted, and at a certain point, I woke up in the recovery ward.

While I was unconscious, they created three incisions in my groin and threaded 3 catheters into my heart via some veins. They mapped my heart’s electrical system and caused me to enter various arrhythmic states. Once they figured out which nerves were the troublemakers, they burnt them. Literally! The catheters heat up, and they just scarred the inside of my heart to isolate the problem nerves. Crazy, huh?

Turns out it took 3.5 hours. My doctor called Marisa (she couldn’t be with me in the recovery ward) and told her it went well. Good thing, too, since no one bothered to tell me how it went afterward. When I woke up and wasn’t dead, I figured it went pretty well… but I had to ask some people to get the lowdown. And I never did see my doctor after the procedure.

After 2 hours, I was able to stand and use the bathroom (that’s when I realized they put in, and then removed, another catheter while I was unconscious. Ouch!), and then after waiting about 35 minutes for transport (i.e., someone to wheel me out), I was released.

I only got about 4 hours of sleep the night before the procedure, so I was tired but not crazy tired. Breathing hurt a little when I lay down. Swallowing was fine (I was told that sometimes people develop esophageal fistulas from being intubated. My cardiologist NEVER used the word “fistula” when discussing the procedure).

I slept the night, though my chest was very itchy.

The next day (Tuesday), I took off from work. It seemed apparent that I should take Wednesday off, too, so I went ahead and did that. I’m glad I did because I was exhausted at about 6:30pm. Too tired to eat my dinner levels of exhaustion. And that’s something that never happens to me (I am a pretty good tired eater).

I slept for 12 hours straight, and that really helped me feel much better.

Was it worth it? Well, I don’t know. You don’t really know if an ablation has worked until 6 weeks or so. That gives the heart time to heal and see if the scarring has taken in the right place. The procedure has an 80% success rate, so I’m feeling optimistic.

My heartbeat has certainly changed significantly. I used to have a crazy low resting heart rate (around 40 bpm). I’m clocking in around 60 bpm, which is probably better. And my heart has stayed in sinus rhythm since the procedure. Here’s hoping I can stop taking all my meds in 6 weeks!

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