My Heart and Elmer Fudd
For almost seven years I have had PVCs (premature ventricular contractions) which basically means my heart would throw an extra beat into the mix after every couple heart beats. (This could explain my serious lack of rhythm when singing in church.) Untreated, this PVC condition can weaken the heart but I had controlled mine with medicine from the time it was first diagnosed.
Some people would question why I want to share personal medical information like this in these days of heightened patient confidentiality and HIPPA rules. Honestly, it helps me to not only mentally process the events but also to document them. (If my parents had shared more, it would be much easier to answer those questionnaires in the doctor's office.) Then, there is that outside chance that someone else could be struggling with something similar and benefit from my experience. If you choose to read beyond this point I assume you either enjoy my writing or you treat medical conditions like a car wreck and you just can’t look away.
Anyway….. a little over a year ago I decided I was tired of the way the medicine made me feel and consulted with my cardiologist about a medical procedure that could correct the problem permanently. He presented the option of a heart ablation which is basically a cauterization of the cells in the heart that cause the irregular beat. But to perform the procedure, he had to be able to identify the exact cells which meant going off the medication to bring the PVCs back. I stopped taking the medication in early 2022 but then the PVCs did not return—until eleven months later! After having just been released by my cardiologist a couple months ago, I found myself having to reach out to him again.
Jenni became my human stethoscope while we waited a month for an appointment; she would lay her head on my chest each night to listen and confirm if the odd fluttering I felt was indeed a PVC. After further clinical tests on a Wednesday confirmed what we had already self-diagnosed, my cardiologist scheduled me for the ablation the following Tuesday. In between, I was treated like a yo-yo by the insurance company as they initially denied the procedure, forced me to wear a heart monitor in which I more than met their minimum requirements, denied me again, but then approved it 2-1/2 hours before I was scheduled to report to the hospital. Should there ever be an awards ceremony requiring a speech, I would like to thank Blue Cross Blue Shield of SC for the extra stress they added to an already exacting event.
I arrived at the downtown hospital for my outpatient procedure at 11 AM. I disrobed and put on a well-ventilated hospital gown. (Jenni was in charge of all posterior snaps and ties; I understand some apologies to passersby could be in order.) Male Nurse ‘G’ entered the room to perform the necessary barber part of the procedure. In the blink of an eye he had shaved the three chest hairs I had spent a lifetime growing. He announced that the groin area was next as this is where the procedure would take place by passing a catheter through a vein into my heart. Obviously avoiding eye contact with each other, Male Nurse ‘G’ and I became pretty close at that moment. I couldn’t see what he was doing but it felt like a nice, quick trim and I imagined a well-groomed manscaping taking place. (When I got home that night, I discovered ‘G’ had flunked cosmetology in nursing school and it now looked more like Elmer Fudd than Don King.)
Soon they wheeled me to the surgery room where a flurry of activity began. Male Nurse ‘K’ asked what I did for fun and thus began a long conversation thread about Wanda the van, my recent book, and travel. He was a Believer himself, having welded two Jeep beds into a pull-behind camper. (He even had pictures!)
Fearing anesthesia would keep me from having PVCs (which they needed to see), my cardiologist made the decision to keep me conscious during the procedure. That part wasn’t really terrible. I got an occasional glance at a large monitor where I could see my heart and his catheter. (If I had only had my phone with me to take pictures!) I did feel some uncomfortable pressure on my newly shaved groin as well as unusual movements in my chest cavity. Typically PVC ablations are done through a vein. They started that way on me, but had to switch to my femoral artery to come into the heart from another direction. Up to that point, any sensations I noticed in my groin or legs had been cold; in this case, it was a very warm feeling spreading on my thigh. I assumed it was blood but didn’t want to distract them from something I considered pretty important, so I did not ask.
For two-and-a-half to three hours the team worked on me while country music played in the background. During one particular, uncomfortable moment I distinctly remember Hank Williams singing "A Country Boy Can Survive" and drawing more comfort from Hank than I ever have in my life. I could sense things weren’t going the way the medical team wanted. Because of the way my heart is “wired”, they reached an impasse. (Typically, an electrical pulse from the atrium splits into both ventricles simultaneously but mine is wired in such a way that it goes first to one and then the other ventricle.)
The doctor stopped what he was doing and explained that if he proceeded, I would need a pacemaker because the electrical pulse would be interrupted. Later, when I was being discharged, they told me that I should not make any major legal decisions in the next 24 hours, but I thought this was a pretty big decision while on the table. I told him I was not ready for a pacemaker. They were able to do a little cauterization on a few cells and time will tell if that had an impact on the PVCs.
They finished and sent me to recovery for the next four hours. As Jenni held a straw to my mouth (me still flat on my back) to quench my thirst, I had a mental image of watching my parents do that for each other over the course of their marriage. No one questioned the increased watering in my eyes. As we checked out that evening, Recovery Room Nurse ‘L’ wigged Jenni out with her instructions on how to stop the femoral artery from bleeding out should it choose to do so at home. Fortunately we did not have to act on those instructions.
So what’s the path forward? I will wear a heart monitor in the near future to detect any PVCs over a longer period of time and then I can always go back to medication to control them until the day I’m mentally prepared for a pacemaker.
Who knows, it may be time for another manscaping by Male Nurse ‘G’.