WARNING: This is MAMMOTH. Get a brew, get a brewery. Get ready.
Since being wheeled off in an ambulance with a rather stubborn case of SVT (superventricular tachycardia if you’ve got time or the inclination), there has been much prodding, poking and also some abrupt lubricating of my left breast.
Headline: I now have slightly less heart than I had before. They blitzed a bit out of my body in a cruel and unrelenting fashion.*
*I had a very routine procedure under local anaesthetic, which I was fully in the know about. But that’s not gonna hook you guys in, is it?
Oh wait, it was via my groin (there’s the hook…) The right groin if you want specifics, which you probably don’t but since I gave the left breast so much attention last time we discussed this matter, it feels like I should balance things out.
A 5.30am alarm for non-holiday purposes always feels cruel. A 5.30am alarm to go and expose yourself on an operating table is pretty much a sick joke. But such is life when you’ve got so much damn heart it’s making you have alarming, lengthy and dangerous palpitations of a Tuesday morning.
There we were at the hospital (me, my excessively large heart and Ian) at 7am sharp as requested, wide-eyed and also very bleary-eyed, which gives the visual of two people on hallucinogenic drugs, but the morphine was yet to come. All in good time, for one of us at least.
These sorts of procedures demand that the day’s patients all arrive at the same un-godly hour no matter how far down the pecking order you’ve been placed. I looked suspiciously as the nurse ticked my name far from the top of the list. My main concern here was not around the big scary operation, but the fact that I was nil-by-mouth until it was all over, and I was already a pretty peckish.
I was swiftly shown to a brilliant white hospital bed; a pleasant surprise from the pair of plastic chairs I assumed we would spend the day becoming closely acquainted with. Like a flight upgrade to a destination you never actually booked to go to. I made myself comfy, knowing I was here for the long haul. And by comfy, I mean I changed into a hospital gown. And hospital knickers (who knew they existed!?), which I would have definitely taken a picture of because they are quite something to behold, were it not for the fact that they were see-through and I feel that this blog is inappropriate enough.
I did however, attempt to conceal my nerves with this jokey picture that does nothing but illustrate how quietly nervous I suddenly was once I’d stripped off most of my identity and become a textbook patient with her own bed on an actual ward.
There was some anxious shifting about in a bid to get as comfy as you possibly can in see-through knickers about 15 sizes too big for you, plenty of nursing staff taking blood pressures and blood sugars and body temperatures. I was asked at least three times if I had shaved my ‘area’. The first time I fell into the trap of enquiring exactly how much of my ‘area’ needed to be hair-free, given that the definition of shaved varies wildly amongst teenagers, porn stars and ardent feminists. This led to a long and somewhat unnecessary exchange about the size and shape of my pubic hair, but I was subsequently assured there was no need to take the disturbingly loud and questionably blunt razor they’d produced to my nether regions. A heads up if you’re ever in this situation: I’m told shrubbery is fine, but wild foliage will need attention. The sudden alarmingly razor noises that soon followed suggested that 74 year-old Annie in the next bed took the hit.
The consultant arrived; a chirpy and relaxed lady with the most incredible South American Welsh accent which had a distractingly hypnotic effect on me. That was, until she remarked ‘so you’re having the cardiac ablation because you’re trying to get pregnant, is that correct?’ to which both me and Ian must have looked equally aghast, as she hastily backtracked to verify her notes while Ian was busy wondering whether this was some grand plan of entrapment that I’d hatched without his knowledge, and all he’d got in return was a 5.30am alarm (practice for when the baby comes, babes).
She quickly moved on to discuss what was about to happen. I mentioned that I was slightly concerned about my blood sugar levels as a type 1 diabetic given that I was not allowed to eat, and with a click of her pen I was very suddenly waving goodbye to Ian with my see-through pants threatening to drift to my ankles with every step, having being bumped straight to the top of the list.
