“So you see, the top chambers of your heart are just chaotically sort of… quivering, instead of pumping.” Ok, well the top two chambers doing that is significantly less dangerous than the bottom two, was my initial thought, as the doctor pointed out features on the ECG trace she’d placed on the bed next to me. “It’s usually seen in older people with weaker hearts.” That figures, my body doesn’t like to act typically. “The bottom two chambers are also beating at an irregular rate. If you look, these peaks are all different distances apart.” Confused ventricles, less good. But at least they are beating, even if it’s stupidly fast for a few beats and slower for the next few. “And here.” The end of a slightly chewed biro runs over about an inch of flat line on the graph paper, flat ground between the mountains of two heart beats. “Here it forgets to beat… It misses a beat.” I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than the ventricular ectopics (heart hiccups) I’d thought I was feeling.
A few hours later she returned with another tracing of my heart. It had settled down, and I had felt much better when it was taken. The skipped beats now occured at regular intervals, the bottom chambers of my heart were beating at a steady rate (which was much slower than usual for me, and slower than before, but still too fast), and the atrial fibrillation (chaotic quivering) had stopped. I’d been told the trace was fine by the nurse that took it. So I was not expecting the doctor to walk in and say,
“You have second degree heart block.” Well that’s new. Was my initial thought. My second thought was, what the hell is that?
“The top chambers of your heart and the bottom chambers of your heart aren’t talking to each other. Something stops the electrical signals passing from one to the other, so they each do their own thing. In your case, some signals can still get through, but it’s chaotic, and it means your heart can’t pump efficiently or in a coordinated action sometimes.” Explained the nurse. Still had worse, I thought. Heart stuff fails to worry me any more. In fact, learning that it wasn’t my ventricles going haywire (as has been the case before) was a relief.
Third thought, why is it suddenly doing this?
“Well it’s intermittent, but it can be indicative of structural changes, scarring, any number of things.” How about a surgeon poking about inside my heart with wires? “That would do it”
Fourth thought, how do you fix it?
“That’s up to your cardiologist.”
They gave me copies of everything and told me to go to my cardiologist in London. So until Thursday (his next clinic, which the hospital were awesome enough to squeeze me into) I’m left unable to walk across a room without getting breathless, with blood backing up all around my body causing swollen feet and trouble breathing, and an unimaginable fatigue. But I am used to dealing with my heart being an idiot. I learned to deal with it a long time ago. The other stuff that was bringing me to my knees, the other stuff that was making me so unwell and was, I thought, the most immediate problem… That’s still running along in the background. By itself it was enough to leave me bedbound. Thankfully right now it has been overshadowed. Unfortunately, so has every other thought.
I keep trying to revise, to try and focus, but I can’t. Second degree heart block and, apparently, second degree mind block. But it’s good (not the fact that I can’t focus, obviously that’s beyond a pain in the butt), I suddenly feel an overwhelming calm. Is it my brain giving in? No. Is it acceptance? Not in the usual sense, no, but in a different way. Although it’t name changes frequently, my heart issues are a devil I have grown to know well, and I guess I only fear the unknown. (And snakes. Because nope.) It’s nice to have something that a lot of other people have for once instead of something confusing and unique and practically unheard of. Maybe for once I am conventionally unconventional (hopefully the cause of the whole thing is also as conventional and understood as the diagnosis). And I think I like that. Because it sounds an awful lot easier to fix.