Last Monday I was working away, trying to make my front door look like a giant Christmas present when I started not feeling very good. So I sat down. It felt like someone was drumming on my breast bone. Didn’t hurt, no pain anywhere else, no breathlessness, nothing unusual until I glanced down at my shirt. I could see it bouncing up and down in rhythm with my racing heart. I have never gotten the hang of taking my own pulse, but it seemed way too fast to me. I called my sister and she came right over. My pulse was 144 beats a minute. After a bit of discussion, yea, I didn’t want to go to the hospital, we finally went to the ER. (My first thoughts, sad to say, were about the money and whether I could afford it. The short answer is no.) Once at the hospital, they hooked me up with an IV and “wired me for sound.” By this time my heart was back to it’s normal self. They gave me a couple of shots in my IV, then my heart took off again. This time the beats were close to 160. They gave me a drug called Diltiazem, again through my IV. That took just a few minutes to slow my heart down. But a few minutes later, while they were doing an EKG, my heart started up again. They gave me another shot of Diltiazem, which worked faster than the first shot. I looked at the monitor and saw that my blood pressure was 171 over 114. WAY too high.
So, I was admitted “for observation”. They told me that the top half of my heart was beating out of rhythm with the bottom half. They called it Atrial Flutter. They took several vials of blood, fed me a sandwich, and put me into my room. My sister went home after they got me stable. (Strange to think that I was unstable. I guess I’m still processing everything.) This was at 8 pm. The RT, whose name was Jeff, said he would be back at 11pm to do another EKG on me and then at 7am, for another EKG. Then I was waken up to have more blood drawn. I told the Tech that the veins in my arm roll and it was easier to get the blood out of the back of my hand. He tried my arm anyway. (Yes, I have a nasty looking bruise on the inside of my elbow.) Several more times, over the course of the next 24 hours, I had blood drawn. Actually, every time they gave me some medicine, half an hour later some one would come in and draw blood.
The Doctor finally came in to see me Tuesday morning and said that they were pretty certain my Atrial Flutter was caused by a severe potassium depletion. I’ve always had trouble with my potassium level, but this time, it was really low. Until they could get it up to “normal” with no more flutter in my heart, I was stuck in the hospital. Finally, at 5 pm Tuesday, they told me I was being discharged. (Yea! I was so bored by this time.) That took another hour. I got my discharge orders, which included an echo-cardiogram at 8am the next morning. I also have an appointment with my own Doctor Monday at 11:30
If you’ve never had an echo-cardiogram, you’re in for a treat. You lie on a table, on your side, with your chest exposed while they cover you with cold gel stuff and take sonograms of your heart. For 45 minutes. And because my heart is a little lower and a bit left of “normal placement”, I got to do all sorts of yoga positions while they tried to get the perfect pictures of my heart. (The Tech said that there really wasn’t a “normal” position, but mine was a bit farther off then most. Oh joy.)
So, barring anything different being found in the echo-cardiogram, I have a potassium depletion problem which is easy to deal with, compared to something physically wrong with the heart itself. Evidently, we have since learned, my Great Grandmother had the same problem. I wonder if it’s hereditary…