Bewildered and suddenly VERY awake, I travelled down a floor with dear Annie, who was also first up (in a different theatre, might I add; it wasn’t a 2 for 1 special). We had an awkward exchange in the lift as she lay in her bed while I tried my best to keep my pants up and my dignity intact, during which she informed me that this was her THIRD ablation. Three? How much heart can you possibly have to spare!?
I was ushered into another waiting room and figured I should probably do a pre-op blood test.
3.6 mmol/l. Balls.
I shut my basal off immediately, and proceeded to mildly panic. I was about to go on morphine for at least an hour and I was JEFFING hypo, despite having a blood sugar of 9.3 just over an hour before.
20 years of type 1 diabetes and somehow I’d royally missed the mark.
I stuck my head out of the pokey waiting room, looking for the nice nurse named Eric who had asked me for the third time to confirm I actually was Jenny Elizabeth Grieves and that I was not in fact pregnant, nor trying, nor slyly trying without my boyfriend’s knowledge. He wasn’t there, but instead I was greeted by a lovely lady in scrubs who told me ‘they’ were ready for me.
I wasn’t ready for anything, as all I could think about was imminently hitting the floor, with the inevitability of it all hanging out thanks to those not-to-be-trusted pants. As I entered the operating theatre I was greeted by an alarming amount of medical staff, which really didn’t help matters as I quickly realized they were all here for me and my little heart. I was introduced one by one like some sort of business conference, only you don’t normally attend those braless, almost exposing your backside, worried about fainting in the very near future. Do you?
I expressed my gratitude for their presence, time and expertise then apologetically told them of my predicament, mortified at my own stupidity in a room filled with so many intelligent people. Eric, my saviour, swiftly produced a box of dextrose gels from seemingly nowhere, and after gulping down two of them I felt slightly less panicked and even more grateful.
Until I was told to lay on the operating table, naked.
A glucose drip appeared on my right side, a blood pressure monitor on my left, an alarmingly large needle went towards my groin to numb where some rather ominous looking tubes were going to enter my body and head straight to my heart. There were also a load of screens which gave me the impression I was being assessed for the stock market, and a further two radiologists at the far end of the room behind a screen that then made me feel like I was some sort of radiation experiment. Which, thinking about it, is exactly what I was.
What. Is. Life? What is technology? What is medical advancement? What is the NHS?!
Incredible, that’s what.
So there I lay, utterly bewildered and fascinated, exposing myself entirely to no less than EIGHT medical staff, who were all laughing and joking and having a jolly old time while discussing last night’s telly. Which on the one hand made me very pleased that they were happy in their work, but on the other a little concerned for a procedure in which said staff were about to take complete control of my heartbeat.
I needn’t have worried; the noise in the room suddenly became very businesslike as they got to work. They stuck four tubes into my groin and pushed them through my body at what felt like rapid pace. This was categorically the worst bit of the whole experience; I could feel them running upwards and it felt like they were contorting my entire insides (apologies to the squeamish, but the title of this post was probably enough to suggest I wasn’t going to be talking about lipsticks…)
There was some fiddling about for a good while with the fourth tube, as they couldn’t get what they referred to as a ‘hit’. But they eventually had me wired me up successfully, and attempted to force my heart into the SVT state that was causing all of the problems.
Thirty minutes later and feeling pretty chilly, it turns out me and my heart were actually in fact too chill for them to replicate the crazy palpitations and crack on any further with the procedure.
Pricking my finger with what felt like a machete to check my blood sugar apparently was all that was required to kick things into action. The idea was to simulate the SVT, use that to find the exact chamber/vessels/cells/something that were effectively short-circuiting my heartbeat, and swiftly get rid with a quick blast of a laser.
Turns out my stubborn heart just didn’t want to let go.
