Matters of the Heart, Part 2

When we speak about matters of the heart, our heart skipping a beat, being heartsick about something, being broken hearted, etc., we’re talking emotions, not our physical hearts.

But this is not about emotions, although they do play a huge part in it, but….

This is about the heart. The physical heart. The muscle that sustains our very life. The type of heart issues which can be life threatening.

As I wrote previously in Matters of the Heart, Part 1, my husband has experienced heart issues since we were married a little over 34 years ago, thanks to a bout of rheumatic fever at the age of two. His first open heart surgery experience was frightening for both of us, but after 16 or 17 years with perfect checkups, we’d all but stopped thinking about the possibility of a second such operation.

Even his chest scar had faded to the point we almost didn’t even notice it anymore.

Until the day he walked up the stairs as usual and suddenly became exhausted and out of breath. At first we figured it was just because he was tired.

Until it continued for several days, worsening a little each day. Then came the morning he asked me to go up with him for prayer at church and started the conversation with the prayer counselors with, “Deborah doesn’t know this yet but I’ve been having pains in my chest for several days….”

Not again! I guess he figured I couldn’t get mad at him by telling me like that! Well I certainly did, but that was beside the point right then.

And once again we were on the roller coaster ride of facing another open heart surgery. This time, at least, we knew mostly what to expect. Sort of, anyway. Except for our 14 year old daughter who was immediately scared to death that she’d lose her dad. We did our best to reassure her, but at that age, there were so many emotions she had to deal with, and I’m sure her dad and I didn’t deal with them as well as we should have, because we were dealing with our own!

This time we were told they didn’t use the pig valves any more so he chose the bovine (cow) valve rather than the mechanical one. He did joke around that he’d had a craving for pork for a lot of years, and he guessed now he’d switch that craving to steak! At least he kept his sense of humor.

Still….

The second surgery was somewhat easier on him though, if open heart surgery can ever be easy. Techniques had improved, and the stay in the hospital was a few days shorter. He was out of ICU and in a regular room much quicker, less than 24 hours, and was up and walking around a little the next day. Our daughter was very relieved, and so were we! Since it was the middle of the summer she was out of school and was a big help taking care of him those first few weeks. And the doctors were delighted at how quickly he recovered and went back to his daily routine.

We thought we were out of the woods and that all his cardiac problems were behind us, at least for another 15 years or so.

And they were. For awhile. But a few years later the problems started coming back. Unexpectedly.
It began with three separate episodes of him going into A-fib. I had no idea what it was, or what it meant. We always thought we’d have to face another valve replacement eventually but this was something different.
A-fib, or atrial fibrillation, is a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, or other cardiac complications. The heart races erratically, because of the erratic firing of the electrical impulses in the heart, which causes the blood to not circulate properly, resulting in fatigue, fluid retention, and other conditions.

At first he was treated with medication, which for most people, usually controls it. Of course, in his case, it didn’t. He was continually tired with occasional shortness of breath. And it just wasn’t getting any better.

What to do next? We figured there’d be another switch of medications again or maybe a combination of different drugs.

But hearing the doctor tell you that your husband has to have his heart stopped and then shocked to begin beating again in order to get the rhythm back to normal doesn’t give you a good feeling. He wasn’t wild about it either, but since the medication they were giving him wasn’t helping, he had to do something, and once again we headed back to the hospital.

Fortunately cardioversion is a simple procedure, at least for the doctors who do it regularly, but not to those of us who are the patient or the family! The process sends an electrical shock to the heart through electrodes placed on the chest to stop the heart and then re-start it to a natural rhythm. The very thought of what is going to happen is frightening to those of us who are not in the medical field, and Ben was certainly apprehensive as we waited for it to be done at the hospital with a number of our friends and our daughter and her boyfriend (now husband) waiting along with us.

Yes, we were nervous. And yes, scared as well. After all, would you want to have your heart stopped and then re-started? What if it didn’t work properly? What if…what if??

Thankfully the procedure was over almost before we knew it, and he was fine. His heart was once again beating at a normal rhythm. We all breathed a big sigh of relief! We were sure all of his heart problems were finally over.

And they were. Until a few years later….as the saga continues on Matters of the Heart, Part 3 to be published on February 21.

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