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  • Martha Rasche

A Matter of My Heart

Once each on Jan. 13 and 14, I noticed my heart beating incredibly fast. Each event passed, and I went on as normal. By the second night and third day, Sunday, my breathing was uncomfortable nearly all the time. A home Covid test was negative, so I thought I was dealing with a winter respiratory issue.

Late in the day last Tuesday, I called for a doctor’s appointment the following day.

Fast-forward 20 hours, and I have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and given a bed in the ICU. My heart rate is a flibbertigibbet and jumps to the high 160s, with lower numbers between. After nearly 48 hours being fed multiple medicine and dosage options, my heart slows to less than 100 beats per minute but continues to hop, skip and dip in various decades. Any small exertion on my part still causes me to become winded and to have to fight for my breath. My inhales and exhales generally normalize a few labored minutes later.

During the most recent incident, though, a few minutes passed and I still could not regain my breath. Air wasn’t entering my body as fast as I needed it.

At the same time, a recently changed medication flowing through my I-V was causing me to perspire and grow clammy.

Desperate to draw a breath and cool down, I threw off the sheet covering me and the pulse oximeter from my finger. I ripped away the plastic blood-pressure cuff from my forearm and haltingly stammered what few words could get past my parched throat. I didn’t have the energy nor wherewithal to put my words into reasons and sentences, but I got the attention I needed: a respiratory treatment, a shot of morphine, a chest X-ray.

Turns out that increasing fluid on my heart and lungs was exacerbating my breathing trouble.

It was during this “fit,” of course, that a cardiologist happened to be visiting my bedside for the first time during my stay. I felt like I was acting up in front of company, but I also felt completely unable not to.

Sometime later the respiratory therapist and cardiologist stopped by to be sure I had adequately recovered.

A second cardiologist visited this morning. “I understand you don’t do well with your heart out of rhythm,” he understated.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, tomorrow this cardiologist will shock my heart, intending to bring it — and my life — back into rhythm.


p.m. That first attempt to shock my heart was unsuccessful. After more than 24 hours on another medicine — a "preconditioner,” if you will — a second try is set for tomorrow.

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