Back in the saddle!

Hailstones on a sunny day in June! Hailstones in June!Who could have predicted it? Well certainly not my cycling buddy’s weather forecast: it has become something of a private joke between us that we should expect the opposite to what her weather forecast states!

Dressed simply in cycling jackets and shorts – given the sunshine when we set off – the unexpected battering of hailstones blurred our glasses, chilled our arms and legs and quickly soaked through our lycra! There really is nothing quite like the great British weather and yet I would do it all again, as today is the first time I have been back in the saddle since my enforced no strenous exercise ban for a couple of weeks post-cardiac ablation.IMG_3206

Aside from jogging alongside my little one on his bicycle, this was my first serious test of my modified heart-rate!  Was I scared? Absolutely not;  but I could certainly feel nervous excitement coursing through me before I set off!

It was a little like cycling in someone else’s body!  Bizarrely, where previously cycling uphill felt much like my Mini Cooper’s supercharger kicking in: with my heartrate speeding up pretty fast, today I felt a bit like I had borrowed an old four-wheel-drive: a bit sluggish to get started, with my heartrate not racing into its familiar speed, yet quicker to settle back to normal.  But then again, I could just be looking into things too deeply!

Looking forward to the next ride; albeit preferably (📢 did you hear that Petra?! 📢) without the hailstones!

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Fifty shades of creepy holiday!

Have you ever had a scary summer holiday? I’m not talking adventurous pursuits like cycling in the mountains, or kayaking on choppy waters; no, scary in the sense of creepy, eerie, weird, something’s-not-quite-right-about-this-place, scary!

A couple of summers ago, I thought I had booked somewhere special for our holiday in Tuscany. It looked special online, in a kind of fading aristocratic way: marble pillars in the house, statues round the swimming pool and perhaps the cincher; a hidden bedroom. That’s right in the library there was a door-handle disguised as a candlestick which, when pushed, opened an entire wall of books. How cool is that! How could we not book this place, with features reminiscent of a spy film? And how could we have known it would turn out to be more thriller, than spy; more Hitchcock than Nancy Drew or the Famous Five?

Things got off to a bad start the minute I set foot out of our car. Although we had already spent a week in a villa in the mountains – surrounded by trees and streams – I didn’t have a single mosquito bite and yet when we arrived at the special villa and I left the safety of our car, they descended upon me, like bees to nectar, or flies to sh**!   Perhaps my seemingly-chicken-poxed limbs, were a warning sign from the mossies:

Get back in the car, turn around and run…

And if they weren’t, perhaps they should have been!

There was a sense of sadness surrounding this crumbling mansion that had clearly seen better days. It was evident that in the past this had been a prominent villa, with wealthy or maybe even aristocratic connections. It was large, imposing and brimming with antiques, treasures and ornaments. Relaxing holiday with children, anyone? And then at some point the villa had been demarcated between a sparring family and also for holiday use.

We were shown around our quarters, which turned out to be the downstairs part to the family home, by the owner’s son and told not to enter one of the doors: it led to a museum which we would be shown around at the end of our holiday. A museum in a villa! How unusual!  🔔 Alarm bells ringing yet? 🔔 They were certainly starting to chime after a complete tour of our quarters revealed yet more locked doors!   Once left to our own devices, I had to take a peek: it’s like that don’t touch, fresh paint sign isn’t it, or a red flag to a bull.  Finding a key – foolishly hidden on top of a cabinet – I opened the forbidden museum door and encountered an eerily quiet, pitch black stone staircase. As I ascended a few steps – seriously, what was I thinking – I could almost hear threatening music as a horror film’s heroine takes tentative steps into the unknown.   Half way up, enough was enough, well actually the shadows lining the walls were enough and I ventured no further. Hastily retreating, I locked the door and promptly positioned a chair underneath the door handle, something I repeated for the other doors leading upstairs, with my husband looking on in mild bemusement.

Topping off this unique villa were the renaissance paintings lining our walls: nude men and women from a bygone-era, everywhere. The questions:

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Why are they naked mummy?

What are they doing mummy?

Seemed rather fitting, as their eyes seemed to follow you around the room, or was that my imagination spiralling out of control?  After all, if door handles can be disguised as candlesticks in a library wall, what could hidden cameras in bedrooms and bathrooms be disguised as….?  😨

As the week progressed, the oddness because quirky and the creepiness became an odd sort of charming, until I met Miss Havisham, sorry, the owner of the villa.   Her name escaped me, as encountering this tall, skinny, elderly and clearly once-elegant lady with waxy skin and a relatively-still expression; Miss Havisham was all that sprung to mind.

It’s not often that you wish a holiday away, but this formerly-majestic, now curious villa stirred all sorts of emotions. It was quaint, oddly charming, poignantly sad in its crumbling glory and mildly disturbing. So when the promised big day –the ominous tour of the museum – arrived, the alarm bells started going a little haywire! 🔔🔔🔔

Rather than taking the route from our living-quarters, we were led through the lady’s home via yet another staircase.   Heralded by pictures of Stalin and Lenin on the left and, get this, Mussolini on the right, I averted my children’s eyes from the ancient pornographic pictures on the walls; some cartoons, some paintings. Not renaissance nudes with conveniently-placed leaves, in this wing, I should point out! Yes, there was definitely a theme going on here.   And not your stereotypical old lady’s twee or chintz theme!  Never had the Miss Havisham similarities been more apparent: the is she a sweet and harmless or somewhat sinister elderly lady thoughts; the decaying mansion and – the icing on the cake – the museum!  Littered with objects, shadows and cobwebs, we saw ancient pages containing French and Italian (pornographic again!) poems, yet more nude pictures, countless ancient and treasured antiquities and something rather macabre I’d rather not recollect. Looking around with a mixture of fascination and discomfort, driving away from that holiday felt something of an accomplishment!

