The Day My Heart Skipped 16 Beats

Today, I decided I wouldn’t write fiction. Instead, I’ll share an actual life story. Why? Because it taught me a thing or two about valuing the moment. This is the story of when my heart stopped beating.

On October 30th 2006, my heart started overdoing its job again. It happened before, usually for anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour. Sinus tachycardia is the clinical term; basically, my heart beat as fast as if I was running for my life, even though I was barely walking.

I had seen a doctor about that a year before. He didn’t quite believe me and declared me fit after a couple of tests. The diagnosis convinced me that maybe the whole thing was normal, which is why it went unchecked for so long. On October 30th 2006, however, the accelerated heartbeat wouldn’t fade away by itself. It kept on going for an hour and a half before I decided to walk to the hospital.

Yes, I walked myself to the hospital. I had built quite a resistance to the crazy heartbeat thing.

I walked into the ER and headed for the front desk to get my name on the waiting list.

“Hi, I’m currently in a tachycardia crisis. My heartbeat has been over 180 for more than an hour,” I said to the nurse.

She gave me “that look.” The same look the doctor had had. The “yeah, right” look. I can understand; I was 20 years-old and sporting blue hair.

I extended my arm for her to check my pulse right then and there. She paled as soon as her fingers hit my wrist. I knew she would; my blood pressure was so high I bet you could have taken my pulse on my shoulder.

Three seconds later, I was in triage, and another nurse took my blood pressure and heart rate, smiling all the while. I chatted with her and answered her questions, repeating quite a few times that I wasn’t on drugs (20 and blue hair, remember?) Finally, she led me to another room where she told me she’d help me slip into a hospital gown, but I declined her help. A fast beating heart didn’t keep me from dressing myself up.

Her eyes went back and forth between me and a phone as she slowly walked backwards towards it, her arms half-stretched in my direction. She quite obviously expected me to collapse.

“I need the doctor in rea,” she said after dialing whomever.

Hmm, so that’s what the “reanimation room*” looks like, I thought. A whole bunch of monitors, stacks of medicine and syringes, and other medical appliances surrounded the hospital bed, but –most importantly– there was a lot of space so people can run around.

Oh! And a defibrillator, of course.

By the time the nurse came back to me, I was in my gown. As soon as I laid down, the circus started. In the blink of an eye, I had plugs on my chest, oxygen pumped in my nose, a blood sample taken and an IV stuck in.

The moment all the plugs connected with my chest, the monitor went ballistic. The nurse had to look at it to mute it, and for a fraction of second, panic flashed across her face.

The monitor shut up, and the nurse smiled reassuringly. I could almost hear her think: “Smile. No sudden movement. Do not stress the patient.”

The doctor had a similar reaction when he walked in. The quick succession of “that look,” worry, and professional smile was a little funny. He questioned me about drugs and alcohol, reformulating the same questions a thousand times to try and catch me in a lie.

“Are you on drugs? Would you happen to be under the influence of narcotics? Is there any chance a strong opiate may have found its way into your veins?”

Again, I can totally understand that; 20, blue hair, crazy heart. We wouldn’t want to mix chemicals in my bloodstream now, would we?

Throughout the interrogation, nurses kept walking past the room and asking if help was needed. I learned later that they could read my heart rate on the computer at their station, hence the worry. I also got four additional plugs on my arms and calves for a few in-crisis eletrocardiograms.

“Ok. We need to calm your heart now,” the doctor informed me.

No shit! I thought, but sarcasm wouldn’t have been appropriate.

“I’m going to shoot you a medicine called adenosine. Your heart will stop beating for a few seconds. Then, it’ll start again at a normal rhythm.”

Yes, dear reader, your eyes haven’t fooled you. The right dosage of adenosine causes a temporary asystole, aka flatline.

After subtly making sure the defibrillator was within reach (in case my heart stubbornly refused to slow down at all), the doctor gave me the shot.

For four seconds, while fully conscious, I flatlined.

I learned later that before the doctor shot me, my heart was beating at 235 beats per minute. That’s a hell of a black metal rhythm, my friend. That’s so fast blood vessels usually start to pop (small and possibly big ones), causing all sorts of complication ranging from bruises to brain damage to deadly internal bleeding. I didn’t suffer from any of that, and I’ll forever be thankful for my luck/constitution/whatever.

But back to my story.

My heart basically went 235, 0, 100. Based on my 235 beats per minute, in those four seconds, I missed 16 beats before resuming at a more healthy 100 beats per minute. Trust me when I say that’s a taste of eternity. I don’t think there are words to describe how it feels to be conscious that your heart isn’t beating.

A week later, I was in class when my heart went crazy again. My trip to the ER was smoother that time around. I had been diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW), a heart condition that basically means I had two electrical currents in my heart instead of one. Since they knew what I suffered from, they gave me a softer medicine which gradually slowed my heart. One might also say they didn’t want to risk adenosine again; sometimes the heart of WPW patients doesn’t resume beating after using that type of medicine.