Time went on, and the one hour predicted operating time turned to two, and then three. I got colder and more bored, wishing desperately that they offered podcasts as part of the service. Despite assuring me previously that it was important I stay awake throughout the operation, my morphine dose was gradually upped, and I started drifting in and out. I came to at random intervals, fretting about my blood sugars, envisioning Ian frantically pacing the ward above wondering if they’d gone and performed a heart biopsy by accident, and pretending to be ok with the slightly alarming comments coming from the surgeon. My personal favourite: ‘ok, those heartbeats are non-conductive now. Whoops.’
EXCUSE ME, AM I DEAD?!?
No, I wasn’t. Obviously. But it turns out that ‘simple’ attempt at ablation was getting closer and closer to my normal, very necessary heart channels without successfully lasering off the superfluous bits. This is the stuff they warn you about when you sign your life away – if this operation goes wrong, you’re in need of a pacemaker for life. Which I just didn’t particularly fancy, as I lay there, exposed and bloody starving, tbh.
So the laser was abandoned for a safer freezing option known as Cryoablation. Apparently sticking with a sci-fi theme is important in these circumstances.
More dozing, more machete blood sugar checks, more fiddling about in my nether regions, and it was all finally done. I felt weird. So weird. Then they pulled the tubes out and my innards felt like they were contorting again, backwards, and I was done.
Done, but still SO aware of being naked and a little bit vulnerable, still very much not allowed to move. I don’t know if it was the drugs, or the sweet relief of it all being over, or the utter surreal nature of the whole episode, but I suddenly found myself welling up.
I was wheeled upstairs, some four hours after I’d departed, to an unbelievably relieved Ian, and my first words to him were ‘Are you ok?’
Idiot. But a considerate one.
I checked my blood sugars, which were absolute perfection thanks to some close monitoring by my dear pal Eric, and the glucose drip he’d had me on for the whole time, fine tuning the doses as we went. I was almost thankful for the hypo, and I was unequivocally thankful for Eric, who had managed to keep my spirits up throughout when I couldn’t help wondering what was taking so long.
My first question to the nurse was obviously ‘can I eat now?’ upon which I was presented with the saddest but holy Christ the BEST tasting egg mayonnaise sandwich I’ve ever had. And I’ve eaten a LOT of egg sandwiches. It was possibly past its prime, but it tasted like carby, eggy heaven to me.
I had to be kept in for monitoring for a while, and I allowed myself yet another little doze to pass the time, exhausted from all the 130bpms they’d induced on my weary heart. There was a major pang of guilt when I overheard someone else asking when they would be able to go to theatre, having waited patiently (and hungrily) for six hours. Gulp. I know, I know, greedy diabetes drama queen operating theatre hog. Guilty.
Nonetheless, both myself and Ian were pretty keen on getting home. After about an hour I was allowed to head to the toilet, which was also a sly test to see if I was well enough to leave.
Walking to the toilet made me feel entirely like I was about to projectile vomit across the corridor, thanks to a bout of vertigo from the drugs. But I’d learnt from previous experience that flagging this meant at least another couple of hours on the ward.
‘Yeah, I feel alright,’ I told the nurse.*
*Obviously this was a foolish thing to do. But I really wanted my sofa. And possibly more eggs.
With an official nod I was allowed to relinquish my hospital gown and get dressed, emotionally reunited with my own, correctly sized pants. A highlight of the day I must say.
I slowly rebuilt my identity as I tried desperately not to be sick. Standing up just wasn’t favourable, it seemed. Bra. Dress. Earrings. Necklace. Coat. Concentrate, concentrate. Steady. Poor Ian had to put my tights on for me, but luckily he works in fashion and managed this task far better than the twisted mess I would have made.
And suddenly… we were released. I found myself blinking into the afternoon, back in the world once more, with a little less heart intact. I poetically breathed the air in like a profound moron, elated at the sight of a waiting taxi and thoughts of home. The air hit my lungs… and I swiftly threw my head over the nearest wall to be sick.
Turns out vertigo has absolutely no patience for morons.