That time I had heart surgery

Did I ever tell you about the time I had heart surgery?

Okay, that might be a bit dramatic. But it’s quite a good story, nonetheless.

When I was 19, I got a temp job at the local hospital, as PA to a fairly senior manager. As I think I may have mentioned(!) I tend to be a bit of a worrier, and being thrown into this responsible position stressed me out a little bit. So when I started having palpitations, I assumed it was just down to anxiety – but as I’d never had them before, I thought it was best to get checked out.

Obviously, by the time I got to the doctor, the palpitations had stopped. But he referred me for an ECG anyway, and the next thing I knew, I was being admitted to the same hospital I was working at. This was not great, for various reasons:

  1. It all happened very quickly, and I was given the impression I was a lot more ill than I really was – which was scary, to say the least.
  2. I don’t get ill. In nine years at my current job, I’ve only had one day off sick, and that was due to a sprained ankle after too much sambuca. So I wasn’t impressed at having to take several days off, especially after only being in the job a couple of weeks. The fact that I was in hospital seemed to me a pretty lame excuse.
  3. For some reason, they put me on a ward that was mostly populated by elderly gentlemen – one of whom snored really loudly and kept the whole room awake. On the other hand, the little old man opposite me had several rather lovely grandsons who came to visit him every day. So, you know, every cloud.
  4. The timing was a nightmare, because it happened to be time of the month (apologies to any male readers). Definitely not ideal when they won’t let you walk to the bathroom and you have to use a commode, and one of the (male) nurses takes it upon himself to discuss the situation at the top of his voice, so the entire ward can hear. (Fortunately the lovely grandsons weren’t there at that point.)

Woolf Parkinson White Syndrome

Eventually, after much discussion between doctors – mostly over my head – I was diagnosed with Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome, a minor heart condition (minor in my case, at least – it can be quite serious). Essentially, there was an extra pathway in my heart, which meant the electrical impulses sometimes got trapped instead of just passing straight through – hence the arrhythmia. And so I was discharged from hospital… but not before one of the nurses tried to take my dad’s blood pressure, because he happened to be sitting next to my bed, and I wasn’t in it at the time. How we laughed.

Anyway.

For the next two years, I had to take atenolol and aspirin every day, until in 2003 I finally got an appointment for an ablation. This is a keyhole surgery procedure, where they use a laser to block the extra pathway with scar tissue.

Except in my case, when they got in there, they couldn’t find the extra pathway. And they tried, really hard; at one point, in an attempt to trigger the arrhythmia, they increased my heart rate to over 200 beats per minute. I was awake through the whole thing, but sedated, so although I distinctly remember the humming sensation, I don’t recall being particularly worried about it. In fact, I think I quite enjoyed it.

Eventually, the doctors gave up, declared me cured and sent me home. Since WPW has never fixed itself before, this officially makes me a medical miracle. Or – more likely – I was misdiagnosed in the first place and there was never actually anything wrong with me. But that’s far less interesting than the medical miracle thing, and it’s in my medical records – so I’m sticking to my story.

You might be expecting some inspirational message about how having a heart condition made me understand that life is short and should be enjoyed. To be honest, I just think it’s a good story, which provided me with an interesting fact about myself to share at work events. And it did make me appreciate being allowed to go to the bathroom on my own. Sometimes it really is the simple things that matter the most.

If you’ve got a random story like this to share, let me know. I like random 🙂

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6 thoughts on “That time I had heart surgery

  1. Nice story. However you have the spelling of WPW slightly wrong as it is Wolff! Also I wouldn’t describe it as a minor heart condition – it can be quite serious in some people. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/wolff-parkinson-white-syndrome/Pages/Introduction.aspx
    Your ECG certainly looks like you have a possible delta wave and a short p-r interval however If you are no longer experiencing palpitations then maybe you were just misdiagnosed and the palpitations were as a result of your new job stress or too much coffee!! But if you get palpitations in the future I would definitely get checked out again. Kind regards Ann (Cardiac Physiologist)

    1. Thanks Ann. I always get that spelling wrong! And yes perhaps I was wrong to describe it as minor – it was in my case (extremely!) but I’m aware it’s not for everyone. Thanks 🙂

    1. Haha yep I was waiting to be discharged so I think I was perched on the window sill and Dad was in the chair, and the nurse assumed he was the patient 😉

    1. I remember reading about your surgery. If I recall correctly, yours was rather more extreme than mine! And yes, the timing was rather horrific :-/

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