Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Be still, my heart

Not still still, I mean, as in flatlining. Just calm.

Yesterday I went to the doctor for bloodwork and a routine meeting with a specialist doctor. Before he showed up, his nurse gave me the usual height, weight, and blood pressure/heart rhythm routine. When the heart monitor digested its readings and came up with numbers, she was suddenly alarmed.

"Your heart is beating fast."

"It's always pretty fast, every time I have it checked -- "

"I mean really fast."

The doctor I'd come to see arrived then and the nurse pointed out the monitor reading. "A hundred seventy beats a minute," the doctor said. "That's what I'd expect if you'd just finished running a marathon or half hour on the treadmill." I assured him I had done neither.

Other doctors were called in. Not only were the beats ultra-fast but the rhythm was a little dodgy. The weird thing was that I felt fairly normal except for a little edginess and fatigue, both of which are common enough with me. My primary care physician was called and she wanted me sent to an associated facility that had a cardiology unit. I said I'd drive over there straight away.

I was told I was in no condition to drive and they'd transfer me by ambulance. By ambulance? The last time I was ambulance freight was in 1985 when I had a broken leg. It seemed like an overreaction, but then again, what did I know?

So after a wait the ambulance driver and patient caretaker appeared (both physically strong women, refreshingly not fussing), they put me on one of those wheeled stretchers (a gurney? Odd, Edmond Gurney was one of the pioneering researchers for the Society for Psychical Research and co-author of Phantasms of the Living, the first modern scientific survey of paranormal experiences). On the ride the woman accompanying me was sticking fluids into a wrist vein to try to get my heart pumping more reasonably. No help. Still up there around 170. Rick, the human hummingbird.

It occurred to me that, notwithstanding I felt only a little lightheaded, I might be dying. While I'm convinced death is only a door to another and for most people better world, it's a pretty, shall we say, major transition. I had a sort of double consciousness: there was the ordinary me, in a potentially life threatening situation and nervy about it; at the same time I felt curiously detached from the business, almost as if it was a movie.

I did not have a classic out-of-the-body experience, didn't rise up to the ambulance ceiling in consciousness and look down at my body or anything like that; but maybe it was a slight taste of what a true OBE would feel like.

At the coronary unit they took my condition seriously indeed. At one point my little curtained enclosure near the nurses' station was populated by, in addition to myself, two doctors, nurses, and the two women who had brought me to the hospital in the ambulance. The ambulance crewmembers worked for an outside company and I doubt they were required to stay, but they not only remained but knew what they were doing and assisted the nurses wiring me up to the monitor. They are good people.

To cut the story short, the cardiologist who seemed to be in charge first tried a few what I guess were standard techniques. When they didn't work -- the room was dead quiet for a few moments, and now I was worried -- he went on to the next procedure (one of the nurses told me later this "if-then" checklist is called working the algorithms or something like that).

It didn't succeed instantly, but in a short time I was stabilized by a couple of doses of metoprolol, a beta blocker. I spent the rest of the afternoon there while they watched for a relapse and finally was released.  For the next few weeks I will be taking metoprolol and warfarin (the latter a blood thinner to clean out any possible clots), then some non-invasive electrical-stimulation technique that is likely to provide a cure.

The whole business partially restored my faith in human nature, which had been running on fumes lately. Not only did they execute their procedures flawlessly as far as I could tell, but actually recalled that their patient was a person and kept me "in the loop" and as soothed as one could be under the circumstances.

I would like to thank them here -- not by name, of course, which would be a breach of confidentiality -- but anonymously. They all (except for the ambulance crew) were team members of Kaiser Permanente in the centers located in Falls Church and McLean, Virginia. Bravo, folks. You did yourselves proud.


DiverCity said...

Sounds like atrial fibrillation. I've had that occur twice, with about five years between episodes. After the second, I was prescribed medication similar to the ones you've been prescribed. Hope all continues to be well.

YIH said...

I can understand why they made you 'ambulance freight', they were concerned the ticker might give out behind the wheel, not a good thing.
Though I am rather surprised they actually used the term warfarin for that medication. When you see what is was originally developed for you'll know why the medical profession tends to shy away from that name.
Usually I've heard it referred to as Coumadin.
I'm glad you're feeling better. I think we can agree you don't need to go through that situation again
Because I don't think anyone wants you to be a candidate for reincarnation any time soon.

Rick Darby said...


You are probably right. I've had atrial fib before, even a heart operation for it; one episode last year; the cardiologist seemed to think this was another. I'm happy to say that even if I am not permanently cured, for the most part my heart rhythm is normal.


I am not going to ask what warfarin was developed for, or go to the link. I know it has side effects. However, I understand why they don't want to do any heart procedures until they're sure there are no blood clots. I can put up with it for three weeks.

Stogie said...

Rick, I'm happy you got through this frightening episode. My wife has occasionally suffered heart fibrillation as well, and it is scary. Fortunately, she hasn't had a serious episode in years.

Take care of yourself, my friend.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Darby,

So glad they took good care of you.

I had an OBE after a massive car wreck when I was a teenager. I can still conjure it decades later.

God Bless,


Rick Darby said...


I hope your wife never has to deal with fibrillation again. It's encouraging that it's been a long while since the last time. However, keep in mind that this isn't a "wasting" disease -- it doesn't get worse over time. So if she does have another episode it should respond to treatment again.


Thanks for your good wishes.

As you know I am very interested in psychical research. I'd like to hear about your OBE if you feel like sharing it. You can email me at the address given under "Contact" in the right margin.

Ugh said...

As someone who had spent time in 3 different hospitals in 2012 with serious if not life threatening ailments I am forever impressed by the professionalism and compassion of the medical profession in this country. Living Saints all of them... Well almost all of them. Oddly the only ones that didn't seem to have either compassion or professionalism was the ambulance crew itself. But then I did bother them by calling 911 with something as trivial as chest pain.

Rick Darby said...


Chest pain? Take a couple of aspirin tablets. Meanwhile here's your case number: ZX46YUU93. If the problem doesn't clear up in a week, call back during regular business hours, 9 to 12 and 1 to 5 Monday through Friday.