Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hospital Experience #2: The Experience Described

My previous post described the background leading up to a recent hospital experience. This post will describe the experience itself. Subsequent posts will explore my thoughts and feelings about the experience and what I've learned, so I will try to keep this one more or less factual.

First, I will give an overview of the procedure for which I was in the hospital - cardiac catheter ablation to correct a heart arrhythmia.

The kind of arrhythmia I have is supraventricular tachycardia. This is an abnormally fast heart beat originating in one of the atria, or upper chambers of the heart (as opposed to the ventricles, or lower heart chambers). This kind of arrhythmia is often caused by an extra electrical circuit that has somehow developed in one's heart.

In cardiac catheter ablation, the doctor sends a catheter through a vein in the groin up to the heart and induces tachycardia. This allows the doctor to pinpoint the location of the extra (and problematic) electrical circuit, and then (still using the catheter) to cauterize and de-activate that extra electrical circuit - in most cases, for good. The procedure involves light sedation. After the procedure, it is necessary to lie still without bending at the hip for an additional three to four hours to allow the groin insertion points to heal. One stays overnight in the hospital so that the heart can continue to be monitored, and if all is well, one goes home the next morning.

My case didn't quite turn out like that, but it did turn out in a way that happens sometimes. The doctor sent the catheter through a vein in my groin up to the heart and induced tachycardia. This allowed her to pinpoint the location where the arrhythmia originates. And here is what she noticed: Ah, this arrhythmia originates right at the point where the heart sends out its NORMAL electrical impulse. We CAN'T DE-ACTIVATE that. The doctor then removed the catheter without being able to de-activate the arrhythmia-causing cells, and when I was conscious enough, I was returned to my hospital room. I had to lie still for several hours to allow the groin insertion points to heal, but I did not need the overnight monitoring (because no "zapping" had been done to arrhythmia-causing cells in my heart), and I went home the same afternoon. The doctor has prescribed a low-dose medication to regulate my arrhythmia.

So, in my case, we now know where the arrhythmia originates in my heart, but we cannot de-activate it because of its location. Hence, I still have the arrhythmia. Hence, I need the heartbeat-regulating medication.

Now that I have described cardiac catheter ablation and what happened with mine, I will go on to mention some additional facts.

I had wonderful support from friends and family members.

  • Merry drove me to Ochsner Hospital well in advance of my 6 a.m. appointment time, stayed right with me until I was taken for the procedure, kept vigil during the procedure, stayed with me during the lying still recuperation period back in my room, drove me home, and carried my belongings up to my apartment (no heavy lifting for me for a week following the procedure). Merry was VERY calming and comforting to me.
  • David was ready to pick me up at Ochsner the following morning and keep an eye on me through my first day and night back home. This turned out not to be necessary as I went home the same day, but I consider it something that David actually did for me even though the actions themselves weren't necessary. David also helped me greatly with many encouraging conversations.
  • Ellen and Paul very kindly offered me an extra bedroom in their home for my post-hospital recuperation if needed.
  • Donna Glee in North Carolina was wonderful in providing me with encouragement and, as a registered nurse, with very helpful information. Donna Glee also actually offered to come to New Orleans to be with me through the procedure - a very generous offer.
  • Yvonne, a pianist living in Colorado, devoted the entire morning of the procedure to me. She played and sang healing music for me at her home throughout the morning of my procedure.
  • Family members Janet and Richard have been especially helpful and encouraging. Friends expressed concern, encouragement, love, prayers, and offers of help. David (a different David from the David who was to pick me up from the hospital) came by on his lunch hour to see me. Phoebe, a priest at Trinity Episcopal Church, was ready to come if needed and planned to visit me in the late afternoon if I hadn't gone home the same day.

My stuffed animal Robert Bear accompanied me throughout the hospital stay.

The day before the procedure, I fasted from food and drank lots of water to be well hydrated. Donna Glee had explained to me the importance of being well hydrated.

During my preliminary preparations for the procedure, the nurse had difficulty finding a vein in which to insert the IV port.

In the procedure room, as I was being hooked up to monitoring devices and given the final preparations, I was in a state verging on panic. I will explore this further in a subsequent post.

The first time I tried getting up after the post-procedure lying still period, one of the groin insertion points started bleeding. This was taken care of by applying pressure and keeping me in bed for another hour, after which I was fine.

I took advantage of this hospital experience to prepare with an attorney a will, a living will, a personal statement of wishes regarding life and death issues, and a medical power of attorney document. I have also provided the co-executors of my will, my medical power of attorney person, and my back-up medical power of attorney person with complete (I hope) information they would need if and when they should be called upon to act in those capacities. I feel good about this.

This post has presented some of the facts about my hospital experience. In my next post, I will begin exploring the experience at greater depth.

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