Matters of the Heart, Part 6
As I wrote previously in Matters of the Heart, Parts 1-5, 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 learned a lot more than we ever wanted to.
Because of the recurring bouts of A-fib I talked about in Part 5, we decided he needed to go ahead and have the ablation surgery the doctor had recommended.
Ablation entails inserting a tiny catheter in a vein in the groin, and threading it up into the heart, so that the procedure can be done with minimal invasion to both his body and his heart. After the procedure, he would be in the hospital for several hours to be certain there were no complications, such as bleeding or a recurrence of the irregular heartbeat, and then most likely go home.
So on a hot summer day last July we arrived at the hospital at 6:30 in the morning, overnight bag packed just in case, and prepared for a long day.
As confident as I was with the doctor, and the hospital (which is owned by the healthcare organization I work for), I couldn’t help but be a bit nervous. After all, this was a procedure he hadn’t had before, and we really didn’t know what to expect.
Fortunately our daughter and one of my best friends were there to sit with me, which helped pass the time. But hours pass very slowly in this situation, and when it was past the two hour time estimate for the procedure, and we hadn’t heard anything I was getting anxious. Normally the doctor comes out and talks with you, but after three hours with no news, needless to say I was more than worried, and quite anxious.
I knew something wasn’t right. The receptionist at the front desk in the waiting room couldn’t tell me anything except they’d call as soon as he was ready to have us come back to the recovery area, and that the doctor would be out shortly.
When you’re dealing with cardiac issues, no matter how confident you are, how much faith you have, you still get worried when a procedure takes longer than it should. All kinds of things go through your mind; things you don’t want to think about, but there they are, and they just won’t go away.
It still took another 20 minutes or so before the doctor came out. I’m sure he knew how worried I’d been, and after telling me Ben was all right, he quickly apologized for taking so long.
And then he explained what had actually taken so long. Ben had not only been in A-fib when he came in that morning; he was also experiencing something called flutter, which we’d never heard of. Atrial flutter is a condition in which the electrical circuits in the right atrium of the heart cause the heart to beat extra fast, between 250-400 beats per minute, causing the upper and lower chambers of the heart to be beating out of sync.
Well that was something else I’d never heard of, and neither had Ben. But I was sure having both A-fib and flutter wasn’t a good combination, causing dizziness, shortness of breath, and also an increased risk of blood clots or stroke.
The good thing in all this, if there was one, was that the doctor was able to do a double ablation, cauterizing two areas of tissue in my husband’s heart which were causing the conditions. As the doctor said, he got a “twofer”, otherwise he would’ve had to come back several weeks later to undergo a second ablation surgery.
Well, I guess that was a good thing.
However, because of the blood thinners he’d been on for years, and even though he’d stopped taking them the day before as instructed, when the catheters were removed, it took over 20 minutes and intense pressure on the insertion points to stop the bleeding.
But at least his heart valve, the one that had been replaced twice, appeared to be fine, with no signs of leakage. At least that worry could be put to rest!
When we finally got to see him he looked good, although understandably tired. The nurses still came in every 15-20 minutes to check on the insertion sites to be sure there was no more bleeding.
I have to say, one thing thoroughly impressed all of us that day, and that was the story he told about going into the operating room that morning, where he was greeted by a line of people as he was wheeled in on the gurney. He said it actually reminded him of a reception line at a wedding. Every person there introduced him/herself with a “Good morning, Mr. Newell. My name is _______, and I’m going to be doing _______ for this procedure. They even had a “Welcome Ben Newell” sign on the huge monitor in the OR on which his procedure would be displayed and most likely videotaped for his electronic medical records. He was so impressed with that, and so were we when we heard about it, and he’s told everyone he runs into how it made him feel so important, and how such a personal display from the OR team would make anyone feel more comfortable and relaxed about going through such a major procedure. (Thank you, Sentara Heart Hospital in Norfolk!) These are the little touches that are so important in dealing with these major medical procedures.
The nurses kept checking on him the rest of the afternoon, but by 5:00 I knew he wasn’t going home that night. There was just too much to be concerned about, including bleeding from the sites as well as episodes of possible A-fib, and neither one of us had a problem with him staying there overnight. By the time I got home, all I wanted to do was cry or sleep, or both.
The next day he was released a little before noon, and we really thought things were going to get better and stay that way! Even though the doctor had said it would be a good 6 months before we could be assured it was all OK, we were believing this would be the end of his heart problems.
More to follow, in Matters of the Heart, Part 7, to be published March 21.