A Heart Story - (Part 2) Undergoing A Catheter Ablation
Wednesday, the 28th of February 2007.
The Catheter Ablation was scheduled for 4.30 p.m
and the nurse had told me not to eat or drink anything from 10.30
in the morning. No lunch, no water, nada.
With that in mind, I had a good breakfast in the morning with my parents at the hawker centre. Char siew Wanton Mee and a cup of tea.
and just before the clock hit 10.30 a.m, I sneaked in a big cup of Milo
and a couple of biscuits. It would be tough to go by without any
food for the rest of the day, but the nurse did give me permission to suck on my lozenges for a cough that I'd been nursing, and that gave me some comfort and some much needed sugar.
I was admitted to the hospital at 1.30 p.m in the afternoon and
had to take a urine and blood test before heading to my ward.
The urine test was simple enough. The blood test though, was something I dreaded.
Needles are better used for sewing and making clothes.
The technician was about to draw blood from my left arm, but I told
her I was left-handed and thankfully, she drew the blood from my right arm.
Then it was off to the ward.
I was given a bed next to the window, and even though there wasn't much of a view (it overlooked the next door building), I was thankful to have a little bit of the outdoors to look at.
I was also thankful that Kavin and my father were able to be there with me. They were a great source of support and comfort.
It was a simple room with white walls, a framed picture on the wall,
a red pleather easy chair and a couple of drawers by the bed. The number 5919 was displayed in bold blue on the wall above my bed, with my name "Foo May Ying Corrinne" in Courier Bold displayed right under it and 'Nil by Mouth' scribbled below my name. A CPR board doubled up as my bed headboard. I threw open the curtains to get in as much light into the room as possible and joked with my father that perhaps he might want to buy 4D with the number tagged above my bed.
My roommate was about to be discharged from the hospital. She looked to be about 70 years old and she was from Surabaya, Indonesia. Speaking in halting Mandarin, she told me I should have her bed when she was discharged because "it's closer to the cupboards". I smiled and told her thank you very much, but I really do prefer having the window. She seemed like a sweet lady and her sons soon came by to help take her home.
I was given a blue hospital gown to change into. It was made from a nice thick canvas-like material and it had an open back, where four ribbons could be tied. After changing into it, I kept holding on to the back open seams with my hands, trying to safeguard my fast-disappearing modesty.
the latest fashion trend - blue hospital gowns
A bunch of nurses dropped by my bed soon after to say hello.
"We're the nurses from the afternoon shift and we're just coming
around to say hi to the patients." How sweet. Just a simple
gesture, but it made me feel much more comfortable in that
Another nurse came by to tag me. A little strip of plastic-coated
paper circling my left wrist, carrying my name, my age, my date
of admission, my case number, and a little barcode. The last time I had a tag like that on me was probably 34 years ago when I was just born.
Minus the high-tech bar-code, of course.
Nurse Jeanette came by around 3 p.m.
She had an aluminium container in her hands and she gently shooed
Papa and Kavin out of the room as she drew the curtains around my bed.
"Hi. I'm here to start an I.V line for you."
I have to admit I was scared. I had seen these I.V things on friends
who had been hospitalised. They looked painful. How on earth do you
stick something like that into a vein?
I told Nurse Jeanette that it was my first time in a hospital and that
I had never had an I.V before. She smiled and asked me what I did and if I was from Singapore. I told her I was Singaporean and that I am a singer-songwriter.
She in turn told me that she was from the Phillippines and that she
had been working in that hospital for about 4 months.
Something about her manner made me feel at ease.
"I'll be putting an I.V cannula on your left hand."
Left? Could she do the I.V on my right hand instead?
I need to write with my left.
"No, sorry, the instructions are to have the cannula in your left hand"
I guess, no bargaining this time around. Shucks.
She knelt by my bed as I laid back down on the bed, then she tapped around my wrist to find a vein and got ready to stick the needle in my left wrist. I couldn't watch. I turned my head away and felt the prick of the needle and then the pressure from the insertion of the plastic tubing into my vein.
It was soon done, and with minimal pain. Jeannette had taken the time to be gentle and kind and I felt extremely grateful. "Thank you, Jeannette."
It's amazing how the simplest acts of kindness mean so much when they are desperately needed.
With that out of the way, I took a closer look at the I.V tubing
in my wrist. What an amazing contraption, I thought to myself
and the erstwhile medical-student-wannabe in me showed it off
to Kavin and Papa and took a couple of pictures of it for posterity.
really not as painful as it looks.
3.30 p.m rolled along and Jeannette was soon back with two other nurses who arrived at my bedside with a stretcher that had a pole holding an I.V bag of saline.
She handed me a small plastic cup with a yellow pill in it.
"It's Valium. Take it with a little sip of water."
She looked at me in mock disapproval as I got rid of the cough lozenge that I was sucking on. "You've been eating?" She asked incredulously.
