If you know me in real life and we are Facebook friends, you know that this past December held some pretty major events in my life. Physically. The kind that shook me to the very core of my being, that took me WEEKS to recover from emotionally and can still make my insides quake if I think about it too much even now, 2 months later. That caused me to come face-to-face with the thought that I was possibly going to die. For real. Not the "oh we all die sometime" idea but "I'm 30 years old and this might kill me and I will leave behind my husband and our 3 little girls."
Almost 2 years ago I had my first experience with atrial-fibrillation and SVT. It has stayed mostly dormant. There is no rhyme or reason as to why I have it nor what triggers my heart to go all crazy. By all that man can see, my heart is perfectly normal and healthy. Just sometimes it decides to go all crazy and run a marathon without the rest of me.
On December 13th I taught an Essential Oils Class in the evening, came home and was relaxing on the couch with Daniel. Just sitting there scrolling Facebook and talking with Daniel. Boom. My heart skipped a beat and started racing, taking my breath away for a second. By now I know the feeling and know how it goes and what I need to do. I told Daniel that it was happening and that we needed to make a plan and get on it. He brought me a drink of water and my stethoscope while I got on the phone calling his parents' cell phones until I finally woke his mom up. We made arrangements to take the girls to their house on our way to the hospital.
Daniel got the girls up while I gathered a handful of personal belongings. It is the hardest thing ever to keep a clear head and function normally when your heart is doing crazy things, but I think God gives special doses of strength in those moments. We dropped the girls off and headed to the Emergency Room. I walked in while Daniel parked the van (I always feel silly walking in when I need help now even though you can't see a visible problem). Another blessing is that if you're having heart trouble you get moved to the front of the waiting line and they take care of you pretty fast. :)
Daniel and I have been through this before and I knew it was going to be a loooong night of waiting. After I was settled in and hooked up and the waiting game began, I convinced Daniel to go home and sleep in bed rather than sitting miserably in the chair in my room all night.
That night my heart rate peaked at 230 bpm. That's the fastest it had ever been recorded and it felt wicked awful. I managed to convince them to skip Adenosine (a med they have tried before and has never worked) and go straight to Corvert. Of course there are all kinds of hoops and hurdles and tests they run first, and eventually they started dripping in the Corvert. It did nothing. They waited 45 minutes and started a second dose. That dose did nothing. About 30 minutes after that ended I was wondering "ok... so... what next?" I also needed to use the bathroom and it was as convenient a time (or not!!) as any so I asked my nurse about it. She wasn't about to let me out of the bed so I had bedside bathroom service. (SOO un-natural!! I'm convinced a man designed bed-pans!!) Not 5 minutes after I had emptied my bladder my heart rate just came right down to normal. The nurse and I just kind-of looked at each other and laughed that I should've taken care of my need sooner!
I had to stay for a few hours of observation and at 6:30 in the morning they let me go home with instructions to call my doctor first thing Monday morning.
Of course neither Daniel or I made it to our Saturday afternoon choir rehearsal for our Christmas concert the next day. I crashed in bed as soon as we got home and slept much of the morning and afternoon. My Mom came Saturday night to help out Sunday since I was still completely exhausted. I did not sing in the Christmas concert but sat and worshiped through the music and sang along in my heart. Later Daniel told me that I looked like death warmed over from exhaustion and lack of sleep. ...No wonder so many people were coming up to me asking if I was ok.
Mom had to go home Sunday night but planned to come spend Monday here as a helping hand since I knew I would still be getting over the exhaustion. Daniel left for work Monday morning as usual and I was relieved that I had "that episode" behind me and could get back to life as usual. Not to be, though...
