Heart-stopping excitement

Just over five weeks ago I happened to wander home early from work one day. While drooling in front of the internet, as I do, I got a call from my dad: Can you take me to immediate care? I think I have an irregular heartbeat.

Dad is a retired doctor, and doesn’t tend to bother worrying about health issues that aren’t worth worrying about. (If you were to ask my sister or me, he doesn’t worry about some things that he should worry about.)

Immediate Care didn’t seem to take Dad’s concern seriously, and—blaming that their imaging department was going to be closing in the next hour—brushed him off to the Emergency Room. The ER was similarly laid-back, and took their time collecting all of his information. The nurses and ER doctor seemed amused, almost, as Dad described a heaviness hanging around his head during these periods where he couldn’t find his pulse. He also described how he was lying down to take a nap, and then woke up because he felt like he was about to pass out. (Passing out, of course, is your body’s way of making you lie down.)

Amused or not, at least they did listen, and hooked him up to an EKG. Within a minute of being hooked up, the machine blared an alarm: Dad’s heart had stopped. And then, a handful of missed beats later, it started back up again.

I’ve never seen an ER staff switch so quickly from let’s listen to this guy and his theory which is obviously wrong to holy shit this guy is going to drop on us at any moment.

Protip: doctors think that, if your heart stops beating for any length of time, you will pass out. Period. If you haven’t passed out, then your heart hasn’t stopped beating.

Dad got shock paddle stickers stuck on him in a hurry. I’ve never seen him protest anything (in the “oh nonononono” sense) as much as those stickers—later I learned that those things are supposed to hurt like a mother. (I had no idea! Though that does kinda make sense…)

Once the ER was sure that they were as prepared to keep Dad alive as they could be, the gears of the hospitalization process were engaged: we waited a whole lot. (My sister, mom, and aunt got called at this point, too, and arrived before much had happened.)

There’s a whole lot of waiting in a hospital. So damn much waiting. Dad’s heart stopped more times that I could count while we sat in the ER, though he never did lose consciousness.

After meeting with a cardiologist, Dad got a temporary pacemaker placed that evening. (Keep in mind that they put leads down a vein in your neck, into your heart, to do this; Dad had no complaints about that, unlike the shock paddles.) White lines on the EKG monitor denoted when the temporary pacemaker triggered, and you could see his heart stopping ever-more-frequently as the evening progressed.

The permanent pacemaker came the next morning. Dad went home a few days later, and has been (knock on wood) fine ever since.

Only in retrospect did Dad or I ever consider the possibility that he might die. (Marin and Mom weren’t quite as dense.) Part of that is a credit to the ER staff; though it was painfully obvious when they got serious, they never did anything to incite any amount of panic.

Still, this is way too soon for any health emergencies. Watching your parents fall apart is the worst.


2 Responses to Heart-stopping excitement

  1. Barry

    Scary. Glad your dad is doing fine now. Completely agree with your last point.

    Thanks for sharing the story!

  2. GreyDuck

    Yiiikes! Glad he got taken care of, finally!


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