"The nurse said I could have some lozenges..." I said sheepishly.
Jeannette shook her head.
I swallowed the Valium. Hmmmmm....
I guess that is the closest I'll ever get to taking a rockstar drug.
The nurses started the I.V Saline drip on me as I took my
place on the stretcher bed. By this time, my mum had
arrived at the ward and it was a strange feeling, seeing
my family members there in the ward, watching me get wheeled down
the hospital corridors to the Cardiac Lab.
I felt strangely helpless and a tad embarrased as the nurses wheeled me past staring strangers. I probably would have walked into the Cardiac Lab myself if it wasn't the protocol to be wheeled there.
Kavin and my parents followed me down to the holding area where we waited outside the lab for a couple of minutes. It was hard for me
to see the concern on their faces. I didn't like making them
worry about me.
It was soon time to be wheeled into the cardiac lab and
Kavin and my parents took turns to kiss me on my cheek and wish
me the best. It felt good and it was very heartwarming, to feel loved.
Once in the lab, I was transfered from the stretcher to a slimmer, padded metal table. The nurses increased the flow of saline through my I.V and it was strange to feel the cold spread through my arm and my fingers started feeling oddly cold. Another nurse put some sticky electrodes on my chest and hooked me up to an E.C.G so that my heart could be monitored.
I had a oxygen meter placed on the tip of my thumb and a blood pressure cuff was placed on my right arm. I remember seeing some stars in the air at that point in time. Was it the Valium kicking in?
I was soon hooked up to some oxygen through a tube in my nose.
The oxygen had a strangely sweet smell, like disinfected roses...
An 'ablation pack' was also placed on the left side of my back behind
my heart. It was a silver coated sticky patch about the size of a
bag of coffee. I didn't know what it was for at that point in time,
but now I know (thanks to Google) that it helps direct the radio frequency energy that is used to heat up the electrode tip placed in the heart, and that in turn, is used for the ablation, or burning away, of the short circuit in the heart.
The room itself was a pleasant pale green and white and there were monitors to my right and left and some sort of x-ray machine above me.
I saw the nurses get the catheter wires ready. They were thin, only milimeters wide, blue and orange coloured wires. Fascinating...I thought to myself, those things are going into my veins and into my heart.
Dr. Teo stepped into the lab around 4 p.m and started getting ready.
Within a couple of minutes, he reappeared in green scrubs and a plastic face mask.
The nurses rubbed antiseptic on my upper right leg and my left shoulder area and pulled my hair back into a shower cap.
One of the nurses pulled out a copy of my "Safe in A Crazy World" CD.
I was very surprised. Dr. Teo smiled as he said that they were going to
play my cd in the lab while they did the procedure.
It was so strange to hear my music playing in the lab. Part of it was
comforting, part of it was amusing to me. I was flattered that one of the nurses had my cd, but at the same time, strangely embarrassed to hear my own voice singing back to me.
"Hurry up and start sedation." Dr. Teo told the nurse.
(playing in the background) "I feel like a little girl, trying to conquer the whole wide world...everybody wants a piece of me...and I just don't know where to turn..."
Next thing I knew, I felt some pain in my leg as they either
injected me with the local anaesthetic or inserted the catheter into my vein.
I didn't know which...but I believe that the sedation kicked in soon after, because I don't remember much of what came after that point in time.
It is so strange to not be able to remember.
I very much wanted to be awake for the procedure. The 'kaypoh', inquisitive part of me wanted to know what they were doing to me during the Catheter Ablation.
But because I was sedated, I don't recall how they put the catheter
in my shoulder. I don't remember how they took the wires out of me. I don't remember how they bandaged my wounds, I don't remember much about that one hour of my life that was taken to fix my heart.
The only thing I do remember is feeling the searing sensation deep in my chest from two of the eight ablation targets that were done, where Dr. Teo burnt or 'ablated' the abnormal tissue within my heart. I heard the fast beeping of the monitors and felt the fast pounding of my heart, and then heard a funny 'zzzzzzzz' sound. It sounded like a tiny drill was going off in my chest and I felt a sear-like pain as the electrode tip burnt away the errant short circuit of my heart.
Maybe it is a good thing that I don't remember the other 6 burns.
I think my heart is trying to speak an alien language here...
The next thing I knew, I was asking the nurses if the procedure was done, and as I laid back on the stretcher, I saw an x-ray image of my heart on the screen, and before long, I was outside the lab, waiting to be wheeled back into my hospital room.
I vaguely remember a nurse approaching me at that point in time
to request a signature for a CD. I remember signing "To CVL,..."
and the rest of it was foggy.
"Did I sign her CD? Did I actually manage to sign my name? Who
did I sign it to?" I asked Kavin an hour later when I was back in my
"Yes, you did sign it to CV Labs, the nurse's name was Audrey
and you signed : 'Thank you for taking care me.' You forgot to add the
'of'" but you managed to squiggle a signature.
