The Day They Scarred My Heart

The complete title of this post should be “The Day They Scarred 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 it to you guys to share the story of my heart surgery as well, if only to reassure you that I’m fine. Though the surgery itself was quite the ordeal, I’m fully aware of how privileged I am to have been born in a country where doctors can fix my heart condition in one day for free.

As I said before, I had Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, which basically means I had two electrical currents in my heart instead of one. The cure? Cut one of the currents. Duh!

By applying a controlled burn on the current that shouldn’t be there, the surgery creates scar tissue that is thicker than the usual tissue, hence breaking the current’s circuit. It’s called radiofrequency catheter ablation and is probably as simple as a heart surgery can get.

Now, onto the good stuff.

I got in the hospital early morning November 20th 2006 with my mother by my side and no food in my stomach. I shimmied into a hospital gown, gave blood samples and received an IV in return. I hate those things.

At about 8am, I was rolled into the operation room and strapped to a table. Apparently, some patients move around a lot while they’re drugged.

The thing is, for my surgery, they couldn’t really put me under. More like halfway there. If I was completely anesthetized, they couldn’t start a tachycardia crisis to pinpoint the problem and solve it. So I was sedated enough for most people to sleep.

See where I’m going with this?

For the catheter ablation, they needed to introduce two catheters (essentially tiny flexible plastic tubes) in the femoral vein (at the groin) and one in the carotid (which is in the neck, but I guess you knew that.) So in order to have easy asepticized access, they brushed iodine on my groin and neck, put a tiny strip of paper on my intimate parts (which had to be freshly shaved for the occasion) and spread a big blue paper in my face that only left my neck exposed.

And I’m strapped to the table, remember? Not the most comfy situation. But let’s move along, shall we?

For quite some time, I did indeed sleep. Then, I snapped out of it, adrenaline rushing through my veins while the drugs numbed every shred of reason and self-control.

To get to the carotid, one must dodge the jugular, which is practically lying over the target. Apparently, my carotid and jugular are a silly duo. The doctor literally had to poke around –to canvass my neck!– to find the right spot which is why the drugs weren’t enough to keep me under.

Let’s just say that the situation (drugged, tied down, being poked at) is the worst “bad trip” possible. I could feel the catheters being pushed along in my veins toward my heart. It wasn’t painful, but people playing in your insides remains a peculiar sensation, to say the least.

As I mentioned before, the drugs knocked out any logical thinking and self-control. All my brain processed was “danger, must flee, can’t flee,” and aimless adrenaline flooded everything. Not a good mix. Not a good mix at all. I only half-remember the moment. There was some crying, some panicked shouts… I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy.

They gave me another shot, and I drifted back to sleep.

I woke up in pain. And I mean pain.

I’m the kind of girl who almost falls asleep on her tattoo artist’s chair, so trust me when I say my surgery wake up call hurt.

A doctor was pressing on my groin with both hands and nearly all his weight to stop me from bleeding out. Seeing my silent tears, he bowed over me and said in a paternal voice: “We’re feeling a bit emotional, aren’t we?”

I swear I would have slugged him. I think I tugged on my restraints. I managed to keep my mouth shut but… arrrgggghhhh!

Minutes later, I was rolled out of surgery. My mother expected a sleeping 20-year-old and instead, much to her dismay, she got a crying baby (I was too out of it to have any control over my tears.)

I spent four hours in and out of consciousness, and another four hours immobile to ensure my wounds wouldn’t re-open. I have really sensitive skin so even medical bandages itch; the 4 inches wide bandage going around my leg was hell.

The next day, I got home and cataloged my injuries.

I had a snowflake design made out of syringe pokes through the muscle of my neck, two holes through the muscle of my groin, and a bruise about 6 inches in diameter with a missing slice on my right thigh. It made a nice Pacman once it turned yellow.

The day after that, I was back to school with a painful limp and the mother of all stiff necks. Yep, I’m crazy like that. I just wanted to go on with my life and be done with the misery.

All in all, the surgery went faster than anticipated and cured me completely. Though the experience will go down in my memory as a hard one, I’m grateful I got off so easy.

In all honesty, the worst of it all wasn’t flatlining on my day in the ER or half-waking up during surgery; it was the wait between the diagnosis and the surgery. Three weeks during which I didn’t know if and when my heart would give up on me. Three weeks not trusting my own body, and not daring to go camping or anything that would place me too far from a hospital.

The nerves were a lot to handle. Though I was still fully functional (going to school and all,) the stress and fear crept up on me at night.

And because of that, cancer patients (and other long-term illnesses such as AIDS) have my utmost respect.

And my friends who smoke and tell me that “everyone has to die of something” get told time and again how they don’t want to die from cancer.

So today, I have a literal scar on my heart and though I used to love horror movies, my body won’t let me watch them anymore. My blood pressure drops and if I don’t stop the movie, I faint. I don’t know if my subconscious will ever let go of what happened during that operation and let me enjoy my movies again.

But hey, I’m alive! What more can I possibly ask for?

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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

21 responses to “The Day They Scarred My Heart

  • Jeremy Janson

    Well-written. I like your style. Glad that things appear to have gone well for you.

