A Problem With The Heart

I came out of a ten hour surgery. The worst over, the recovery beginning. Everyone was optimistic. I settled into my hospital room, vitals, wound care, doplar search for a strong heartbeat in my newly relocated blood vessels, medications. A nurse check-in every hour, if you were lucky. I had sent Clifton home to rest. While I had slept on the operating table, he had worried, fretted and paced, like any good husband. 

At one in the morning, the nurse came in on the hour. She took her data and by 1:10 I was back asleep. I heard an alarm going off. I must have overslept and now the girls were late for school! Lights flashed on, I opened my eyes and two nurses came running toward me. My steady heartbeat of 82 had jumped to 160 at 1:15 in the morning. Doctors must be paged, paged again and pulled from the beds they had barely made warm. Cardiologists and surgeons, if possible, must come to my bedside and make recommendations. An hour went by and no doctor had emerged. Another thirty minutes and one responded. My nurses were adamant regarding the care I needed but when looking at me they smiled and reassured me all was well. I did deep breathing and deep praying but really was not alarmed. I could watch my chest bounce as it pounded but I did not feel sick, I could breathe, and I was in no (new) pain. My roommate was removed from the room and doctors began flooding in. Two older nurses from critical care and a doctor from ICU. A tall young surgeon who spoke on the phone to a cardiologist, I would not meet tonight. My two nurses set up their computer while the critical care nurses piled shots and medicine on my bed. The charge nurse came in to hold my hand. Between 10-12 doctors and nurses stood around me and at 3 AM they were ready to go. My surgeon insisted that an AED be placed on my back. In the instance that it would be needed, every second would matter. On the other hand, if he was forced to use it, the pressure and pulse would negate his 10 hours with me in surgery. The critical care nurses questioned every decision of the young surgeon. He continued to speak to the cardiologist and repeat instructions. He did not want to be woken and in the middle of the night make life or death decisions in a medical area out of his specialty, but that was exactly what he must do despite the fact that there were plenty of people in the room who trusted his decisions less than he did. 

He told me that my heart had an arrhythmia and the best way to return it to its typical pace was a medicine that would stop my heart for five seconds. Once the heart had paused it would pick back up a healthier rhythm. 

When the medicine was administered I would feel very anxious but it was absolutely necessary that I took deep breaths and simply wait for the sensation to pass. The critical care nurse was told more than once, the medicine MUST be given as quickly as possible. If the medicine did not reach my heart within the five seconds it would not be given the opportunity to work. My heart rate at this time was 180. The medicine was administered. I was the only one in the room not holding my breath. I breathed in as deeply as my body would allow. My heart dipped to 140, every medical professional began to breathe and then it jumped to 200 and was holding steady. The medicine had failed. The surgeon told the critical care nurse again, the medicine must be pushed into my system as quickly as possible. My fluids were already flowing as quickly as possible, everyone was simply looking for answers. The medicine didn’t work, so it must be administered again and there was no room for error. This time I knew what to expect, my body would tense and a hurting sensation would flow through my chest to abdomen down my thighs to my knees and ankles. I didn’t want this to happen. I was unable to protest because they were administering the medicine. This time there was no dip, instead my heart rate jumped directly to 240. 

Doctors placed their heads in their hands. Others rubbed their eyes in exhaustion. I did not want that medicine again. There was discussion. I didn’t listen, I wanted my husband. I had asked for him before we had begun this mess. Now I needed him. I told the doctors I needed my husband. If I was going to die right here I wasn’t going to do it without him beside me. I was pleading my case when they decided to administer another medicine. I didn’t hear the doctor tell me what it was or what the anticipated outcome would be. They gave it to me and nothing happened. Then they told me they were administering a double dose of the failed med. I told them what they already knew–so far this med has only made my situation worse, I don’t want a DOUBLE portion all at once. 

There were alarms blaring. The blood pressure machine was searching for my pulse every minute and every minute began to flash and scream because it could not find what it needed. More nurses held my hand, told me to breathe, my only job–don’t stop breathing. I don’t know if they were reminding me or saying a prayer, asking simply that I don’t stop breathing. 

A double dose was shot into my arm and my body seized. The lockdown occurring in my body ran like a horizontal line starting at my chest pushing down my body to my toes. My heart slowed. For five seconds my heart stopped. When it began again it picked up a slower pace around 100 beats a minute. The medicine did it’s job and everyone in the room remembered to breathe. 

The next morning everyone of the doctors and nurses in the room with me from 3-3:30 AM came to my room to tell me how well I had done. The cardiac doctor who had been on the phone came in to explain the situation to me and Clifton. As the heart begins to beat faster the rhythms are thrown off. The top chambers that should manage the speed become unable to systematically allow the lower chambers to push the blood through my body. The roles within the heart become mixed up until no part of the heart is doing the job it has been created to perform. 

His diagnosis, I have an extremely strong and healthy heart. Only a healthy heart could continue to function despite the unhealthy pace and arrhythmia. Later that day he ran some tests to confirm his suspicion and was confirmed in his diagnosis. 

This incident made me consider the patterns in each of our lives. Each of us have a life pulse of our own. If you took an EKG of our life, many of us may fall into a general “healthy range” but never an exact reflection of one another.

Yet there are numerous books to tell us how to be more efficient–how to increase our daily life pulse. There are books to tell us to simplify–how to slow our life pulse. 

My cardiac incident made me consider whether the natural rhythms of one’s life are by design. Sure, if you are strong in mind and stamina you can hype up your life pulse. You can double your productivity and even hold that pace for an extended period of time.

 Though you may be able to “get the job done” at a double pace, there will come a time when you will recognize failures in other regions of your life. The rapid life pulse is effectively keeping one section of life operational but not able to spread your life pulse, as it should, throughout the whole of who you are. As with my heart, a rapid pulse soon led to a decrease in pressure. Soon the heart was sputtering rather than pumping. The increase in pace decreased the heart’s effectiveness. 

In my case, the more jarring option was the false slowing of of my pulse. A withdrawal of one’s life pulse from friends, family, or a given purpose is a complete shock to everyone connected to you. A withdrawal of one’s life pulse creates anxiety throughout its entire social network. Just as our anatomical systems are interdependent, so are each of our individual life pulses. 

My conclusion, know yourself. It is an old wisdom many time repeated. Don’t allow a book or a boss tell you to alter your your natural life pulse. You are more effective and more uniquely able to play your role when living at your own pace. 

When my heart settled into its natural pace, many levels of anxiety, stress and physical pain melted away in an instant. Perhaps if we are able to embrace a lifestyle that supports our personal life pulse, we would find the same. 

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