Note to Self : Never ever sign a legal document under heavy sedation.
Once back in the room, Kavin helped to feed me my dinner. I was
starved by that point in time and the simple hospital food dinner tasted SO GOOD.
Dr. Teo came by a little later to check on me and to let us know that
the procedure was a success. Thank God.
After dinner, my parents and Kavin took their leave. I was tired and
very sleepy. I managed to sleep only a couple of hours though before
being awoken by the nurse at 10.30 p.m "I have to take your blood pressure" she said...
It was hard to fall asleep the rest of the night.
My new roommate, a young woman from Indonesia was coughing
through most of the night. The poor thing had a lung condition.
And the nurse came by again at 4 a.m in the morning to take my blood pressure, pulse and temperature.
Moreover, I was supposed to keep my leg still for the next 12 hours.
The punctures in my veins needed time to heal and keeping still would facilitate the healing process.
No easy feat trying to keep as still as possible for 12 hours...
I was so relieved when a nurse came by at 7.20 in the morning to change my dressing.
I knew it was her job to take care of patients, but I wanted to hug her for being gentle with my bandages and wounds.
I felt so helpless just lying there on the bed and letting her change my dressings. I wanted to do it myself if only I could move. The smallest gesture of kindness goes a long way. I made a mental note then and there that I wanted to remember to be kind to those who are helpless and can't help themselves.
It was such a joy after that to be able to move and to get out of my bed and walk with tentative steps around the room.
... the little pleasures in life like being able to walk around freely...the little things previously taken for granted.
So I have no memory of one hour of my life, but I learnt a lot in my one day's stay in hospital.
Thank God for the little things in life.
Thank God for the gift of life.
Thank you God for fixing my heart.
So, I'm going to be taking it easy this next month. I've got three little puncture points on my right upper leg that remind me of those 3 little stars in the middle of the Orion constellation, and I've got one tiny puncture point under my left collarbone and with every passing day, the wounds get a little smaller and are now starting to fade away.
Thankfully too, the chest discomfort and skipped heartbeats are normal and should resolve as my heart heals, and I shall keep in mind Dr. Teo's assurance of "Don't worry. Give it a month to settle down."
Time takes care of a lot of things, as it will this.
Dr. Teo and I - post ablation
(Cue Celine Dion perched on the Titanic singing :"..and my heart will go on and on....")
O.k... that was super cheesy. Sorry. It was Kavin's idea.
So it will be a while before I hit the gym, but as my good friend Pam quipped, "Since when do you exercise anyway?"
I thought I'd end off by sharing a little something I wrote at the end of
December 2006 about the time after my last episode of palpitations.
It'll be like my little tribute, to the short circuit heart
that once was, and that hopefully, will never come back to bug me ever again.
dancing away in my chest like a machine gun
this pounding…shaking me….
this phantom heart….
every once in a while,
something takes it in its hands,
shakes it like a ragdoll
leaving me tired…
why not just rip it right out of me..
hollow out this tree
castanet of flesh and blood
why beat to your own time
slow down slow down.
I can only go one step at a time
my mind races ahead of me.
my heart tries to surge to that finish
line, pounds its share of
beats to make up for those that
I haven’t lived through
my body likes jumping ahead
perhaps my heart is just
trying to play catch-up
with my imagination
with my mind
with my goals that keep
shifting further and further
into some miraged future.
Mary stopped it right in its tracks
the other day as I leaned over
she slowed me down
slowed my racing
I don’t know what that means
perhaps she holds the keys
since she has my consecration
I suppose my heart is in her hands as well.
perhaps she took the quivering into her hands
and by some grace
by some miracle
caused it to stop
stop its crazy spurting
its crazy running around
this spurting gets me nowhere
it gets me feeling sick
it gets me starved of air
my muscles, fatigued from this
this vain exertion
achieving nothing in the end
perhaps that is what my heart is trying to tell me
trying to shake me out of my indecision
trying to shake me out of my complacence.
reminding me of my mortality
reminding me of my place in the mud
like an earthworm, laid bare in the scorching sun
with steady steps will I approach
with steady steps,
not running ahead of myself
like a giddy teenager
nor holding back my steps
like a scared puppy..
I will, with every beat of my heart
proceed along this path
strewn with weeds
abundant with prickly thorns
threatening to stop my feet in its tracks
to sprain my ankles
to bring me down
but I shall machete this mess
my heart belongs to Him
Maker of my heart
if you but transplant it to thine own.
does it mean that your thorns
your scars will be mine?
will I bear the pain
the pain that tore through yours.
I fear I do not have the strength to withstand it
to stumble through
to fight my way
to the end
I shall look towards your light
until I reach that day
where I can collapse
in your arms
and feel you holding on to me
for in my dying breath and in my frailty
you are my strength