Ectopic heartbeat

It started with me doing nothing. Sitting on the couch, watching tv, I imagine. Suddenly, a drop. Literally, it felt as if something in my chest had just dropped. This was followed by that funny butterfly feeling you sometimes get in your stomach, but in my chest and accompanied by a swiftly rising panic. The kind you get when a very specific thought flashes through your brain- “I can’t breathe.” Then, a monster thump, almost like being kicked in the chest, and it was gone. The butterflies, the pressure on my chest that made me think I couldn’t breathe, the panic. Everything was fine, again. Except, I was bewildered, worried.

The next day, another one. Sitting on the couch, studying this time. The next day, lying in bed. The next day, two. Then the day after that,  late in the evening, walking around the shop picking up last minute items for my sons food tech class in the morning, they began again, this time coming thick and fast, only 1-3 minutes between them. I started to feel as if I couldn’t breathe even between attacks, the lights of the shop became very bright, the environment taking on a surreal feeling, I felt lightheaded, almost dizzy, panic rising that I would collapse, that it actually was some sort of bizarre heart attack, even yes, that I would die. In fucking Asda.

My husband asked if he should take me to the hospital. I reluctantly nodded. We paid for the groceries. “Please don’t let me die in Asda. Please, for fuck sake, don’t die in Asda.” Then walked to the car. “Should we call an ambulance instead? Am I freaking out for nothing?”  During the drive, they became more regular, coming every 3 minutes. Thankfully, we live close to a hospital.

At the emergency room, I only had to wait a few minutes to be called to the counter. She asked what the problem was and I told her. She did not immediately turn white or shout for a doctor. Therefore, I decided I must be fine and asked my husband to take me home. He said no. (Bastard.) She did have me sit in the wheelchair though. (The wheelchair is special, it means you will be whisked away imminently instead of sitting back down in the waiting room and waiting for someone to get back from break and see you) Sure, enough within 3 minutes I had been whisked away into the triage unit, told to take my top off, and strapped to an ECG machine. At which point, the episodes, which had been going strong, stopped completely.  They took blood, did another *normal* ECG. Then, another normal ECG. I told them they were still coming, even when I wasn’t hooked up. So, they hooked me up to a continuos monitoring device. I lay there for an hour, listening to a man a few beds over screaming in pain and begging not to be touched. A nurse said to another, “Bed 7 isn’t due until 10 to 2:00, so best to just let him sleep. Best to be careful when you do though, he’s unpredictable, might make a grab for you, might be good to have security with you.” I drifted in and out of sleep, occasionally jerking awake as my heart kept dropping on and off the grid.

Eventually I woke to find a doctor standing above me. My bloods had come back normal, bar a slightly high white cell count. He could see the events on the monitor, a spike, which immediately spiked again, 1/2 as much, and levelled out, before returning to normal. He started by telling me I have a condition called Ventricular Ectopic.   The best way to explain, I suppose, is simply by saying that normally there is one area of your heart that gives the command to beat when the chambers fill with blood.  Sometimes another part of the heart gets a bit fed up with always having to do what the first one says, and decides that SHE will give the command, except she has no idea what she’s doing and the command is to early, and there isn’t enough blood to pump out yet. The part of your heart that is supposed to give the signal just carries on as normal.  So, the screwy beat is compensated for. When I noted that it sounded scary, he assured me it was normal and benign. I had two more while he spoke and he showed them to me on the monitor. He explained there really isn’t anything to do to get rid of them, that maybe eventually I will stop being aware of them, but if not, then yes I could spend the rest of my life with it.

I did a little googling and discovered that the condition is know as an “ectopic heartbeat”, and is fairly common. Some people seem terrified by it, and spend their lives trying to find some sort of cure for it.  Apparently it can be controlled using drugs for other heart conditions, but it seems unnecessary. Having said that, I think those same people are the ones who have hundreds or thousands of ectopic heartbeats a day, though, so I don’t really blame them.

It’s been a bit hard to get used to it. When it’s a quiet day, ectopic heartbeat wise, then I barely think about it. When they happen but are small, I barely register them. But when they are big, when they happen in a string, then it is frightening. I think “What if they are wrong? What if it’s actually something serious?”  But, I force myself to breath, and they go and all is well again.

My only real fear is that combined with another heart condition, they can lead to “sudden death”, so I’d like to minimise my risk of heart attack as much as possible. But, I think I’ve got a few more years before I really need to worry about that, all the more reason to lose the weight, though, right?


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