Additional fun fact –if I dare call it that– if I had called an ambulance while I was in my tachycardia crisis, there would have been nothing they could do. Their monitors would have yelled to jolt me with the defibrillator, but they aren’t supposed to do that on a conscious patient. My paramedic uncle said he would have freaked out and contemplated knocking me out. *laughs* I’m apparently an aberration.

On November 20th 2006, I woke up during my one-day heart surgery, which is another story in itself. Let’s just say that I’ve had a scar on my heart since then, but haven’t missed a beat again.


* “Reanimation room” is the straight translation from French. That’s our name for “trauma center.”


About Aheïla

Somewhere in Quebec City, Aheïla works as a Game Design Director by day and writes by night. Known for her blue hair, unyielding dynamism and tasty cooking (quails, anyone?), she’s convinced “prose is the new crack”. She satisfies her addiction daily on The Writeaholic’s Blog and weekly on Games' Bustles View all posts by Aheïla

16 responses to “The Day My Heart Skipped 16 Beats

  • nothingprofound

    Were you actually conscious during that brief period that your heart had stopped beating? That’s the kind of experience no amount of imagination could possibly comprehend. What a scary thing to go through at your age, but it sounds like the condition has been resolved, so that’s good.

    • Aheïla

      Yes, I was conscious.
      And you’re right when you say imagination can’t grasp it. We think we don’t feel our heartbeat throughout the day but you can’t miss it when it stops.
      I guess that applies to everything we take for granted. 😉
      I’m doing much better now. Completely cured.

  • timethief

    What a terribel experience. Thanks goodness you are okay now. I have had medical emergency experiences too, including respiratory arrest and I was conscious when I heard them announcing I was flatlining. Those experiences made me value my life in a way I never did before. Life is a precious gift.

    • Aheïla

      When it happened, I put on the brave face and everything. I took me a while to come back to the events and actually realise how much it changed me.
      I missed only one class despite the time at the hospital and the surgery. Never asked for a delay on a paper. And was one of the few of my class to get an internship then a job.
      It was a harsh year but if nothing else, it sure thought me that nothing can stand between me and my objectives.
      It also showed me which objectives I truly valued.

  • Jackie Paulson

    Wow, Amazing experience..they say God lets us have experiences to learn from them. What a lesson to have to learn. Your story needs to be put into a book. A gift from God above. Thanks for being open and honest! Bless you and yours.

  • Claudie A.

    Wow, Aheila, that’s quite the story! I was so surprised to see Adenosine as the medic they gave you. It’s something we see a lot in Biochemistry, but not as a medic (it’s in the DNA).

    Anyway, this is crazy. But now you can say your heart literally skipped a beat, I guess? 😉

    • Aheïla

      If I remember correctly (it’s been sometime since I did the research) adenosine is a part of what makes us sleepy, right?
      Yup, my heart literally skipped a bit. There is also a literal scar of my heart. *laughs* I’ll probably tell that story another day. 😉

  • Reading Raynes

    Oh my goodness! You have WPW? Wow. It’s rare (at least here in Asia). ang in there! By the way, there are certain drugs that are absolutely contraindicated, so be sure to check with your doctor before you take drugs. Hang in there! Be still my beating heart *wink*

    • Aheïla

      From what I read, there’s quite a few people who have it but most never develop any symptoms. I was one of the extreme cases.
      As I said, it’s all over now. I had the surgery and my heart doesn’t go crazy anymore. It was a scary moment but it shouldn’t happen again. I’m cured.
      But back then, I was really conscious of what I was taking, asking questions about each drug, staying away from coffee, etc.

  • LM Preston

    That is an amazing life story! Wow, you are awesome to be able to look back at life changing moment which makes you value each day even more. My motto is ‘ You only ever get one life’ and dog on it I’m going to have a blast while I’m living it. I wish you all the best and I can’t wait to hear more about your journey.

    • Aheïla

      Yup, the moment is all that matters so we should do everything we can to ensure that moment is a happy one. That’s why I can’t suffer having a job that I don’t thoroughly enjoy. 😉
      When you go through the event, the only choice is to push through. It’s when you look back later that you realize how strong you really are.

  • Alyssa

    I’m a little bit behind with my reading. 🙂 but, this touched me Aheila, thank you for sharing. It’s frightening in a sense, how dependent we are on our heart. And how lucky we should be if we have a working one.
    Thank you again my friend,

    • Aheïla

      The whole thing made me realize that as long as my body doesn’t betray me, other obstacles can be overcome. 😉
      If my story can touch a few people, all the better. I know it touched me. *laughs*

  • The Day They Scarred My Heart | The Writeaholic's Blog

    […] My Heart To Save My Life”, but it’s a mouthful. On Tuesday, I shared the true story of how my heart skipped 16 beats. Believe it or not, flatlining while conscious wasn’t the end of the road. I thought I owed […]

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