Oh, wait? I’m not invincible?
I think this is a realization I will struggle with for the rest of my life. Now that I am getting older, far out of my teenage years, and slowly creeping further and further from my college days, I keep getting smashed in the face with the horrible reality that is what we call life. I am not, in fact, invincible, contrary to popular belief. Well-my own belief at least. And I’m sure I’m not the only twenty-something living this frightening reality on a daily basis.
My latest realization has occurred now that I have been diagnosed with a heart condition. Finally! A diagnosis! Ever since I was a teenager, I can remember having heart palpitations. Nothing too crazy, but crazy enough to notice that my heart was doing a little flippy-floppy in my chest. Fine, eat a banana (for the potassium). Ok, now what? It got progressively worse and more noticeable until last year when I began passing out randomly. I kept track of when these episodes were happening and decided it was freaky enough to warrant a visit to the doctor. Actually, as an EMT, I had gone on a rescue call where the woman was feeling some of the same symptoms I was experiencing. Except for the fact that we were probably a good twenty years apart, she was presenting with what could be either an anxiety attack or something else like SVT. I mentioned it to the paramedic on the scene and he told me definitely to get it checked out, he knew of a young woman in her mid-twenties who actually passed away from an undetected heart condition. Um… scary! I was also told not to take no for an answer. As a young woman, anxiety seems to be the most common blanket diagnosis and isn’t always the right diagnosis. Thanks for the heads up, Scott!
I got my butt to the doctor and was told that yeah, I might have anxiety. But wait! I protested-I am not anxious! Doesn’t matter, the doctor said, your body might “think” that you are. Also, you may be having seizures. Let’s get you in to get your head checked. So I did. I had an EEG, and Ambulatory EEG, and an MRI on my head, all with the same conclusion: You can’t fix crazy. My head was totally normal. I went back and told the doctor that my “episodes” were still persistent. “Here is some Xanax, take it when you feel this way. If you still feel the symptoms after you take it, it could be something else”. I abided by the doctor’s rules. Can I just say that Xanax is some really lovely stuff? I would feel the “episodes” coming on and pop one and wait. Eventually, I wouldn’t feel like “Oh my God, my heart is racing!!” Instead I would feel “Hey, cool. My heart is racing. Oh well!”.
Now what? I was stumped and I felt funky going back to the doctor because this was totally in my head. Out of the blue, my mom called and told me after talking to my aunt on my father’s side that she had SVT (supraventricular tachycardia). She had all the same symptoms as I had and had an ablation and hasn’t felt this good ever. She told my mother that all the doctor’s thought she had anxiety until she insisted on going to a cardiologist that listened to her and finally diagnosed her with SVT.
Is this what I have? I thought. After another bout with the doctor, I was sent to a cardiologist who, for good measure, put me on an event monitor for 30 days. I put it on Friday and by Monday morning I had a phone call from the cardiologist saying they had already found I actually did have “episodes” and said that they had found Atrial Flutter. I had to leave for a business trip to Germany for 3 weeks so I didn’t even wear the monitor for more than 10 days. After seeing an electrophysiologist when I got back from my business trip, we have decided on an ablation. That is when they go through your groin area and “zap” the tissue of your heart that is causing this. He explained that my atrium was beating at 270 beats a minute while my ventricle was trying to keep up and beating about every other hit. So there IS something wrong with me.
At first, I was relieved that they found something-if only for the fact that it validated what I was feeling and that it wasn’t in my head. I’m not a hypochondriac!! Bad news is that I need to have this procedure done. Most of the time it works but with any surgery, there are risks involved and the small chance that it won’t actually work. It all depends on where this rogue signal is coming from and how close it is to my AV node. If it doesn’t work, there is medication I will be able to take that will lower the frequency of my symptoms.
Coming from a kid who was rarely ever sick growing up and the epitome of health, this has been a huge blow to my ego. I am no longer the healthiest girl in the room, there is something wrong with me. Life goes on, though. It isn’t life threatening and I should be totally fine, but just the thought has been killing me. I am super grateful that it is something so small.
My advice? Well, try to realize earlier on in life that you aren’t invincible so that it doesn’t come as such a shock at age 25. Second, if you are feeling funky, be persistent. This little journey of mine has been going on for almost two years. Don’t let anyone discredit the way you feel. I am lucky to have been able to work with some great doctors, but I know that some aren’t so lucky. Don’t wait to make yourself feel better. You aren’t a doctor-you certainly can’t diagnose yourself. So ask for help. I can be really stubborn so this was a bit hard for me to admit to something being wrong and then having to ask for help, but if it makes me feel better and healthier in the end, you can bet your ass it is worth it!
So, in about one month, I will be able to let you know how it goes. Until then, I’ll just be doing my thing counting down the days till these damn things (hopefully) go away!