  • Aheïla

    Hi Jeremy,
    Thanks for the comment. That’s me au naturel so it’s good to know it’s likeable. *laughs*

  • Jenn

    Oh Darlin’
    You have my sympathy. I had a similar experience when they were trying to figure out what made me sick. They did 2 scopes at once. And of course, they don’t completely put you out for those either. I woke up with a sore throat, sore bottom & a couple days later, a sore belly button when I had a small surgery. I’m glad that what you went through fixed your heart. I would hate to have lost you before I got to know you!

    • Aheïla

      There really wasn’t much of a choice but to get it fixed. From what I understood of my condition, there’s not really a medication that you can take to completely keep it in check so…
      Your experience sounds trying as well. I guess there’s just not a fun way to get a surgery. At least, we can rejoice from feeling better once it’s over.

  • scribadiva

    This is a therapeutic post for me. It’s well-written, and very clear, but your condition could have been so much worse, so I’m glad it worked for you. it could be worse. I don’t know if you were aware that I’ve started a second blog (actually 6 more) named thepaingame.org. I haven’t really been paying attention to it, primarily b/c I don’t know if I can write about what’s happened. But you are inspiring me, and so I will begin to post, using a timeline. I was thinking of absconding with your writing method as seen through Unforeseen Dives. I always liked your title, b/c I was into scuba diving, and it always makes me think and hope I can can again go back to it. someone.
    I almost saddled you with another long, drawn out post. So the rest I’ll email, and I’ll tell you what happened when I was in a coma, and they tried to move my IV to my femoral artery. Even though I was in an induced coma, I know I didn’t invite any one, so I kicked them. They told me about it afterward, and we laughed and laughed. May you be greeted with Sweet tides that will take you wherever you want to go.. Your virtual friend, Linda Martin.

    • Aheïla

      Yes, despite the trial, I was very lucky. And that’s how I whould remember the whole thing.
      I think it’s important to revisit these moments when we are ready. They teach us a lot about ourselves. It’s only a plus if our adventures can inspire other people. 😉

      I’m glad you like the title. It took me a while to figure it out. *laughs* I dived in college and I miss it.

      Take care as well!

  • nothingprofound

    So glad this is all behind you. I hope your next 60 years are pain and surgery free.

  • Deray

    That was quite the ordeal Aheila! I hate when doctors don’t believe there’s something wrong with you and don’t go out of their way (or the insurance’s) to get a proper diagnose. I’m glad they finally got it right and were able to fix it. Cheers for your next 1,000,000 heartbeats 😉

    • Aheïla

      The first doctor I saw in a clinic didn’t even schedule an appointment with a cardiologist and he only did a quarter of the tests he could have done. In Quebec, it’s all paid by the government so there is no insurance clauses and stuff that can limit treatment.
      If I wanted to, I could probably have sued the first doctor since his failure to listen to me and do proper testing could have cost me my health or my life. But I didn’t have enough paperwork to pursue that and frankly just wanted to put the whole thing behind me.

      Thanks for the cheers!

  • Alyssa

    Again this is amazing Aheila. 🙂
    You made me remember that when I had to go for surgery once (coincidentally also in the chest area… o_O), I started struggling as they were putting me under. They didn’t strap me down to begin with and I just remember suddenly feeling so exposed and so claustrophobic that, when the nurse put the mask over my face, I decided that I had to get up and get out NOW. I will never forget those panicked few seconds in which I tried to get up, but was pushed down by the nurses. And, they were speaking so calmly, so nicely, almost amused at my bewilderment.
    fun times. 🙂

    • Aheïla

      Going under is surrendering yourself completely to the nurses and doctors. The level of trust required is tremendous. A lot of people are never put in that kind of situation. Once you’re under, you can’t back out; that’s a frightening thought.
      I remember being very very stressed just before they injected the drugs in my system. I had to remember that point of no return or not, I had to keep breathing. *laughs*

  • Antonio

    Wow! That’s quite a story, MissAheila. (ps love the new look of the site) 😉

  • Claire Gillian

    Gulp…glad that’s now several years behind you. My sis’s epidural wore off in the middle of her c-section surgery and they didn’t believe her. She talks a lot about feeling everything she knew she shouldn’t be feeling, pain-wise in her case, in addition to all the tugging etc. The jostling, poking, etc of someone moving your guts around I’ve been through with a c-section but after having a fetus moving around in there, that wasn’t any big deal. I can’t imagine feeling the pokes and prods in my heart, neck, etc. shudder…

    • Aheïla

      Oh my gosh! Sounds like quite a trying experience your sister went true. I have yet to have kids so I really can’t relate to that aspect but yes, feelings things you shouldn’t feel while in surgery is very disturbing.
      The best way to describe the way the pokes and prods feel is quite simple actually: violated. The interior of one’s veins are really as “internal sanctuary” as anything can get.

  • Marsha

    I had no idea you had such a problem. You always seem to have a nonstop source of drive and energy. I’m very glad they were able to fix you up!

  • Copywriting

    its really great to know this. And your current style tells me your energy level. It’s really great. All the best for your future.

  • The Day My Heart Skipped 16 Beats | The Writeaholic's Blog

    […] November 20th 2006, I had a one-day heart surgery (not an open heart thing), 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 […]

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