The Big Health Scare

Alright, you’ve been putting with me hinting at the Big Health Scare for a while now. Here’s the story, but before we jump in, let me just clarify that I do EVERYTHING possible to keep myself in good health. I exercise over an hour a day (running, walking, strength stuff, etc), I try to mostly stand while I’m working, I eat a mostly vegetarian diet, and all that boring stuff that’s supposed to keep your heart happy.

Then this happened and I started wondering why I bother. Why not just sit on my butt and eat bouquets of bacon dipped in melted butter.

Anyway, let’s get going…

It Begins

So one night (17 Aug) I’m drinking a beer and watching a movie and my heart starts doing some weird heavy THUNKS. Then there’d be a pause, some “fluttering” feelings, and then another big THUNK. And no, shirtless Chris Hemsworth wasn’t on the screen.

This kept going on and off through the evening. Worrisome, yes, but I felt fine, no dizziness, no chest pain, just some weird ass THUNKS. I tried to go to bed, but the pounding, thunking, fluttering kept going on and seemed to be intensifying.

Now I really was getting worried, which was sending my pulse into crazy territory (my normal resting rate is about 50 beats a minute).

The Very Scary ER

I woke up Mr Husband and after a bit of deliberation, we decided to go to the emergency room. Apparently when you say “heart palpitations” the medics get you seen to ASAP because I was in the door and hooked up to an EKG within about 10 minutes.

Trust me, while I do appreciate the care I got at the ER, it did nothing to put my mind at ease. The heart monitor thingie would send off an alarm every time I had a palpitation (the bloody things refused to stop, probably because the damn alarm was freaking me out), my pulse was jackrabbiting, and they’d slapped some stickers on me for conductivity “just in case” they needed to pull out the defibrillators.

Um, defibrillators? What the hell is going on here? And where’s George Clooney, damn it!?

They took X-rays and there was no sign of an enlarged heart. Blood samples showed slightly low potassium levels, but nothing else off whack. They gave me a potassium drink (which was really tasty, by the way) and waited. Nope, my heart was still dancing to its own beat.

Normal heart beat

What was happening are called PVCs which normally aren’t a terrible concern, but I was having them mixed with what’s called non-sustained ventricular tachycardia (NSVT – basically, my heart was beating way too fast in really a weird way).

A couple examples of what my heart was doing. PVCs above, NSVTs below.

The ER doc (again, not George Clooney, so disappointing) broke out the beta blockers, which I think he believed was going to be a miracle cure. It wasn’t.

The alarm kept going off, my heart rate was clocking in at over 100 beats a minute, my blood pressure was way too high, I was getting more and more stressed, and I really thought my heart was never going to go back to normal.

Finally it did. They kept me under observation for another hour and recommended I get in to see a cardiologist ASAP (there were none on staff, otherwise they would have kept me overnight). About an hour after, I got home, the crazy beats had kicked up again. Not as bad, but still!

Making Appointment #1

The following Monday (the ER visit happened over the weekend) I called to get an appointment with the cardiologist. First available appointment? October freaking 1st!

At first I shrugged it off, maybe this wasn’t too much of a concern if they were going to delay my visit until then. Then, as the week progressed and I grew more and more freaked out (and had another couple bad episodes) I knew I couldn’t wait that long to find out what was wrong with me.

I called again, half in tears, saying I was really really really scared and really really really wanted to get in to see a cardiologist soon. Panicking works. I got an appointment for the following Monday (26 Aug).

Back to the ER

Okay, when something starts going weird with your heart, you notice EVERYTHING your heart is doing and are keenly aware of any possible sign of heart attack. Sometime midweek I started having weird tingling sensations in my left arm. It wasn’t a radiating pain or anything, but I was convinced I was having a heart attack.

So Friday (23 Aug), a mere five days after my first ER visit, I was back in. More tests, more X-rays, more time on the EKG, but other than my blood pressure being through the roof, my heart was okay with no sign of a heart attack. Phew.

Still, I was scared out of my wits and was wondering if I couldn’t just start sleeping in the ER waiting room just in case.

Time for Frustration

Finally, it was time for the cardiologist appointment. He didn’t seem terribly concerned except for the tachycardia (NSVT) thingie which could indicate a sign of heart damage.

Now keep in mind that throughout all of this I was keeping up normal activities including going for runs, hiking, house cleaning, chasing the cats, etc. and showing no other symptoms. I certainly didn’t feel like I had heart disease and, as I said, I’ve lived a lifestyle to try to keep heart disease at bay, but I was more than willing to think the worst.

He recommended I wear a Holter monitor (basically a portable EKG that records everything your heart does to be reviewed later in comparison to a journal you keep) for 48 hours and get an ECHO stress test (which is a stress test done with an ultrasound of the heart before and after).

No problem, hook me up and throw me on the treadmill!

Not so fast.

While the Holter monitor could be attached that day, I was told I would have to schedule the stress test when I got home.

Yeah right.

The second I got home I tried to make the appointment. Well, apparently you can’t have a doctor-ordered stress test, you can’t find out if your heart might stop at any given second until insurance clerks decide whether or not they approve to the test.

WTF? My doctor wants me to have this. Do it!!

Believe me, I bet that Holter monitor was getting a work out during that phone call.

