Supraventricular Tachy-What?

posted by Allison O - 

We don't like to be defined by our illnesses, conditions, and disorders, but there's no denying that they are a predominant factor in our lives. 


I'm something of a medical disaster. I've got it all. Generalized anxiety disorder, depression, migraines, hypotension, and on and on and on. But the one that "defines" me the most is Supraventricular Tachycardia

Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT) is basically an abnormally fast heartbeat. My average resting BPM sits around 100, where healthy people sit somewhere around 60-80. My heart also overreacts to stimuli such as adrenaline and caffeine. I can't run very far or climb too many stairs and I spend an average of 14 hours a day in the fat burn zone. 

When people ask me how I am they say it along with me, mocking: "I'm tiiiiiired." They say I'm ALWAYS tired. That maybe I shouldn't stay up so late. It's dismissive and it's rude. 

I'm tired because my heart is working SO hard, all day long. Imagine running everywhere you go, imagine climbing 10 flights of stairs for every one you take. 

You'd be tired, too. 

The cardiologist believes that I was born with a defect in my heart, just a small little abnormality. It didn't manifest as a heart condition until I was 17 years old. He said that most likely, a major stress event pushed my heart over the edge. Maybe it was that getting a college degree in high school was too stressful. 

I know exactly what happened. I can pin it down to the day: October 29, 2010. 

But I'm not going to talk about that. Not now, and most certainly not here.

It took years for them to pin down exactly what my issue was. First they said panic attacks, but that wasn't right. I was placed on three separate Holter monitors, ambulatory electrocardiography devices the size of a small camera that record your heart's activity with silver dollar-sized electrodes that attach to your skin.

Eventually we nailed it down to SVT and started medication. 

I have been on at least 8 different heart medications in the past 5 years. Some of them didn't work, some of them did but not well. I was even allergic to one of them, which was super fun. But none of them were doing the job. 

So we moved on to the next phase: heart surgery.

 

My cardiologist spent two years telling me that the quality of my life was garbage. I'll never drink coffee or energy drinks, he said. I'll never be able to work out intensively or exert myself physically. I'd never be able to have children because pregnancy would be too dangerous. 

But surgery, he said, would fix everything. I could have a normal life. 

But what is normal? Six years of a high heart rate had created a new normal for me. 

I couldn't remember what life was like before SVT. I didn't know how I would handle the sudden lifestyle change. Honestly, I was scared. 

Catheter ablation is a procedure that uses energy to make small scars in your heart tissue to prevent abnormal electrical signals from moving through your heart. They would insert catheter wires into my femoral artery, using electrodes to stimulate my heart and a cautery wire to scar over the defect. 

Two years of doctors and family wearing me down, I finally agreed to have the surgery after I graduated with my third degree. 

Thus, December 16, 2016 became the Dreaded Day.

Turns out, the stress of impending heart surgery is the exact sort of stress they tell you to avoid in order to not need heart surgery. 


Go figure. 

A catheter ablation is a bizarre experience. I was under conscious sedation, so i was awake and could feel sensation, but not pain. 

As I went in to surgery and started the sedation, the nurse asked me to tell her about something that makes me happy. Naturally, I chose to talk about Ireland. That's where my memory starts to get spotty. 

I have to give kudos to Hollywood, they really did their research. 

Because the next thing I knew, I was Frankenstein-ing up off the table. I'm talking full-on sitting up with my arms raising in front of me. This happened every time they sent the electric signal through my heart, six times total that I can recall. The nurses would gently push me back down onto the table and begin again. 

My next memory is the end of the procedure. They told me we were done and began to remove the catheters - three wires in each of my femoral arteries. Now remember, I could not feel pain, only sensation. I could FEEL the wires moving down through my torso. There was an odd pressure and then they were gone. The best comparison I can come up with would be pulling the plunger out of a syringe. There's a ton of pressure as you're pulling it out, and then it just pops free. Only I was the syringe. 

Gross, huh? 

I don't know how long I slept, but when I woke up they gave me the news: they couldn't find anything to cauterize. 

The surgery didn't work. 

I, of course, had a long list of questions for my cardiologist. Apparently my parents had, too, because Doc didn't much appreciate having to answer all the same questions twice. I asked if we would try again after a few years and he simply shrugged and said "I don't know why we would." 

So there it is. Two years of everyone telling me that my life is crap and surgery would fix everything, only the surgery didn't work.


I honestly don't know where we go from here. I'm not currently on any heart medication and my heart is just working away.

So yeah, I'm tired. Deal with it.  

Allison

Allison

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