A Fib: This is personal, almost.
May 31, 2009: Five-thirty in the 95-degree heat of a Palm Springs late afternoon. I’d just gotten out of my air-conditioned car, crossed the supermarket parking lot and entered the cool of the store when I began to feel a slight fluttering between my breastbone and the bottom of my neck. I began to sweat, even though my skin was cold. I knew this couldn’t be a good thing.
But then, raspberries were my favorite fruit of all, and they were on sale. So, regardless that I began feeling slight notions of unwell, inklings toward mild nausea, discomfort at the back of the jaw and some lightheadedness, regardless that I felt hot while also cold, I continued on, concluding my purchase. I then got back in my car, took the groceries home, put them in the refrigerator, then called the VA medical center to confirm that in a life or death emergency I could repair to any nearby hospital, or call 911 and have EMTs transport me to the nearest medical facility, and the VA would pay the tab.
After I had parked my car in a “visitors/patients” space, while maintaining my characteristic smart-ass smirk and wisecracking banter, I sauntered up to the ER desk in the sprawling Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage.* I presented my VA identification card, explained my symptoms, and before I knew it I was wheeled into an exam room for an ECG (electrocardiogram).
Upon review of the scroll, the physician in attendance asked whether I had a history of irregular heart-rate problems. “Nope.”
“Well, you do now.”
I was having an atria fibrillation episode; otherwise known as “A-Fib.” It’s a case where, as opposed to the typical lub-dub heart beat, the upper chambers of the heart palpate rapidly out of control, as many as 400-600 per minute. Episodes can last anywhere from a few moments to a couple days. The heart’s normal rhythm can “convert” back on its own, or it can require pharmacological intervention. Extreme cases can result in the shock paddles; “Ready everyone? Clear.” Ka-BWAM!! The danger with A-Fib is that the heart will throw a clot . . . Stroke; and not one of good luck.
I was lucky. On so many counts. Following three hours of a Cardezem I-V drip, my heart rate converted, and, with the admonition that I consult with a VA cardiologist within the next few days, I was discharged. Feeling well and free. And lucky as hell.