Under the Knife?

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted a blog, but it occurred to me last night that I might have something worthwhile to blog about because on Friday I am to undergo a heart operation. Granted this isn’t major surgery and the medical profession tactfully describe it as a “procedure”, but it does involve the insertion of a catheter into my heart in order to do some damage to it!

You probably might think that I am the last person you would expect to have a heart problem. But, this isn’t coronary heart disease, the type associated with obesity, bad diet and smoking! No, my problem is an erratic heartbeat (technical name for my condition is paroxysmal atrial fibrillation); my heart’s tendency to beat out of control triggered by vigorous exercise and for it to beat irregularly from time to time. (Quite scary and disconcerting when you don’t know what’s going on.)

You can imagine, doing as much running as I do that this has a massive impact for me. Apparently this condition is not uncommon among elite athletes which is cold comfort and knowing it doesn’t really help. Drugs designed to slow and calm my heart worked initially but over time they have become less effective and since they have the outcome of limiting my heart rate, they severely impair my athletic performance (i.e. make me slower). The prospect is more and more drugs (or poison as my doctor calls them), hence the operation.

I have also agreed to take part in some research. They aren’t doing anything different with regards the treatment, but they are doing more tests before, during and afterwards. One thing I did this week was to undergo an MRI scan and this was fascinating. I wouldn’t say this was the most comfortable experience but the machine was fantastic. The MRI scanner really feels like something out of science-fiction and it uses exotic physics – technology that would be at home in the LHC at CERN! The magnetic coils are cooled by liquid helium to such an extent that they become superconductors. The person operating the machine told me that if you brought a ferrous metal object (say a pen) into room, it would be snatched out of your hand and shot like a missile toward the scanner, just like a giant magnet in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. All this, to take a 3D image of my heart: amazing. I was in the machine for about one hour and after a while it got a bit tedious so I was glad to get out but felt extremely privileged to have all this technology helping to make me well.

So how do I feel about the prospect of the operation (cardiac ablation)? Well obviously I’m a bit nervous. Having a catheter inserted into my heart so that radio energy can be directed to destroy electrical connections isn’t something I particularly relish. However I am really looking forward to the prospect of this journey being over, having not to take heart drugs anymore would be amazing. For the fast few months I have been taking Warfarin and anyone reading this who has ever taken it will understand. This drug reduces your blood clotting capability so you have to be really careful. It limits the amount of alcohol you can drink (no bad thing I guess) and interacts with loads of other drugs so you have to be really careful what you take. Oh, and you had better not bump your head because if you do, you are supposed to go straight to A and E! The beta-blockers that I have been taking for some time make it like you are running with lead boots on. All in all it makes me understand how precious good health is.

I really hope that the procedure on Friday will do the job and cure my heart arrhythmia. I am actually looking forward to it because of the prospect of the freedom it could mean. My Christian faith in God helps me not to fear because I know that whatever happens He is in charge and is with me all the way. I know lots of people are praying for me and this gives me comfort and encouragement. I know that there are lots of people with much more serious health problems and I pray for them. Finally I have trust in the Cardiology team at Leeds General Infirmary because they have filled me with confidence and I think they are amazing.

I’m in LGI from Friday 9th January to Saturday morning – I will do an update.

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