Cardiac ablation: my journey

I had the most irrational thought whilst under sedation for my cardiac ablation:

This is quite relaxing really!

Given that catheters were, at that point, travelling through a vein at the top of my leg to reach my heart, I think it is safe to assume that the sedative was doing its job!

My journey to get to that hospital theatre was not easy. Up until an hour before the procedure I was ready to bolt and hadn’t signed the papers. You see, I had done what we all know we shouldn’t do and googled the risks. And although this is a relatively safe procedure with a good safety record and a very low percentage of risk, those risks are terrifying:

  • Cardiac perforation,
  • Heart attack
  • Groin bleeding/brusing/vascular damage
  • Heart block
  • Stroke
  • Death.

As I kissed my sleeping children in their beds the night before and cuddled them at the school gates that very morning, I held them longer than normal and fought back tears, because worse-case scenario, according to the risks, it could have been the last time.

No-one forced me to get this done; it was a voluntary procedure. I had to weigh up the potential risks versus the benefits. And up until last November when I found myself on the kitchen floor after fainting, with a damaged front tooth, it was a procedure I did not think I would ever opt for.  Indeed, in the days leading up to D-day, the sayings:

You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t and

Stuck between a rock and a hard place

had never held so much meaning.  On the one hand, I was facing a lifetime of ectopic heartbeats: occasionally causing dizziness, rarely causing fainting and possibly, but not certainly, over time may, or may not, cause such a burden on the heart that left ventricular dysfunction occurs. On the other hand, this procedure could cure me, or reduce the ectopic beats; provided it didn’t result in one of the risks.

It was a horrid choice. But as I sat in my hospital bed and noticed the patient going in before me was a terrified girl; barely 20 years old, and remembered the few days in November when I couldn’t walk from one side of the room to another without blackouts, I felt it was a gamble I should take. I left the Consultants with one caveat: I did not want to come out worse than I went in.  If it got risky: stop!

Papers signed, the fashion show commenced as I dressed in their finest hospital gown and paper underwear (really, I had thought the baggy paper flatterers were the reserve of the maternity ward 😉 ) and had a cannula inserted in my arm for the all-important administration of sedative and pain relief.

Sometimes you come across people who could not be more perfect for their job, and the guy who wheeled me and my bed into the theatre was the perfect example. Light-hearted, funny and warm, he did a marvellous job of trying to keep my mind off the fact that I was about to undergo a heart procedure.

Let the fun begin!

This was no quiet tête à tête; more of a busy, yet calm gathering: electrophysiologists, cardiac physiologists, nurses and a radiographer. Cold sticky pads were placed on my back so they could map the electrical activity, coming from my heart, onto screens and countless electrodes were placed on my front. Probably the most physically painful part of the procedure was injecting the anaesthetic and then inserting the small tube, which the fine wires (catheters) pass through, into a vein at the top of my leg. Reminiscent of child birth, I squeezed the life-force out of a nurse’s hand as the small tube was inserted into my vein.

I had read that some people need a shot of adrenaline to activate their extra electrical pathways. As I expected, I did not. My nerves were so shot, my palpitations felt endless and so they mapped their location pretty fast and that’s when I realised the catheter was in my heart and I hadn’t felt its journey! As the sedative took hold, my head felt like it was swimming with a slight dizziness, and that’s when I had the vague, and wholly irrational, thought that it really wasn’t so bad.

Closing my eyes, for the next hour and a half, I visualised my favourite pastime; cycling. I pictured my favourite routes and mapped them out in my head: lanes, corners, hills, buildings, farm animals, dogs… and I imagined myself sailing down those hills and passing green fields. Over and over again!  As if struggling up a huge hill, I suddenly felt my heart racing; for seconds or minutes I am not sure. That’s when I realized they had started the arrhythmia electrically, via the wires positioned in my heart, so they could ablate the area of heart muscle it comes from.  With my heart pounding in my chest, it was even easier to imagine racing on a bike, although conversely, also a sharp reminder of where I was and what I was having done!  The next two or three ablations were different in sensation: less racing heartbeat, more intense tightness or pressure on my heart and then it was all over.

Has it completely gone? We don’t know, it’s too early to tell. But hopefully it’s improved.   Sometimes, when I lay down and all is quiet, I don’t recognise my own heartbeat: it’s silent, slower, unfamiliar! Some people have to go for a second procedure, only time will tell. For now, I hope it has reduced the frequency and in so doing reduced the possible burden the extra beats can place on a heart.

The next morning we were (politely) kicked out of our beds at 0630 hours in readiness for the 20+ heart procedures and operations scheduled for that day! Taking breakfast with three others; three of us who had had ablations and one who had had a pacemaker fitted, weary smiles all round, we marvelled at the wonder of today’s medicine and the amazing people who had helped us. And as I tentatively walked to my transport it struck me as incredible that less than 24 hours after a heart procedure I was on my way home.

If you are reading this and also considering this procedure, consider how much your arrhythmia affects your daily life and ask your consultant which risks are relevant to you. As what my google search hadn’t made clear is that risks vary depending on which part of the heart is being ablated; there are different types of ablation procedures for different heart rhythm disturbances.  From my experience, of course there are far more pleasant ways to spend a day, but the procedure was quick and I am told the recovery is too.  I am not on my surgical-distracting-bike yet, but I am mobile; albeit a little tired! And hopefully in the coming weeks and months, I might just find out that my arrhythmia has been reduced too!