Arrhythmia and Blues

Revenge of the Selfie
Revenge of the Selfie

So I didn’t think it through and posted a couple pictures to Facebook showing the cats playing with a balloon I got in the hospital on Monday. Which immediately got the reaction of “What? You were in the hospital?”


It’s been an interesting six months. To say the least.  Which is pretty much the way I’ve wanted to keep it.  The “saying the least” part.  I could really go for some less interesting. Hopefully I am, now.

So here’s the deal. We discovered late last September that I was in atrial fibrillation. At the time we thought it started within a few days of it being discovered, but it’s pretty clear now that it had been going on for a while. A few months at least. We’ll never know for sure.

I spent a night in the hospital. They ran tests. They poked and prodded.  Nothing too bad, and the staff was great. When it was all said and done the cardiologist said something that I knew was probably true, but I wasn’t expecting to hear it in that context.

Untreated sleep apnea.

It’s not just about snoring, folks.  I’ve often said the purpose of my life is serve as a cautionary tale to others and this is one of those times. Don’t ignore this. It can screw you up.  It’s done it to me.

So there wasn’t just one issue, but two.  The arrhythmia and the apnea. Both had to be dealt with simultaneously.  There was actually a third issue, too: depression. September through December pretty much sucked. There was an attempt to shock my heart back into rhythm — a procedure called cardioversion — that failed. I had no energy. There were scheduling issues with the sleep lab because it was the end of the year and everyone was trying to get it in under out-of-pocket limits. On top of that I was put in an anti-arrhythmic that’s, in a word, nasty.  Over time, anyway.  Like screw-up-your-lungs-and ruin-your eyesight nasty. It all worked out in the end, but at the time the last thing I wanted to do was talk about it. To anyone. Some folks knew at work, but that was about it.

So I finally get my two sleep lab appointments in (one to figure out how bad I had it, the other to figure out the best approach to take to mitigate it). I had it bad.  On average my sleep was interrupted by an event 61 times an hour.  For all intents and purposes, I wasn’t sleeping. I thought I was, but I wasn’t.  Dozing maybe.  That’s about it.  The treatment was (and is) a ResMed S9 VPAP machine.  The ‘V’ is for ‘variable.’ The CPAP you’ve probably heard of stands for “Constant Positive Airway Pressure.”  That means you exhale against full pressure.  That wasn’t working for me, so my machine increases pressure in inhaling and decreases it a bit on exhaling.

So I wear a breathing mask at night now. Much to Carla’s relief I now only announce “Luke, I am your father”  and “This is CNN” on a bi-monthly basis instead of nightly as I did at first. It took a couple of weeks to get the straps dialed in so the thing can work the way it’s supposed to. The mask seals to my face using pretty much the same principle that allows hovercrafts to work. For me the trick was to let the straps hold the mask in place just enough to avoid what I lovingly refer to as “face farts” and no tighter. Crush it too much and it won’t seal worth a crap. Then the straps are too tight.  It’s uncomfortable.  No sleeping occurs. Taking a sort of a Buddhist “release your attachments” approach actually works. And I apologize to all 350 million Buddhists in the world for the metaphor.

In late January there was another failed cardioversion. The route that was recommended and I went with was a procedure called Catheter Ablation. For those of you scoring at home, it was a Pulmonary Vein Isolation procedure using cryothermy. It took right at four hours to complete.  I was asleep through all of it.

Have you noticed lately that we live in a science fiction novel?

Anyway, as best we can tell the procedure worked.  That picture pretty much sums up how I felt when I heard. I’d had the procedure described as a ‘piece of cake’ which only means I clearly have a different set of requirements for cake than the person who said that. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that bad.  I wouldn’t suggest it as a spa treatment, but I can think of a couple of tests leading up to it that were worse than the procedure itself.

There’s still some adjusting of medications going on and I’m not going to be doing too much over the next week or so, but I have no complaints.  The doctors, nurses and techs have been uniformly wonderful. Now that I’ve outed myself on all this I’ll probably say more about that in later posts, but this has gone on long enough.

If you’re hearing about this for the first time I hope I haven’t insulted you by not saying anything. There wasn’t a time after it was discovered that it was ever going to be anything but OK eventually. I have to use the VPAP and have to lose weight, but now that I can — oh, I don’t know, walk across the room without being exhausted  — I’m not to worried about that part. Specifically, the intake side has largely been dealt with and the activity side is what I was working on when this was discovered.  It didn’t cause it. It just made it visible.

But I didn’t want to talk about any of it. There was nothing anyone could do that wasn’t being done and I was doing an excellent job feeling sorry for myself. The last thing I wanted was attention. So I kept my mouth shut, at least on social media.

But then the cats started playing with the balloon…