Arrhythm & Blues II

Waaay back in the early 1980s, I remember watching a female guest on Wogan’s chat show who had suffered from hiccups for some absurd amount of time – 7 years, or something of that ilk. I was aghast and appalled. Hiccups generally hurt me like a mofo, so their horrendous affliction of this poor woman made quite a significant impression in my pre-pubescent brain; the news that one could be inescapably plagued, without warning or cure, by such a debilitating, life-altering tribulation has remained a source of awe to me for many years.  My hiccups-that-won’t-go-home-horror has become well-known to my familiars over the years, and whenever I reluctantly undergo a prolonged session of the vexatious little fuckers, some cheery soul among my nearest and supposedly dearest generally roars ‘7 years!’ or the like at me. Cheers, chaps!

Not immediately apropos: I’ve mentioned here a number of times before that I have heart arrhythmia. A 24 hour ECG

and subsequent echocardiogram decreed me in possession of a perfectly healthy heart, that has some atrial ectopic/premature (I am foggy regarding which) beats. They’re almost always benign; everyone has them, most people have lots of them, a small minority are symptomatic with ones they can actually feel, and a smaller minority can feel them strongly and have lots of them. I usually have ~20 episodes of noticeable arrhythmia over a 48-hour period when I ovulate, and the rest of the time it varies lots, with no noticeable triggers apart from hormones. (I once – once – had a stress-induced, caffeine-stoked two hours with dozens of small ones, which was unsettling.) Generally, I would call 5 a day a bit more than normal, and a week without one is only mildly unusual. I find them unpleasant, but they generally last less than 7 seconds, and broadly consist of normal-babybird-babybird-babybirdTHUMP-normal. I find I have to pause what I’m doing as the shifting-backlog-of-blood-in-heart thump, in particular, disorders my breathing, but they’re transient and harmless.

Or so I tell myself. It’s difficult not to stress a tiiiny amount over something that feels exactly like you’d expect a heart attack might feel, only sans pain.

Still not immediately apropos, but getting closer: I have settled into an approximate 6-7 week menstrual cycle for the last year or so. Ovulation has become easier to diagnose: ovary pain, EWCM, LH peestick and arrhythmia all shout PRESENT, and period duly follows 14 days later. Except that this current cycle went badly awry about 8 weeks ago when I first tried to ovulate, and failed. Since then, 2 out of 4 symptoms have sporadically occurred at approximately weekly intervals, but at no point have all 4 co-incided. I had started to painlessly spot, then stopped, then started again, and was already seriously considering putting this alleged cycle out of its misery with 18-months-out-of-date norethisterone I had knocking about, when, last Monday night, my heart decided that it was time to kick off, big styley.

Out of the cardiac blue, I began having strong, prolonged, frequent arrhythmia. Not my usual fleeting fluttery-fluttery-bump palpitation, but many seconds worth of almighty chest-walloping bangs, liberally interspersed with stuttering, irregular quiverings. I’d never experienced  anything like this before, and they were coming between every few minutes and every hour.

By Tuesday morning, I was mildly concerned, and sat on a bench in the sun all morning chatting to my mother. By lunchtime, I was becoming quietly distressed. Despite being entirely cognitively aware that arrhythmia = benign, this was very far from normal for me, and I couldn’t help but dwell darkly on the fact that the heart is not precisely noted for one of the more redundant organs of the human body.  

By 3pm, with no cessation in the aberrant Hammer-of-Thor vs. Madly-Flapping Butterfly brawl in my chest, I caved to anxiety, on the basis that stress can make these things self-promoting, and made an appointment with my GP.  By 5pm I had been thoroughly stethoscoped, extensively pulse-takened (I’m in a mess with my tenses now, but let’s push on regardless) history-takened and cardiology-record-reviewed.

Upshot: I shouldn’t worry about it. They’re not sinister. I should come back – pronto – if the beats don’t return to regular, but stay continuously haphazard.

I lef the surgery in a moderate state of reassurance, and settled down to wait for this perturbing episode of cardiac capriciousness to subside back to the systematic.

It… hasn’t.

7 days from onset, my heart still can’t find its atrial arse with an atlas. I lay in the bath last night and watched in sinking, horrified fascination as an unco-ordinated series of incredibly powerful beats (I could feel my ventricles smashing upwards in savage leaps, slamming hard into what felt like my sodding epiglottis) both knocked the breath from me, and visibly jerked my (substantial, possessed of much inertia) boobs about.

I tell you: this does not feel fucking benign.

I have been theorising that unbeaching myself from the inchoate hormonal sandbank I suspect I was wedged on should alleviate symptoms, but I rootled out my old norethisterone 4 days ago (out-of-date, yes, but it’s stopped the spotting in its tracks and is evidently doing something) with no marked improvement except perhaps a little less frequency. If anything, they’ve got stronger, and last longer. I am also aware of many more smaller, subtler episodes that don’t feature a catch-up beat.

Said facts didn’t help me when, after a little judicious googling – always metaphorically fatal –  I read that marked symptomatic arrhythmia can, aktually, just happen. Arrive. Not go home. Not ever. The new normal. 

And that’s all, really. The medical guff states with dry sympathy that, although benign, the symptoms caused are upsetting – true, dat – and that the stress caused by them often leads to a vicious cycle of increased arrhythmia. In short, although it reeeeally feels like it might (y’know, what with the whole heart stop-start-bump-stutter-flutter-stop-thump-start thang): it won’t kill me. Apparently. My plight might be improved if I try cutting out caffeine (argh!) and alcohol (you think this week has been conducive to sobriety?). Decrease my stress. Learn to live with this new, harrassing, and seemingly tenacious botheration.

The first person to shriek ‘7 years!’ gets a hefty cock punch, or… something.

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