I turned 63 last week and celebrated by going in for a catheter ablation the next day. This has become a fairly common procedure where a pair of catheters, or tubes containing instruments, are stuck into the femoral arteries in your groin, one on each side, and then threaded up into your heart. Once there the doctor performing the procedure will target some specific spots in the heart to either freeze or burn, creating some scar tissue that will hopefully stop the patient’s atrial fibrillation. This generally works well in about 80% of patients and I was hopeful it would resolve mine.
We spent the night before the procedure at the Cherry Hill Inn, a part of the Swedish Hospital campus where the procedure would actually take place. The rooms are small but adequate, looking like old patient rooms that had been converted for overnight guests.
I checked into the hospital at 6 in the morning and then reported to pre-op. Once into pre-op it was hurry up and wait for a while. But when they finally got to me it was with a whole crew. Within the next few minutes I had 4 people working on getting me ready: one on the computer asking questions; one prepping the catheter insertion sites; one inserting the IV port and drawing blood; and another marking my feet up where she could detect a pulse. Finally the OR nurse came to get me and sent Sue back to the waiting room.
I had been led to believe that I would be semi-conscious during the procedure, but the dr had other plans. I was visited by the anesthesiologist, his assistant, and the doctor while I was parked in the hallway outside the procedure room. Eventually I was wheeled in and climbed up on the operating table where I was covered in stickers to monitor my vital signs, laid down on the table, started breathing into a mask, and that was the end of it for me.
Next thing I knew I was climbing out of a deep well and gradually realized I was in the OR, nurses working on getting the holes in my femoral arteries plugged up, and trying to engage me in some kind of coherent conversation. I am sure that I was a less than satisfactory partner for them. Apparently I had missed all the fun. The dr told me later that I was actually in a-fib when the procedure started, but when he froze one spot it quit and my heart went back into a normal rhythm. So we are pretty confident that my heart shouldn’t play that game with me again.
The next couple of hours were spent flat of my back in the recovery room. After the ablation you are not supposed to move your legs for 4-6 hours, an eternity if you struggle with lying on your back. I had some kind of painkiller periodically put into my IV to dull the ache in my lower back. I struggled to stay awake in recover and kept drifting off, but every time I did my O2 alarm would go off and the nurse would tell me to breath deeply. Such a long two hours.
Eventually they found an empty room and wheeled me up and slid me into the bed. I had to lay flat with my legs straight while they performed this maneuver, and then lay flat for another 2-3 hours. Finally they let me up to go to the bathroom and then, around 5PM, finally get something to eat, and take a short walk down the hall. Spent a mostly restful night, except for the nurses aides who needed to empty the trash cans at 10:30 as well as take my vitals every few hours.
Morning eventually came, followed by Sue, breakfast, and the current shift nurse who briefed me on taking it easy for the next few days, pulled out the IV port, and finally checked me out of the hospital. I was able to walk to the car but opted to stay in it on the ferry since I was not supposed to do stairs for a while. It was good to finally get home and give my lazy-boy a workout.
I initially had some pain in my chest and neck, I guess from the breathing tube inserted during surgery, but after a couple of days that was pretty much gone. I had pain where the catheters were inserted but after a week that is nearly gone. I am left now with a massive bruise on the inner part of my right thigh and periodic arrhythmias that should go away within a couple of months. Walked a bit more each day, and a week after the procedure I was back up to 10 miles, and can now do a brisk 11-12 miles without my heart complaining and feeling exhausted. No problems so far, and I am very happy with the results.