Susannah and Sylvia had just woken up and I (getting over a cold) had a coughing fit. As soon as I stopped coughing I felt my heart racing again. Hoping against hope that it was just from the coughing, I had a sinking feeling that it was not just the coughing, but another episode of SVT. I sank into the chair and called Daniel, asking him to come home right away. Then I sent my Mom a text and asked her to come prepared to stay a few days if she could. Then I started trying to get ahold of my mother-in-law. She didn't answer any of the phone numbers I had for her so I asked Daniel to try and get ahold of his dad. He did a lot of phone tag and was finally able to get in touch with them. While that was going on I was in touch with friends from church asking for prayer, and arranging for possible babysitting if we couldn't get in touch with my in-laws. I also nursed Charity as I waiting, in some ways hoping that the combination of sitting and relaxing for that would somehow trick my body and heart into working correctly. I managed to verbally direct Susannah and Sylvia to get dressed in case we needed to take them with us.
Daniel was able to get in touch with his mom and both she and Daniel arrived about the same time. Daniel and I again made the familiar trek to the Emergency Room, with me silently begging him to go faster, faster, faster, please. Get me there NOW!!!
I walked in and the receptionist was helping someone. I signed in at the kiosk and started feeling light-headed again and knew my heart rate was climbing. Instead of sitting and waiting my turn I walked up to the receptionists window to ask for help. Right as I started to speak I went light-headed and dizzy again. I told her what was going on and that I needed help NOW. She had me sit in a chair while she called someone to come get me.
They didn't even stop for a preliminary EKG but wheeled me right into a room. The nurse asked me to get into a gown and stepped out to get the EKG machine. I started to unbutton my shirt when everything went black and I had to slump onto the bed. After my head cleared I finished getting into a gown and the nurse hooked up the EKG. I think my heart rate was around 160 bpm.
After much preliminary stuff the AP came in started questioning me. I asked them to please not use Adenosine but that Corvert worked. Of course there were lots and lots of times to sit and wait while they called my doctor's office, discussed, waited for this and that and so on. My heart rate was all over the place. It would come down to the 120s and then it would jump up to 180s and 190s. Slowly it was climbing higher with each spike. I could tell it was going higher because the higher it goes the more black my world goes and the more limp I feel.
It was starting to hit upper 220s and touching 230s. I cannot describe how it feels. It does not physically hurt so much as you just feel... wrong. You can't really talk. You have no energy to move even a finger. Your head just rolls to the side, you see black, and you feel like you're passed out except you can still hear and you're still conscious.
It would go up and then it would come down some. It was see-sawing back and forth, and back and forth. The monitor was beeping a LOT by this time and flashing the orange a-fib message. Then the weight in my chest felt about 50 pounds heavier, my world went darker, and I heard the monitor beeps change to a higher tone and increased in volume. I couldn't even turn my head to see what it said. It seemed to last forever. The nurse walked in, immediately grabbed my wrist with one hand and her cell phone with the other. "We need to do something NOW," she said, "she's at 240 and has been for 40 seconds." It felt more like 400 seconds. Then to me, "Are you with me??" I answered with a nod.
The AP came in and my heart rate lowered some. As they were talking the thought started to cross my mind more earnestly:
What if I die?
Daniel was holding my hand but it did not really register with me. Life turned into slow motion.
This could kill me. I could die from this.
I didn't care. I didn't care if I died. Half of me wanted to just die. I felt so miserable. I didn't know how fast my heart could beat and stay alive. Or how long it could handle beating that fast and not stop working.
But I felt peace. I was sad at the idea of Daniel being without a wife that loved him more than anything else in the world, and the girls never seeing their mama alive again. Those thoughts broke my heart. But I knew peace. In my heart I had peace with the thought of dying.
I knew there was nothing I could do, or the doctors or nurses could do, to keep me from dying if it was God's plan. I did not want to leave Daniel a widower and the girls mother-less, but I knew that the instant my body would die my soul would be with God and oh, how wonderful that will be!!!
All I could think in those moments, torn between the ideas of life here on earth and Life with my Lord and Savior, was the phrase "My life is in Your hands. My life is in Your hands. My life is in Your hands."
