As I wrote previously in Matters of the Heart, Parts 1 through 4, 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. He’s had two open heart surgeries and numerous other cardiac procedures that we didn’t really know existed until he had to have them. And we’ve learned a lot more than we ever wanted to.
And unfortunately we’re still learning.
After Ben was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, I thought “what else can happen to him?” Don’t ever ask yourself that question, because you’re going to find out!
Although he’d had a few bouts of A-fib, in which the heart starts beating totally out of a normal rhythm sequence, making him exhausted and unable to do much after a shortened day’s work, it had usually been corrected either with medication or a simple procedure called cardio version which stops the heart and restarts it heart back into its normal rhythm. The doctor called it a simple procedure, and to him, it was.
For the patient and the patient’s family, it’s scary to know your loved one’s heart is going to be stopped for a second or two and then restarted. Yes, it’s been done hundreds of thousands of times, but not on your loved one. He’d had one years before and I remember how nervous we both were before having it done. Yes, it took probably 15 minutes from putting him under to bringing him out of the sedation, but still…
We certainly hadn’t thought he’d have to go through it again, but over the past years since being diagnosed with CHF (read Matters of the Heart, Part 4), we really didn’t think about that coming back. And, he already had the pacemaker so we though we were ok on that particular issue.
But since then we’ve learned that a pacemaker doesn’t keep the heart from going into A-fib. It will shock the heart when it’s too slow, and try to bring it in rhythm when it’s going into A-fib, but basically, at least in my husband’s case, a defibrillator is needed to correct A-fib.
Last spring, he started getting very tired, and would complain it felt like his heart was racing. He had to take a nap when he came home from work, even though he’s only working 30 hours a week. He couldn’t walk a lot without getting tired, and picking up our granddaughter or one of our Yorkies was difficult, because he got so short of breath it took him a few minutes to start breathing correctly again.
Back to the doctor….
Where we discovered the A-fib had reared its ugly head again. And found out the pacemaker wasn’t enough to prevent this.
So now what?
More medication changes. Drugs to hopefully control the A-fib; a different blood thinner to decrease stroke risk. And a list of side effects that didn’t sound like fun either. Which of course he developed, which meant changing meds again. And by the way, even with insurance these medications are NOT inexpensive, and a few had to be ruled out because of the cost!
We were also fortunate enough to get an appointment with one of the specialists in his cardiology group who deals only with cases involving electrical issues of the heart. A cancellation in his schedule enabled us to get an appointment within a week; otherwise there is usually a three month wait.
This doctor was very good, very professional, and very reassuring. He explained there are basically four treatment protocols for A-fib. Most common is medication, which unfortunately wasn’t taking care of it. The next was to do a cardioversion (again!).
The next was a procedure called cardiac ablation in which the areas of the heart causing the A-fib are cauterized (burned out) so that it can’t (or shouldn’t) happen again. That sounded scary to both of us. It’s more invasive than the other procedures, but still, it isn’t open heart surgery. And there are risks of complications, including pericarditis or other infections of the heart, small blood clots, etc. so he would be on several additional medications for 3-6 months to hopefully avoid those problems.
The last alternative would be to either add another wire to his existing pacemaker or change it out altogether. And with everything we went though with getting the pacemaker, that didn’t sound too good either.
So back we went for him to have another cardioversion procedure, which the doctor hoped would take care of it. Again, as with the other such procedures, it was quick, with no side effects or complications. We even went out for lunch afterwards.
And three weeks later, he was back in A-fib. His doctor wasn’t totally surprised, because he’d told us this could happen. But so quickly?
Six weeks later we were back at the hospital for the ablation procedure. To say I was nervous is an understatement. When your husband has gone through so many cardiac procedures, part of you feels like it’s, “Here we go again.”
But there’s another part that says, “What if it doesn’t work? What then? Where are we headed?” All sorts of scenarios go through your head at this point, and no matter how strong your faith is, you’re scared. You’re anxious. And you can’t help but wonder what’s next.
We are fortunate enough to live in an area which is home to one of the top
heart hospitals on the east coast, Sentara Heart Hospital. Which, of course, is where we went. But that didn’t prevent us from having a really long day…
Which has now gone into several long
months. And it’s not over yet. Unfortunately.
And it continues, in Matters of the Heart, Part 6, to be published March 14.