Five weeks ago or so, my primary care doctor told me he didn’t like my electrocardiogram. I had a two second delay (occasionally) between heartbeats and then a rat-a-tat spurt of “tachycardia” following the delay- or something like that.
I’ve been told I’ve had slight arrhythmia throughout my life, ever since I had rheumatic fever, but that it was nothing to worry about. This led to a youth of black and white cookies (New Jersey), Drake’s Cakes, and pizza. As an adult, I continued on my merry diet of Real Chili (Milwaukee), Aerosol cheese and Cracked pepper and olive oil Triscuits (New Jersey), and Frozen Custard or soft ice cream (with sprinkles (everywhere).
Oh, and I had always smoked cigars… first starting with my grandfather’s brand, Moviemakers, from New Haven , CT (but now made in Pennsylvania), then moving onto the hard stuff- Full bodied Magnum sized Maduros, whatever was on sale. “Always” means from the time I was in college. But I didn’t inhale…. Really. Though I guess you don’t have too.
On the plus side, I quit drinking in 1985, after being a an occasional embarrassment to myself and others, though it did result in curtain calls for my Ed Sullivan impression (explain him to your kids… Really Beeg!).
Anyway, I wore a heart monitor for a day, and the doctor didn’t like what he saw, so he recommended a cardiologist. The soonest I could get in was a week (cardiology is popular, with waiting rooms populated with geezers like me), and when I finally saw the doctor, he did an extended ekg and wasn’t happy. He scheduled a battery of tests- stress test, nuclear imaging, two week monitor, ultrasound, and a followup on July 11. That seemed like a long time, but hey, you’re the doctor.
I did the stress test and nuclear imaging the a week later, but the two week monitor was MIA.
Okay, the truth here- I had been feeling these bumps and rat-a-tats for quite some time, and would occasionally get dizzy or out of breath. But I went to Vancouver last fall and walked the whole city no problem. It tired me out of course. And Vancouver has Cuban cigars! I walked to a cigar store, bought a cigar, and looked for the lounge to light it up. No smoking in cigar stores! (Vancouver cares).
Three weeks or so in, the heart monitor finally arrived. I had it put on at the cardiologists and knew to hit a button if I felt anything unusual. The first night went fine. The next day I skimmed the pool and trimmed what little lawn I have. I sat down outside on the porch to rest from this outsized series of chores (just kidding), and no sooner than I take a sip of my seltzer, than the cell phone rings.
It was a cardiologist- whoever was monitoring the monitors (they had a built in cellular system to send emergency events to the person monitoring the system). “How do you feel?”, he asks. “Fine”, I sort of lie. I was out of breath and could feel the normal “abnormal” heart percussion.
“You’ve had 19 tachycardia in a row, and some major gaps, and your heart rate is slow”, said he. Rat-a-tat, pause, slow. All at once? “I’m advising you go to an emergency room”. I packed a few things and I did, thinking this was just precautionary.
The entrance into emergency was fast, a quick EKG, and into the staging area, where they hooked up an iv drip, did another EKG, and let me know I was staying. I’d go “upstairs” once a bed was available. I was given an IV drip and oxygen.
I slept in the ER, and at six the next morning was rolled into a waiting 2-bed hospital room. The next five days was an orgy of blood samples, pills, heart-smart meals, contraband graham crackers and diet ginger ale (thank you nurses, you know who you are), more and more iv’s, lots of urination, and finally, the realization that something was going to happen. Happen it did- a catheterization with a mini-cam through the groin to see the heart up close, an ultrasound, and a series of hospital cardiologists and the Cardiology Group’s specialists visiting and telling me what they could. By this time I knew a pacemaker was in the works. Really, I had known that since the first meeting with my GP, who is an expert in matters of the heart (I just had to write that).
It was finally announced that I was getting a combo defibrillator- pacemaker and that the Cardiology Groups specialist- surgeon in that area was admitted at another hospital, so I would be moved down there, 6 miles south. That is, as soon as a bed opened up. This all started on a Tuesday night; it was now Friday. My sister and brother visited, for which I was grateful, since my roommate seemed to have 3 generations of visitors most evenings. My son was the first to arrive Sunday, followed by my sister and brother. We waited for news of “when” and finally it was announced I would be moving via ambulance to the other hospital Monday am.
On Monday. I was bundled up, strapped into the ambulance like a Usinger’s summer sausage, and enjoyed the 6 mile ride. All this fuss, when I could have called a cab. Or hitchhiked.
I was rolled into the ER staging area, hooked up to things, and waited. My son and sister showed up and they were given chairs and offered juice. Nice touch. I met the doctor, Dr. Koo, who let me know the lay of the land and what I could expect. Maybe a half hour later, I was rolled into the OR, moved to the operating table, and given a magical iv which caused me to travel in time, to two hours later, where I woke up in my single bed recovery room with a swell view of area, and my waiting family.
That night was a struggle; I’m not sure why, but the next day, after all the usual prodding and poking and testing, a ”here’s what you can expect in the future” meeting with a nurse from the cardiologist’s office, and a nice breakfast, I was ready to leave. It was about then that I realized I couldn’t feel my heart, and my breathing had improved and I wasn’t using it to try and control my pause-rat-a-tats. My blood pressure, heart rate and ekg were normal.
We all spent the night at my house, then my son returned to New York City and I moved in with my sister AnneMarie for five days, during which time she cooked, cajoled, kept me on my new enhanced pill diet, bought or made saltless, low fat meals, found a way to keep acceptable deserts in the picture, and provided a nice bed where I could nap three times a day.
I’m now back home, more energetic, I’ve dropped 25 pounds of water and whatever, and I feel better every day. Thanks to my family- AnneMarie, Matt, Dennis, Barbara, and Barbara II (long story) for their help and support.
Thanks to Dr. Anthony DeNoia for seeing what was there, and Dr. Koo for the placement and hookup (to the heart) of my ICPD. Dr. Zuckerman is my cardiologist; I see him in July, as scheduled….. not for a verdict but a follow-up.