Just to catch you up-to-date, here is a brief timeline of what’s been going on.
December, 2008 — My husband needed to see an endocrinologist because he is a Type 1 diabetic. To get the referral, he had to see our family doctor. The family doctor did a routine EKG because he just does that for all diabetic patients of his.
Later that day — The EKG was abnormal, so the family doctor referred my husband to a cardiologist.
January 7 — My husband saw a cardiologist, who did another EKG and agreed that it was abnormal. He prescribed nitroglycerin and an aspirin a day and scheduled stress tests for the following week.
January 13 — My husband did the resting stress test. All seemed OK.
January 14 — The stress test on the treadmill didn’t go so well. After just a few minutes (like 3 to 5), the cardiologist said he was slowing things down and wanted my husband to get off the treadmill right away. He did some imaging of my husband’s heart and determined it was safe to wait until Friday to do a heart cath.
January 16 — The heart cath. Though the cardiologist fully expected to find a completely blocked artery and send my husband for bypass surgery, the arteries were all clean. He did, however, see that the lower right part of the heart was not beating as it should. Concerned about that and about the irregular heartbeats, he ordered more tests.
January 19 — My husband had an echocardiogram.
January 22 — My mother-in-law arrived for a one-week visit — to see my husband and to relieve us after a stressful week. I did not get on the plane to fly to WV for my grandma’s 90th birthday party, deciding instead to stick close to home and my husband.
January 22 – 23 — He wore a 24-hour heart monitor so the doctor could get a clear picture of how his heart was beating. But it would not be read until Monday the 26th.
Sunday, January 25 — While having dinner, my husband broke into a sweat and his heart was beating so hard I could see his shirt move. He said he felt as if his heart would beat out of his chest. My mother-in-law stayed home with the children while I drove my husband to the ER, five minutes away.
On the way to the hospital, his heart calmed into a regular beat. Once in the ER exam room, though, his heart began to beat irregularly again. The doctor was watching the monitor and asked my husband if he felt OK. The doctor lowered the back of the bed, and about five nurses and techs rushed into the room. They hooked my husband to a portable EKG machine and unhooked him from the monitors in that room. The doctor told me they were moving my husband to a “better-equipped” room, and so we moved across the ER bay to a larger room with a crash cart and a large surgical light.
The nurse then administered a medicine called amiodarone through the IV line they’d put in. Soon, my husband’s heart settled back down to a normal rhythm. We heard the term “v tach.” I Googled it on my phone. By the time we read the information on the NIH website and realized how dangerous this was, the most frightening part was over. Whew.
The nurse told us my husband was being admitted to the ICU. So we spent a very uncomfortable night in an ICU room with a lot of beeping. I was freezing and learned that before we rush off to an ER again, I should grab socks.
Monday, January 26 — The cardiologist in our town looked over all the tests — the 24-hour heart monitor, the EKGs from the previous night, the echocardiogram from that day, and the printouts from his monitor in the ICU — and decided to send my husband to Orlando Regional Medical Center where a cardiologist specializing in electro-physiology is. So between 9 and 10 p.m., my husband was taken by ambulance to ORMC. I followed in our car.
Tuesday, January 27 – Thursday, January 29 — My husband had several tests done to give the doctors as much information as possible about this ventricular tachycardia and its cause. I was driving back and forth between the hospital and home (about 30 minutes), and my mother-in-law stayed with the children.
Through all the tests, the cardiologist there determined that my husband has a condition called right ventricular dysplasia, which has caused the muscle in the right ventricle to slowly be replaced by fatty tissue, which caused the heart to beat out of rhythm. The dangerous heart rhythm was ventricular tachycardia, which could go into ventricular fibrillation, which would cause death. Fortunately, my husband’s ventricular tachycardia responded well to pacing. That meant, an implanted defibrillator would work well with him! So . . .
Friday, January 30 — My husband had surgery in which an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (icd) was placed in his chest just under his collarbone with leads going into his heart. This device works in four ways —
1. If my husband’s heart begins to beat too quickly with extra beats and with the lower part of the heart trying to start a beat, the icd can pace his heart back to a normal beat.
2. If my husband’s heart goes into a serious episode of v tach, the device can give him a minor electrical jolt (like a hit in the chest) to get his heart back to a normal rhythm.
3. If my husband’s heart goes into ventricular fibrillation, the device can give him the big jolt (like a kick in the chest, the kind of jolt an external defibrillator gives when the doctors yell “CLEAR” on ER).
4. If the minor or major jolts cause his heart to beat too slowly, the device can work as a pacemaker to bring it back up to a normal rhythm.
Pretty amazing little device the size of a credit card!
This icd, though, is the safety net. My husband is on a daily medication to stabilize his heart rhythms as a first line of defense. Finally, my husband got to come home from the hospital in Orlando on the morning of Monday, February 2.
However, as the day progressed, my husband had chest pain that increased in severity. So, that evening, I drove my husband back to Orlando to the ER down there.
I spent most of that night sitting on a horribly uncomfortable plastic chair in his ER room. Finally, between 3:00 and 4:00, my husband was moved to the Cardiac Care Unit there. His doctor came between 5:30 and 6:00 and an echocardiogram technician was called in to see what was going on with my husband’s heart.
As it turned out, all the procedures and tests from the week before caused some irritation and inflammation of the lining of his heart, which caused some fluid to build up around the heart. So the cardiologist kept him in the hospital through Thursday, February 5 to monitor him and make sure the fluid level decreased, rather than increased.
Finally, on the evening of Thursday, February 5, my husband got to come home! On Tuesday, February 10, he returned to his doctor’s office for another echocardiogram and an excellent report. The fluid was almost gone and the doctor said he was healing perfectly!
So it has been a wild ride! But life is settling back to normal now. He’s gaining his strength back little by little and has been back to work. He has even worked a couple of full days this week.
Of course, he will have some follow-up appointments in the next several weeks, and he will go to a defibrillator clinic every three months for the rest of his life. Every five to seven years, he’ll need a new defibrillator (that’s how long a battery lasts), and we’re hoping he needs a LOT of replacements.
So that’s what the last month has been like for me. How about you?