I don't know how many minutes passed. Probably not many, really, but that line kept going through my head. "My life is in Your hands. My life is in YOUR hands..."
The doctor told the nurse to get the shock cart. He explained to me that they were going to give me something to sedate me and then try to shock my heart back to normal rhythm. I may have nodded, I don't remember. "My life is in Your hands. My life is in Your hands..." The nurse put a syringe of something into my IV line. "My life is in Your hands. My life is in Your hands..." She put the metal-outlined sticky pads on my chest. "My life is in Your hands. My life is in Your hands. Here or there, my life is in Your hands..."
Suddenly my heart rate spiked again and I slumped to the side of the bed. The doctor told Daniel to let go of my hand and back away from the bed. In my mind I was begging the doctor to let me get through this spike before doing the shock. That I fully aware. That I wasn't sedated. No. No. NO NO NO NO NO!!!! I wanted to scream. I wanted to sit up and scream STOP!!!! DON'T DO IT YET!!!! I'M NOT READY!!!!
I can barely type this, and there are no words to adequately describe the utter horror of what my body and mind experienced next.
My brain registered the loudest electrical POW I have ever heard. My body was slammed with such force that all of me but my legs and backside raised off the bed. All I saw was blinding, frying, white electrical light. I heard the crackling sound of electricity coursing through my body. I felt immense, indescribable pain as if someone had just thrust me through with a searing, white-hot rod. I heard myself screaming a scream I had never heard come from my body before.
And then it stopped and my body was back on the bed. The tears were coursing down my face as sobs wracked my body. My head was pounding, as was my heart. The shock had not worked. The nurse moved one of the pads to my back. "Again" the doctor said and my body and mind screamed again as the electricity poured through my flesh once more.
I cried. I cried and cried and cried. I cried from the horror of what I had just gone through. I cried because it did not work. I cried because Daniel witnessed his wife going through what no one should ever see. I cried because I hurt. My head hurt. My body hurt. My heart hurt. My tongue hurt where my jaw had slammed shut on it with such force that it was bruised for a week. I cried because I would have rather died and gone to Heaven. I cried because I didn't know what they were they could do next. I cried because I wanted Jesus and I wanted it to just be over.
I do not remember much about the next several minutes. Perhaps the sedation medication was finally doing it's job or perhaps my brain was simply incapable of processing anything. I remember another doctor walking into my room and talking with the AP and the nurse. I remember him instructing to "skip all that [preliminary tests and medications] and just run it straight in." I remember seeing the nurse coming over to put another dose of medication into my IV.
And then I felt relief.
Everything after that moment when the Corvert did it's job and converted my heart back to normal rhythm was regular hospital stuff. The second doctor talked with us (he was a cardiologist, but spoke highly of my doctor whom we learned is an electrophysiologist - another step above cardiologist). Eventually my doctor came in. He is such a gentle soul. I remember how kind and caring his eyes looked as he talked to me and told me that I would be admitted for observation. He mentioned that it was almost lunch-time and asked if I was hungry.
A little later, while still in the ER room, the nurse came in and asked if we had ordered lunch. We said that we hadn't. She said "well, somebody did because a tray just arrived for you." My doctor had ordered a lunch tray sent to me in the ER. His gentle kindness continued in unspoken ways.
I went home the next day and am still on two medications. My heart has only raced once since then, just for a few seconds. My doctor wants me to stay on those medications for now. My body had visible, physical reminders of what happened. The metal edges of the shock pads had burned my skin and you could see the red outlines where the pads had been. They itched as they healed over the next several days.
I started writing this post in February but was not able to finish it at that time. I feel that now I am ready to finish it.
Around the end of December I spent a length of time pouring out my heart to Daniel. Crying, asking all the why questions, sharing my broken emotions, making sure he knew how much I love him and our girls, telling him what I want him to do if I die young... But I have never been able to grasp "why" God allowed me to go through this experience.
