To The Heart of the Matter

Well, I had what you might call an interesting experience a couple of weeks ago.  It was a few days after my birthday, I was still on my “stay-cation” and we were planning to go kayaking.  If you’ve read any of my other posts, I did have a kayaking experience in Hawaii back in February, my first one, which was just fine except for the re-entry into the kayak, which I won’t embarrass myself in describing again.

For some reason, I was kind of nervous this time about the idea of going out in a kayak again.  Down at the inner harbour here in Victoria, there are a couple of places where you can rent kayaks and canoes and just spend a couple of hours out on the water.  Our plan was to do just that.

I was a little worried about getting in and out of the kayak, since I had done it from shore but not from a dock, so I started watching some YouTube videos on how to do it.  As it turned out, the first day we planned to go, it never came to pass, so we decided to do it the next day.  I woke up early, had my coffee and watched more videos.  At about 7:30am I felt the first rumblings of heart palpitations.  I’d had them before like that, sometimes they’d go away after awhile, but on a few occasions they hung around for hours.  On the day of my Dad’s Celebration of Life, I had them all day.  I was sure it was stress.  My husband said it was because I hadn’t eaten anything beforehand.  I’d spoken to my doctor about it and she said to try and go in to a lab and get an EKG done the next time it happened so she could get a fuller picture of what was going on. But it only seemed to happen at inconvenient times or when the lab was closed, so I never did that.

This time, however, the palpatations went on long enough that I decided I was going to go into a lab not far away from where we live and see if I could get an EKG.

No dice, they said, unless they had a standing order from my doctor.  So I went home, called my doctor’s office and the office assistant said she’d pull my file and fax the requisition over to the lab. Great, I thought, and decided to go back to the lab and wait.

So I did, and I waited.  And waited.

In the meantime, I noticed my palpitations had subsided somewhat, but my heart rate was definitely high.  I waited some more and finally called the doctor’s office again, but no one picked up.  I tried a couple more times and figured they must have been exceptionally busy for whatever reason.  I decided to leave, so the lab tech gave me their number and told me to call in before I came back, to check to see if the requisition had been faxed in yet.

I went home and tried to relax.  By this time, the palpitations were hardly there at all and I decided to lie down for a bit.  When I woke up not long after, my heart rate was still really high.  I checked my pulse and couldn’t believe how much my heart was racing, so I used my blood pressure monitor to double check.  154 beats per minute.  This was getting scary.  I was supposed to go golfing that evening and I didn’t want to miss that, so I went outside and watered the garden, because I was convince that, like all of the other times, my heart rate would come down on its own.  It didn’t.  I cancelled golf.  I hate cancelling golf.

This time my husband suggested we go back to the lab, which we did, but still no word from my doctor’s office and the lab was about to close.  So my husband suggested we go to emergency.

I felt that little bit of hesitation.  You know, like you don’t want to cause a fuss and you don’t want to waste anyone’s time.  But it had been hours with a high heart rate and I knew that wasn’t good.

When I checked in at the local hospital and had finished registering, they had me come into a side door, bypassing a large waiting area.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but they were rushing me in past a whole bunch of people who were waiting just because it was my heart.  Next thing I knew, I was in a hospital gown and hooked up to a monitor.  They were taking my blood, my blood pressure, inserting a catheter, doing EKGs…and all I could think of was how I missed the tee off.  I hate missing a tee off.

The emergency doctor was trying to assess what was causing the high heart rate, asking me questions like how much coffee do I drink, do I have diabetes, do I smoke, how much alcohol do I consume.  He gave me a couple of things to do to try bring it down on its own.  One trick is to massage your jugular vein, the other is to bear down as if you were giving birth, and holding it for 15 seconds.  Nothing worked.  Eventually it was decided I would be given an intravenous drug to do the job.  The first attempt didn’t work. Apparently I have very small veins and the nurse was having trouble getting in.  She tried a few places, finally thinking she had it.  The drug has to be given slowly, over a couple of minutes.  Because they don’t want to actually stop the heart, right?  Just slow it down.  She started slowly injecting the drug, looking at her watch.  It hurt.  I held my breath, trying to suck it up.

I didn’t realize, and neither did the nurse until she was most of the way through, that the needle wasn’t inserted correctly and the drug had just flushed under my skin, swelling my arm up.  Then she was able to find a good vein in my hand and we started over again.

I felt my heart flip around a few times, but over the next ten minutes, the nurse and my husband watched the monitor up behind me as my heart rate finally came back into normal range.  They kept watch over the next twenty minutes or so to make sure it stayed down.  Finally, with a few more checks of my blood pressure and another EKG, they gave me the name of a cardiologist, booked an appointment for an echo cardiogram and told me I could go home.


It took me awhile to realize what really had happened.  And when the full impact finally hit me, I started wondering “Maybe it was something I ate?  Maybe I’m just stressed, or it was an anxiety attack?”  Your mind goes round and round trying to find a cause.  But the fact is that maybe there’s some underlying cause that I will have to be treated for at some point.  And the reality is that it could take up to a year for me to get in to see the cardiologist.  My echo cardiogram won’t be until September 25th.  I have an appointment with my regular doctor coming up but I’m not sure that she can expedite anything. I’ve given up caffeine, I’ve started meditating again. I’m walking more regularly, drinking less wine (now THAT’S heartbreaking!), watching my diet even more carefully, and still not sure if any of that is making any real difference, but it can’t hurt.

And what did I learn from this, you may ask?  Or maybe you wouldn’t ask, but I’ll tell you anyway.

1. Emergency wards are kind of handy when you really need them.
2. A male nurse setting you up for an EKG is very different from a female nurse.  I experienced both.  The male nurse was exceptionally discreet, the female grabbed my boob as if it were her own.
3. Drugs that do not get into your veins, get absorbed anyway.  Eventually.  And then you bruise. A lot.
4. “Just a little sting.” can often be an understatement.
5. I’m not dead yet.
5. I will take my heart palpitations more seriously. I will take my heart palpitations more seriously.  I will…

There is no history of heart disease in my family that I know of.  I don’t even know if I have it.  But I guess I’d better pay better attention.

Arrgh!  Where’s a glass of wine when you need it???


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