Heart procedure includes a spirited game of ‘bingo’

This column was originally published as part of my “From Where I Sit” series at in Towson Times.

The anesthesiologist warned me.

“If you are too sedated for the procedure to be effective, we may have to wake you up a bit,” he said with his George Clooney eyes, making sure I understood.

I saw my doctor and team adjusting the equipment. Then the room began to blur, and I was out, ready for my cardiac ablation.

For years, I’d had heart palpitations, or PSVT — Paroxysmal Supraventricular Tachycardia. Although the condition was not life-threatening, it was life altering. “Paroxysmal,” meaning from time to time, was the operative word for me, since the episodes were absolutely unpredictable.

The other large words describe a part of my heart that had abnormal electrical circuitry, allowing a loop of high-speed beating. A rush of adrenaline from excitement, sudden physical movement, or a seemingly unrelated event could trigger it. My normal heart rate was about 60 beats per minute. During palpitations, it routinely reached 200.

In high school sports, my heart pounded so forcefully you could see it pulse through my jersey. But it only lasted a few minutes.

Eventually episodes grew more stubborn, taking longer to resolve. Medications worked for a while; however, recent hour-long episodes included one heart rate of 285 (my personal best).

The incidents were exhausting, wreaking havoc with random onsets — during a Christmas Eve dinner, an out-of-town board meeting presentation, an outlet-shopping trip with my daughter.

I felt like a time bomb with a malfunctioning clock. I never knew when my ticker was going to go off and put me in an awkward, unmanageable situation.

The ablation procedure would destroy the faulty electrical pathways. A special instrument probe at the tip of a catheter would be inserted into my heart, trigger a palpitation, then ablate, or remove, the abnormal tissue. Since recovery was minimal and the success rate was overwhelmingly positive, I scheduled the procedure immediately.

As the anesthesia worked, I fell into a deep sleep — until the beeping started.

“Oh, hi!” I said to the anesthesiologist, partially hidden behind a machine.

I heard my doctor speaking. I soon realized that whenever he spoke, I felt a sharp tingle in my heart, a zap of sorts, not unlike a bump to the funny bone. Numbers were called, and then I was zapped.

“Wow, I felt that,” I said again to the anesthesiologist.

“Yes,” he said, moving toward me. “Remember, I said we may have to wake you if we had trouble getting your heart to palpitate?”

“Yes,” I answered slowly through the sedation’s fog.

“I have to get back here,” he whispered. “I can’t stay by your side right now.”

Another number. Another zap.

I decided I better let him go do his job. I was feeling too much already. The number calling and zapping continued.

Finally, my heart began to race.

“You got it!” I tried to shout. “Bingo!”

No one acknowledged me. They were all busy doing their jobs.

“All done,” my doctor finally said.

I smiled at the man, thankful that scary bingo game was over.

But I was never afraid. These folks were professionals, prepared for every option while refusing to be distracted from their work. Their confidence fueled mine.

Prepared, focused, and confident—a great combination for facing any scary challenge.