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My ablation procedure!

It was early morning on May 29th, 2003 and I was walking into the hospital with my heart thudding loudly. My vision and consciousness were also winking on and off. All of this was normal for me, although it had grown much, much worse over this 56th year of my life. Doctors near my home in upstate New York had recently diagnosed me with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy in December 2002, but they hadn’t known what to do about it. I’d been desperate for help when I first came to see Dr. Sherrid.

At first, it looked as though I’d be quickly moved toward open-heart surgery. Then, after testing, Dr. Sherrid informed me that due to some nerve defects in my heart, the picture was more complicated. The traditional open-heart operation would leave me with heart block, completely dependent on a pacemaker. He said there was a chance that a newer catheter procedure, an ablation, would not destroy any more nerves. In my case, the ablation seemed to have some major advantages, so I agreed.

So the day was finally here. The doctors advised me that very rarely, catheter procedures result in sudden death of the patient. The risk was meaningless to me, a woman whose heart was no longer beating, but instead gulping, due to the extremely large obstruction beneath my aortic valve. I’d only survived the last few months on heavy medication by sitting, barely moving, transfixed by history books twelve hours a day. My heart continued to pound as I signed the consent form.

I was rolled into the cath lab, which looked just like an operating room. A large group of professionals were there. They all greeted me enthusiastically, telling me what a special patient I was and how pleased they were to see me.They only sedated me slightly, because I had to follow orders during the scans that are integral to the procedure. There was a lot of consulting over the echocardiogram images of my heart. I could sense the multiple catheters running up my chest, but it was not painful.

When all factors had been considered and the “real surgery” was about to begin, I steadied myself, for I understood that the shot of alcohol that would wither away the obstruction would probably burn. They gave me some morphine just before, and actually, the sensation was so minimal that my relief was palpable. A cheer went up from the staff. “A success! It worked!” I lay quietly, wondering if this was it. Dr. Sherrid, who monitored the echocardiogram throughout the procedure, came to me and patted my arm. “It couldn’t have gone better.”

I still had days in the hospital to go. The external pacemaker was left in me for about thirty hours. When it didn’t fire once, they knew my nerves had not been harmed and I would not need a pacemaker. My remaining time in the hospital, I proved a slightly unruly patient. I was just feeling too darn good to play act like I was sick! I found that I could even pick something up off the floor without getting the blackout. Amazing! Those little winkouts that had bedeviled my entire life just weren’t there! Unbelievable!! I’d only consulted 18 neurologists about my abnormal epilepsy, and here the problem had always been my heart! The same heart that had only released its secret when an echocardiogram had finally been ordered in December of 2002.

Well, this is mid-October. I am still blackout free. Moreover, I’ve been gradually weaned off of the heavy beta-blockers I was previously taking. Soon, I won’t be needing to take this medication at all. I know I still have a heart condition, and I still have some chest pains, but I am so much better! My heart beats like a normal person’s and the murmur that had grown to astounding proportions is gone.