Thursday, February 18, 2010

weird adventures of the heart rate kind

The last evening of 2009, I felt weird, my heart was beating kind-of-fast. I took a hot bath and threw in some dead sea salts because they relax me. I got out of the tub feeling better and went to sleep.

I awoke about 2 AM with my heart racing. I had not had a nightmare. I got out our blood pressure wrist gadget which also measures heart rate. 133 beats per minute. I lay there hoping my heart would calm down and let me go back to sleep. An hour later, my heart was still racing and I felt sick. I asked my husband, the alien, to call a cab to take me to the emergency room.

The only other time I asked him to take me to a hospital was when I was in labor with our first child. During that visit, I learned that the hospital could do nothing to help me. They didn't give me pain killers and I had to deal with rude nurses. We didn't bother with the hospital for our second child.

For that hospital trip, we had to borrow a car, because ours was out of gas.

Now, we don’t own a car because there’s no place to park. There’s also no place to park downtown. I wasn’t in imminent danger of dying – I just felt awful – so an ambulance was unnecessary. A cab would get me there and then go away. Perfect.

When I walked into the ER, my heart rate was down to 124, but I still felt awful. I had imagined they’d have a pill or a treatment that would bring my heart rate down and help me feel better.

They didn’t. Deja vu all over again. At least this time I knew I wouldn't be coming home with a baby.

The hospital had rude staffers who wanted to know if I’d come in for a free meal. Can't they tell the difference between a sleep-deprived employed person and a homeless person? I’d just spent more on that cab than the cost of a delivered hot meal. And I don’t like the taste of hospital food. I asked the staffer to please check the computer and see how often I’d been to the emergency room. This was my first visit ever in my entire life, but I did not expect to be believed. The staffer did not check the computer.

The next step was scanning my insurance card. I’d been in too much of a hurry to hunt that thing up. I offered to tell them the number. I punch it in at the gym almost every day. The staffer said he wouldn’t believe me if I told him. My husband had his, so they scanned that.

Then they got the blood drawing person who gave me permission to scream while she jammed an IV tube into my arm. First she hooked up a breath frequency monitor and an oxygen level monitor. I didn’t just scream, I also breathed frequently enough to upset the monitor. Most of the time I breathe too slowly (from all my yoga practice) and that also triggers the monitor alarm.

They took at least 6 tubes of blood (I didn't watch the whole process) and then hooked up heart rate and blood pressure monitors.

Nobody came by with a magic pill. Nobody did anything to help me feel more comfortable.

A doctor came by and asked what I wanted. I told him I wanted my heart rate to slow down. He asked what I expected him to do about it. I told him I had a fantasy that they’d have a pill or other medicine. He responded, “You said it. It’s a fantasy.”

When I got home, I went to the Mayo Clinic website. It says right on the website that you can slow the heart rate by putting ice on your face. Nobody at the emergency room knew that.

Staffers came by repeatedly asking me about my drug usage, my alcohol and caffeine consumption. And they clearly did not believe me that I have no prescription drugs and I do not drink alcohol or caffeine. No coffee, no black tea, no colas. No illegal drugs, either. They took more blood – I’m guessing drug tests. Nobody said why. And then more blood for a thyroid test.

Alarms went off, loudspeakers blared, people screamed. Emergency rooms are not relaxing places. Nobody even gave me that free hospital meal.

After a few hours, a nurse told me that tests were coming back – all negative.
They ran EKGs. They did a sonogram of my heart. They injected radioactive stuff into my blood and ran a lung scan looking for clots. They certainly have enough painful tests they can run. By this time I had figured out that they weren’t going to help me. I told them I wanted to go home. I’d been there 6 hours and nobody had done anything to help slow my heart rate.

The nurse offered to ask a cardiologist to talk to me. I said that would be great. I waited another 8 hours for that cardiologist. Nobody came by. I was allowed to drink water and use the toilet. But nobody did anything to help me feel more comfortable. They seemed content to document my discomfort with their monitors.

I made an appointment to see a cardiologist a week later – that was the earliest they could book me. And finally my heart started slowing on its own.

Again, I asked to leave. Another doctor came by and asked why I wanted to go home. I told him nobody wants to be in an emergency room. He got all huffy and told me I had just insulted his workplace. I tried to elaborate – not just his emergency room – nobody wants to be in any emergency room, ever. He stormed out of my room seemingly furious. One of the nurses told me he’s done that before. He’s not a resident. He’s a regular doc on the staff. I have to wonder if he’s ever been a patient in an ER. If he thinks we’re all crazy for not wanting to be there, he should try it.

