Saturday, August 3, 2013

Atrial fibrillation

I have been a fan of exercise since high school.  It feels good and elevates my mood. Of course, they are constantly finding more and more benefits for the body and general health from it.  Several decades ago, an orthopedist said that running was ok if it isn't overdone but that he had never met someone who didn't overdo it.  I found running good exercise but not all that much fun.  I have never run a marathon or half-marathon.  Just a few years ago, as a clearly senior citizen-runner, I ran in a local 5K (3 miles).  I was quite impressed that several young, fit women were running while pushing a baby carriage ahead of them and I could not keep up with them!  Clearly, my Olympic potential is dim.

I have walked, run a little trying to get the aerobic effect without irritating the knee that has been iffy since college, biked and lifted weights.  No stranger, then, to exercise, I figured taking my first ever stress test Thursday on a treadmill would be interesting and fun.  A guy oversaw the operation, two women operated machines, one taking ultrasound pictures of my heart and one watching my pulse, breathing rate, blood pressure and blood oxygenation level on a machine that controlled the treadmill.  They told me at the beginning that my target heart rate was 125.  I didn't feel that would be difficult.  Two years ago, I was running at 142-152 many times.  I know because I wore a heart rate monitor and recorded its results on a spreadsheet.

Pictures were taken of my resting heart while I lay on my side, inches from the treadmill.  They made it clear that when I was told to stop exercising, I was to immediately lay down in the same position.  The machine operator said she only had about one minute once I lay down to get the pictures she needed.  I started off at a slow pace and the other operator increased the speed and steepness of the "hill" I was climbing maybe 4 times, each time asking me if I could handle more.  Lynn was sitting where she could see all the relevant screens and she saw that my heart rate did get to 125 but would then fall back to 121 and work back and forth in that interval.  Suddenly, my heart rate jumped to over 200 and they said "Stop!".  I lay down and the picture operator got her pictures.  Then, the man said,"One way to get you out of this is to give you an electric charge in the chest."

I was confused and said,"Get me out of what?"  He said,"Well, your heart is in atrial fibrillation now and we have to get your normal heart beat back."  I had no idea of that and didn't feel especially out of sorts.  Some quick phone calls and I was in the intensive care unit where they are experienced at giving people chest shocks.  They were very busy and in fitting my needs into their load, they had to be in and out of the room several times.  In addition, the physician charged with that duty at the time, had to come and look me over before the zap.  In the treadmill room and in the ICU, they advised me to cough and to bear down in myself the way I would to have a bowel movement.  As they prepped me for a zap, they advised me to keep trying those two maneuvers as they might get my full "sinus" ( like the graph of a sine wave) back.  I did repeatedly and before they were ready with the electric paddles, I had returned to my right rhythm and wave pattern.

Everyone around me was matter of fact or appeared that way and I had no internal alarms. I felt fine throughout.  Lynn said when they first said "atrial fibrillation", she nearly burst out crying.  She had been alarmed when I was in the hospital with pneumonia and here I was flirting with the big end again.  I am feeling fine and I intend to do what I always do: slowly and gradually, day by day, build up to a good level of regular exercise.  We will see what happens next, as we always do.

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