With the start of spring, the first thunderstorm her came about 7:30 one morning. Daniel was home and everyone was in bed. The girls came upstairs to snuggle with us as the lightening flashed and thunder cracked and rumbled. I was mentally focused on talking the girls through the storm, helping them not be worried.
Daniel left for work and I went about the morning feeling uneasy. The storm was long gone. It took me a long time to identify, but I finally realized I felt panicked. Freaked out even though there was nothing to be afraid of. It didn't take too long for me to realize that I felt panicked because of the lightening and thunder. I remembered the lightening flashes and the electrical crack of a few of the strikes, and immediately all the memories of the cardioversion came flooding back. The logical side of me knew there was nothing to actually fear. I was fine. It was a thunderstorm like all the thunderstorms I've been through and enjoyed for years and years. I cried some and the panicky feeling stayed with me well into the afternoon before it started easing up.
There have been a few other times that storms have been predicted for our area, and I have really struggled with anxiety, feeling panicked. My biggest, truest fear is how will my brain react if there is a close lightening strike? What will my mind think if I see the blinding flash and the electrical crack of lightening, so similar to what I experienced on the hospital bed?
One week ago today a storm was going around us. I never heard any thunder, never saw any lightening. I only saw the big, dark clouds. I had to get ready for church and that meant a shower. In the shower my guard was down and the tears ran as my heart knew fear. It is a real sense of fear. Knowing in my head that I could not wish it all away, nor could I hide in the shower all evening, I realized I needed to change my thoughts. I cannot avoid thunderstorms. I cannot avoid lightening and thunder. I can pray and I can choose where I focus my thoughts. I chose to redirect my thoughts from the storm to the One who directs the storms and who holds me and keeps me.
I spent some time crying to God, letting Him know my fears, asking Him WHY I had to go through electric shock. And finally asking Him to help me through the thunderstorms, for peace in my heart. That I would not be anxious, or afraid. That He would replace the fear with His love, because Perfect Love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)
After I had myself pulled back together and was finished getting ready for church, I was in the kitchen making a quick supper for the girls. The storm was now east of us, with the sun shining from the west. I was craving a rainbow. God puts rainbows in the clouds, and they remind me that God keeps His promises. Clinging to 1 John 4:18, I desperately needed a rainbow. I kept looking out the window for one. Finally I saw one. :) I shouted and cheered and yelled for the girls to come outside with me to see the rainbow.
There, in the clouds, was God assuring me that He keeps His promises.
I don't know when we will have another thunderstorm. I don't know how I will feel the next time I see thunderstorms forecast in our area, or when one comes through, or goes around. I do know that I have been praying that I will have peace. Many people have been praying for me through this. I have gotten texts and facebook messages in the middle of the night, or in the morning, saying that they were praying for me - while I slept through a massive thunderstorm.
I don't fear death because Jesus conquered death and has given me salvation from death. I do struggle with fear at the thought of "what if" ...I have to go through another cardioversion like that? ...if I can't mentally handle a close, loud lightening strike? ...if I'm home alone with the girls and come unglued emotionally?
There was a lot of terror and I would say even trauma, emotionally. I have never experienced anything traumatizing like that. I know it was physically traumatizing; my milk supply began drying up that week and never came back even though I continued nursing Charity for every feeding.
God is Sovereign, He is Kind, Gentle, Loving, Merciful, Gracious, and He knows exactly what is best for me. He allowed me to go through this experience. I don't know why. I don't know if I will ever know why. I hope and pray I never have to go through it again. And I pray that I will have peace about the memories and in the thunderstorms that He allows to come over our house. I have Him in my heart and he IS the Prince of Peace, afterall. :)
Now as I close this post, the retelling and reliving of this chapter of my life, I wonder if perhaps this will also help my mind and emotions place this behind me, finally, where the memory can stay in a dusty box in a back corner of my memories.
In God's hands,