I had to sign a form that said I was leaving against medical advice and that I knew I could die if I left. I told the nurse I also knew I could die if I stayed.

When I saw the cardiologist a week later, he looked at all the blood work and EKGs and the sonogram and the lung x-rays. He couldn’t figure out what had happened. He had me wear a Holter Monitor for 2 days. That meant no baths, no showers, no swimming, not even a sponge bath. For two days. I told him he was ruining my sex life. All those receptors on my chest meant I couldn't even have a tummy cuddle.

During the office visit, my heart got up to 110 bpm. The cardiologist didn’t seem concerned.

I told him I like to get my heart rate up that high, when I'm biking up hill or working out. Just in case I hadn't noticed, the cardiologist pointed out to me that I was not currently exercising.

He was more interested in my slow breathing. He had me take a deep breath while he listened to my lungs and heart with his stethoscope. Then before I could exhale, he asked me to inhale more. And again. And more. And again. And more. I figured I could keep that up longer than he could. My yoga training has given me excellent lung capacity. Eventually he got tired of the game.

I agreed to wear the monitor. He did mention that one blood test was slightly high – the potassium level, but that’s a good thing. Often people who have a fast heart rate have dangerously low potassium.

The next morning, Saturday, I got up, did a Buns of Steel exercise tape, like I often do, biked to my 90 minute yoga class, and biked home. I did not go for my usual half-mile swim at the gym after yoga. Swimming requires getting wet. We had guests coming over for dinner so I got their room ready. That meant lots of going up and down stairs. I walked my dog several times. I jumped on my trampoline.

When the guests came over, we went for another walk. We played on my balance balls. My guests suggested I write all this exercise down so the cardiologist would know there was a reason for my frequently accelerated heart rate.

The cardiologist didn’t comment. He said he’d get back with me in a week. I gave him two weeks. He didn’t contact me. I was still having accelerated heart rate spells, often at about 2 in the morning. And I was still taking dead sea salt baths to calm myself in the evenings.

I surfed the web and found that motherwort tincture is an old time remedy for accelerated heart rate. 15 drops in a glass of water, every 8 hours or when needed. Whole Foods sells a bottle for about $10. I bought one bottle. It works. I was sleeping through the night again. I timed the doses for 5 AM (when I usually get up to meditate), 1 PM and 9 PM (when I go to bed.).

I felt trapped by these herbal drops. It was like having a lifetime sentence. But at least I was sleeping at night. Then one day, after a few weeks of this routine, I forgot my 1 PM dose. It was 4 PM when I remembered it. I took it right away. When 9 PM came, I decided to take my regular drops even thought it was only 5 hours since my previous dose. The official dosage is 15 to 40 drops. I was taking the minimum 15 drops. The official instructions say “or when needed.” Taking 15 drops 3 hours early didn’t seem like it would be dangerous.

Plop! I felt my blood pressure drop. I had to lie down within minutes of taking that early dose.

I still felt weak in the morning. I did not take my morning dose. I decided I would not take any more of that motherwort tincture unless my heart rate went over 100 bpm. I checked my heart rate in the afternoon. It was up to 80 bpm. For me, that’s high. It’s usually in the low 70s when I bother to sit down. But it's not uncomfortable, or dangerous. I did not feel sick.

I took another dead sea salt bath in the evening, and a few hours later my heart rate was up again over 100. I decided to read the label on the dead sea salt bag. It contains potassium chloride. I took another 15 drops of motherwort, and went to sleep.

That was over 2 weeks ago. I have not taken any motherwort or dead sea salt baths since then. My heart rate returned to the low 70s a few days after I stopped the dead sea salt baths.

Dead sea salts are good for most people. But there’s always going to be somebody who is allergic to anything. I emailed the cardiologist that I'd found the problem. He did not reply.

I went to the gym. I climbed the 60 stairs to the 3rd floor two-at-a-time. I got on the stationery bike and started the dragon-chasing program. I chased those dragons up hill and down. The bikes have built in heart-rate monitors. I got my heart up to 141 bpm. It felt good.

1 comment:

  1. You know, it seems like if even 25% of all ER visits got treated as rudely -- no, outrageously -- as you did, people would be rioting in the streets. But I think most sick or injured people are scared and intimidated and may not even know they deserve so, so much better.