Oh, and it can take anywhere from two days to two weeks for the approval to go through.

I swear they were trying to kill me.

Freaking Out

At this point I was well beyond freaking out and full into scared shitless mode.

I’ve heard too many tales lately of healthy peoples’ hearts just going kaput and my paperwork from the ER said that the tachycardia thing could lead to “sudden cardiac death.” Holy shit! These are not words I want to read on ANY piece of paperwork ever again.

I really was convinced I was dying. I was ready to write out my will. I was trying to explain my password system to Mr Husband (which made me realize my password system is WAY too complicated).

Plus, we have the Big Vacation planned for October and I was desperately worried this was going to keep me from being able to go (either not being healthy enough or needing heart surgery that would keep me from going).

Also, let’s be honest, I was really pissed off at my own body. After all I’d done for it! The betraying bastard.

Added to this fretting was the Holter monitor results showing I’d had another episode of the tachycardia (NSVT) thingie while I was wearing it. Ughhhh. And I was still not approved for the stress test!!

I desperately wanted to know if anything was wrong with my heart. I NEEDED to know. Bad news would have been preferable at this point to no news. But gotta wait for those insurance clerks to decide whether you get to live or die.

In the meantime, I emailed the cardiologist and he called and spent a good amount of time on the phone with me trying to be noncommittally reassuring. It helped. For about 24 hours, then the fear came rushing back in.

Not At My Best

I was a basket case. I was breaking down in tears in public places, I was barely sleeping (because most of my worst episodes were in the middle of the night), I was barely eating, and worst of all….I wasn’t drinking!!

Seriously, I could have used a glass bottle of wine to calm my nerves, but since alcohol is a potential trigger for PVCs I was too scared to drink. And that’s scared!! Caffeine is a trigger too, so I had cut down my tea consumption to one tiny cup a day (the horror!).

I knew my fretting wasn’t helping. Lack of sleep and stress are also triggers for PVCs. It was a vicious cycle but all I could do was wait. Or perhaps try that panicking thing again….

We Haven’t Received the Request

In a rare show of panic-induced pushiness, I kept calling the hospital to find out if the approval had gone through yet. Nope.

Finally I called insurance to see what the hell was going on only to learn that they hadn’t received the request yet. This was two days AFTER the hospital said they had put in the request.

The insurance person gave me a number to give to the hospital to make them push the test request through ASAP. I called the hospital and they wouldn’t take the number!!! I’m not kidding. They just said they’d work on it. Oh, and they also informed me that appointments for the stress test I needed were at least a four week wait.

I’m sorry, could you just add another pile of angst onto my stress mountain?

Luckily, my mom had a cooler head than me at this point and somehow got through to someone at the hospital who got the ball rolling. THANKS MOM!

Within a few hours insurance had approved the test and I was being booked for an appointment, not four weeks out, but about ten days out. Is anyone thinking what BS the US health care system is? Yeah, me too.

Waiting….

By this point, despite the insane stress levels, I was having fewer episodes of PVCs and no NSVTs. YAY!!!

Still, I was living in utter terror that my heart would just stop some time in the middle of the night and this was leading to bouts of really high blood pressure and some mild anxiety attacks.

I now truly empathize with people who live with anxiety every damn day of their lives.

It seemed a long wait until the stress test and on the day of the test my blood pressure (normally around 115/65) was up to 140/80…and that was just sitting doing nothing.

The stress test was, well stressful, especially as the techs sort of had this silent communication going on with each other and wouldn’t answer any of my questions about what they were seeing. Normal? Abnormal? Am I going to die today? Nothing.

Come on, people, are you TRYING to kill me???

Oh, and, when you do a stress test (which involves running) you don’t get to wear a bra. Fun stuff!!

And More Waiting

Here’s the deal, I had gone into Stress Test Day thinking I would have the results right then and there. They really need to communicate to you that there’s going to be MORE waiting for the results which might come through anywhere from 1 to 4 days.

I honestly didn’t think I could survive another four days of not knowing.

Again, I’m rarely pushy, I don’t like to be a bother, but I also don’t like walking around wondering if I have a ticking time bomb in my chest. I emailed the cardiologist and asked how soon the results might come in because I was really worried about the techs’ strange behavior.

Results…Finally!!

Being pushy helps. Sometime the next morning, the results came in. My heart was perfectly healthy. My blood pressure dropped instantly! And to celebrate, I made myself an appropriately decorated cake…

I had the follow up with the cardiologist last week (18 Sept) and he was more than confident that what was happening wasn’t going to damage my heart, nor was it caused by anything seriously wrong with the heart. Phew.

So what causes PVCs? No one knows. It can be hormonal. It can be due to wonky electrolyte levels. It can simply happen for no reason whatsoever.

You can take meds for it and even have surgery to try to stop it, but most docs, including mine, recommend simply living with them and trying to figure out what the your triggers are.

I’ll tell you a couple triggers, dealing with health insurance and waiting for medical test results!!! haha.

Anyway, my ticker seems to be mostly behaving lately. I’m doing a lot of stress management tricks (namely, not dealing with insurance or medical tests) and I’m trying to figure out what might be my other triggers. There’s some odd thunks now and then, and I’m still carrying around a lot of anxiety and mistrust of my own body, but I guess that’s my new normal.

I always did have a strange sense of rhythm!