A year ago this afternoon, I was at my desk in the office where I work. I had just taken a sip of a soda and started to feel a bit off. When I stood up I felt a bit dizzy and faint. I asked a co-worker if she could drive me to the emergency room as I wasn’t feeling well (if there’s ever a next time I’ll call an ambulance, but at least I didn’t try driving myself). When I got there, the staff was pretty nonchalant about it until I mentioned I had suffered a heart attack back in 2008. I had also been diagnosed with ischemic cardiomyopathy in late 2018 or early 2019 (which has been gotten under control over the last year due to a drug regimen). After explaining my history, they took me in to check my blood pressure and pulse. When the nurse listened to my heart I could tell by her look that something was definitely wrong.
It turned out that my heart was racing at 240 beats a minute, which is incredibly high (normal resting heart rate is considered to be 60-100 beats per minute; my usual resting heart rate is generally somewhere between 60-70). The fast heart beats had already lasted about 15 minutes by that time. What was happening is called ventricular tachycardia, which is essentially an electrical misfiring in the ventricles. If it continues for more than a few seconds, it can be fatal, so I was already lucky to still be alive at that point. I hadn’t overexerted myself (hard to do in an office setting) or had any recent stress, but tachycardia can be a result of previous heart damage. My heart was functioning on about 60% of its capacity due to damage from the heart attack a decade before.
Once the nurse discovered my heart rate, they immediately moved me up to the front of the line to get in to see a doctor. As I was stepping out of the nurse’s office my partner, Brian, showed up, so he was able to go in with me. They put me on an electrocardiogram immediately and within a short time had decided to give me medication to bring the beating back to normal. It didn’t work. They gave me a higher dose, but it had a minimal effect. They then set me up and shocked my heart after putting me under sedation so I wouldn’t feel it.
Later in the day they decided to do a heart catheterization and determined from that to replace one of my four stents and put in two new ones. It was a weird and long day, but they weren’t done yet.
Three days later, after many more tests and discussions, an ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator) was put into my chest. It is a combination pacemaker and defibrillator. The pacemaker makes sure the heart doesn’t beat too slowly and the defibrillator gives a shock if the fast heart beats from tachycardia start up again. Fortunately, that part of the device has not had to engage in the last year. The pacemaker has worked a small percentage of the time, as it is designed to do. I have had no further issues in the last year.
What amazes me is what doctors can do for heart diseases and other diseases that years ago would have been untreatable. Heart disease runs in my family. My father died of a massive heart attack at the age of 41, but I believe he may have survived with the technology we have now. I have outlived him now by more than twenty years. I am incredibly thankful for the doctors, nurses, designers of the ICD, and other professionals who put in countless hours to help ensure that people they don’t know or may never meet will live longer and fuller lives. I am thankful for the support and love of family and friends who have stood by me through several heart issues. And I am thankful every day that I have been given more time to enjoy this amazing thing called life. to laugh and love more, and to wonder in awe about the miracles in the lives we lead.