I wanted to fill you in on a story I started to share with you almost exactly a year ago. It has nothing to do with couponing or saving money, but I hope that by sharing I may encourage or help someone out there.
While dancing around during practice for a musical I was cast in during high school, something disturbing happened. My heart started to race! Not the kind of exercise-induced normal pulse increase. This felt like my heart was going to explode out of my chest. I was terrified. I laid down in the back of the auditorium, but by the time my dad arrived to pick me up, the strange episode had stopped just as suddenly as it had started.
Naturally I went to the doctor the very next day, but everything seemed fine. Over the years, I would continue to have these upsetting episodes. Some would be triggered by a sudden movement or change in position, others by exercise. There was no rhyme or reason. Most would last about 10-15 minutes, but I had several that were 30 or even 40 minutes. I had a number of tests done, but every time everything looked normal. After a decade of living with this, I decided to chalk it up to some quirk I had and let it be. My doctor believed it was anxiety – a diagnosis that somewhat comforted and upset me simultaneously.
Fast forward to December 2011. We’d been at a family Christmas party that day and my husband Terry and I had put the kids to bed and were settled on the couch with a drink to watch HGTV. I was completely relaxed. I went to shift my body to get more comfortable, and I triggered an episode. As normal, I laid still, breathed deep and hoped it would pass soon. After about 20 or 30 minutes it did. However, I found myself shaking so bad (maybe from adrenaline?) that I triggered a second event. After about an hour of this, I asked Terry if he could take me to the ER. (I’ve never gone to the ER during an episode). Frustratingly, the episode stopped as soon as I got in the car. We went to the ER, and quite as expected the cardiologist said everything looked fine.
At the beginning of 2012, I decided I wanted to make one last big push to figure out what it was I had – and didn’t have. I would prefer to leave specific doctors’ names and hospitals out of this post, but suffice it to say, I stumbled on a cardiologist who listened to my symptoms and seemed to know instantly what I had. It was the most reassuring conversation! It was like suddenly – woah, there is actually a NAME to what I have? Other people have it too?
Because I have these episodes so infrequently (sometimes only 1 or 2 a year!), he suggested we implant a loop recorder. Many of you may be familiar with a holter monitor, which you wear to record your heart’s patterns. Well, a loop recorder is a small device they implant just under your skin in your chest and it can be worn for up to 3 years. I decided the hassle was worth it, and that’s the part of the story I shared with you last year.
A couple months after having the device implanted, I had an episode. I was actually quite excited – this would be the first time one of my episodes had ever been recorded! The results were in – I had what the doctor had initially thought, AV Nodal Reentrant Tachycardia. The problem all these years had been with the electrical activity in my heart, not my heart itself. Turns out, this condition isn’t terribly uncommon and is more prevalent with females than males (75% of the time). In many instances, it doesn’t manifest until the teen years or early adulthood. Palpitations are the main symptom.
At this point I learned my options: I could do nothing, take medicine, or I could get a surgical procedure that would correct it. I knew I didn’t want to be on medicine the rest of my life, so that was out. And the doctor shared some things about the surgery that made me decide the risks weren’t worth the benefits. After all, I had the episodes so infrequently, I could live with it. I consulted with a surgeon about the procedure, but I wasn’t really listening. I wasn’t seriously considering it at that point.
Fast forward to a couple months ago. I was doing a Jillian Michael’s at home workout, so my heart was pumping! Then she said, “now burpees!” and something told me, do NOT do the burpees, but I tried to power through anyways. As soon as I went to shift down, I triggered a very strong episode lasting about 30 minutes. I scheduled a doctor’s appointment for the next week so they could retrieve the data off my recorder. I figured, hey it’s just another one of these appointments, probably a good idea to check in. I truly wasn’t overly worried or anything. Until I got to the doctor’s office.
That’s where I learned my heart rate had been 229!! The doctor really laid into me, saying I should “do something about it.” He said – what if I have one of these episodes will swimming? Will driving? While taking care of my children out in public? I had ruled out the surgery, I told him. Felt it was invasive (and quite frankly, I was scared about getting it done). One thing he said stuck out to me though – he said that by doing the surgery, I could end the thing that haunts me. Even though I don’t have one of these episodes every day, it was a true statement I lived in fear of them. I found myself holding back in exercise at times, or checking my pulse. The episodes did haunt me. I began to rethink the surgery.
From here, I would prefer to avoid some specifics to protect my privacy and those involved, but suffice it to say, I found the right doctor for me who put a lot of the concerns and fears to rest. I began to feel that the risks were worth the benefits. I imagined what my life would look like without this condition, and it was a good life. I felt blessed to learn more about my condition – that it was treatable. How many people in this world suffer with something for which there is no cure?
Early Tuesday this week, I went in for surgery. Understandably, I was a bit nervous. I was also excited to put this chapter of my life to bed. As the nurse prepared to wheel me away she told my dad, “don’t worry, she’ll be no worse for the wear.” I replied, “no, I hope that I’ll be more the better.” The procedure is a catheter one, meaning they snaked tubes up from the tops of my legs. I was sedated, but awake. This was the part of the surgery that I was afraid of the most, but when it actually happened, wasn’t so bad. As I laid there, they triggered multiple heart events to find the area that was causing the problem.
I breathed deep and told myself, this is the last time. At one point, my inner pep talk was waning and I was about to ask the nurse for more medication. It was at that point the doctor told me it was over. They’d found the problem and solved it. I found myself crying there in the OR. The nurses asked me, am I in pain? What’s wrong? And I didn’t know what was wrong. I think I was just relieved it was over, happy to be whole.
Later the doctor told me I have a 97% chance of these episodes NEVER coming back. The last couple days, I’ve been sore in my legs where the puncture sites were. Every now and then I feel twinges in my chest, but I hear these are normal and will go away. It’s strange because I expect to feel like something’s different, and I really don’t. I think some of this recovery will be psychological for me – accepting that I’m better, believing that. One day soon I hope to take on those burpees and finish Jillian’s workout.
I’m sharing all of this with you because you guys mean so much to me! I see your kind comments and encouragement and it’s a privilege to share my life with you. If I’m in and out this week, you know why now. I also want to encourage you – YOU are own advocate. I know that sounds trite, but I hope my story really illustrates this! If you have something about your life that’s bothered you – maybe a medical condition, some area you want to grow in, whatever – DO it. I’m so glad I didn’t give up on myself! I also want to say if you or someone you know has suffered with symptoms similar to the one I’ve described, I’d be happy to personally correspond with you by email if I can be of any help. Please email me at angela @ thecouponproject dot com.
On that note is there anything left to say…. but God is good. He answers prayers. He is faithful.
Disclosure: I am not a medical professional. What I’ve shared today is my own story, but it’s not intended to diagnose anyone with similar symptoms. Palpitations can be a symptom of many different conditions. As always, please seek the advice of a trusted medical professional about your own health concerns. In other words, be smart, as I know you all are. 😉