#TEDICATED – CHAPTER 3 –
CARDIAC ABLATION AND
THE ROAD TO RECOVERY
It has been some 8 months since my diagnosis of Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome. (see previous post) A lot has happened in this time, which have put a temporary hold on a few activities. This post is about my Catheter Ablation treatment, how it went and what happens next.
My already hectic family life leaves me little in the way of spare hours to formally dedicated to shooting and editing video material. I have used my free moments reading and learning techniques which I can put into practice in my next projects.
THE WAITING GAME
Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is a common heart condition which affects 1 in 1000 patients. It is congenital and means that sufferers have an additional electrical pathway in the heart which can cause palpitations and erratic heartbeats.
Following my diagnosis, a daily dose of 2.5 mg Bisoprolol was prescribed to slow my heart rate down.
This was to prevent any further episodes of palpitations. I suffered from overwhelming tiredness while taking these. I most often felt the effects coming home from work or in the early afternoons. I felt like I has no energy to do anything other than what was absolutely necessary. The tablets did work though, I could feel the odd occasion where the heart would start to beat faster, but the beta-blockers meant that the heart actually stayed at a normal rhythm. I remember a month or so ago, there were 3 episodes in one week.
Initially, I was told that treatment time would usually be around 2-3 months. I was hoping to be successfully “cured” before Christmas of 2017. It was agreed the best course of action was a Catheter Ablation procedure.
I had a follow up appointment in December in Bristol Royal Infirmary where the diagnosis was confirmed following a further ECG screening. I was then informed I could expect to wait a further 4-5 months. This coincided with the birth of our second child, Arlo Finn. To allow some time for him to settle in at home, the date was put back to 13th June. I was advised to finish taking my beta-blockers 5 days before. This was to allow the heart return to its normal state before treatment.
On the morning of 13th June, I made my way to Bristol Royal Infirmary. I checked in to the cardiology ward. Fairly quickly after I arrived, I was called in to the second internal waiting room while they prepared a private room in the ward for recovery.
I was shown to a small curtained room in the ward and presented with my hospital attire to wear for the day. This included a hospital gown, some gripped red socks and some rather fetching semi transparent disposable pants. My normal day clothes were put in a bag to be locked away securely.
After a short ECG, blood pressure test and a brief questionnaire, a cannula was fitted to my wrist. I was told how the procedure would be undertaken and told I was next in line. A few minutes later, the room was ready and I made my way to the operating theatre.
WHAT IS ABLATION?
The Catheter Ablation is a non invasive procedure. The Ablation is conducted under local anaesthetic and sedation. A tube is inserted into the groin and fed up through the artery towards the heart. The surgeons will use a form of dye and x-ray to track any irregularities which cause the arrythmia or palpitations. Once they have found the problem area, a high energy laser is used to burn/scar the abnormality. Scar tissue forms and therefore nullifies the issue. For Wolff-Parkinson-white syndrome (WPW) the success rate is 95% but does carry a low risk of complications such as;
Damage to normal pathways leading to requirement of pacemaker
The mortality rate for this procedure is believed to be <1:2000.
I was prewarned that I would be walking into a cold room, and they were indeed correct, the room was very cold. Given the limited attire I had on at this time, I was particularly chilly. I was ushered towards the bed and hopped up onto it to get comfy. Looking around the room, I could see a very large monitor to my left with a host of readings. On each side of the bed was an arm rest with cool, gel-like substance at the bottom. After a few last minute checks, a breathing tube was placed below my nose. It was time to get started.
I was told there may be some beeps and alarms that may go off throughout the procedure and not to worry as this is normal. The doctors asked me to lie still and I did my best to do so. If I’m honest, I think I started to get a little nervous and fidgety at this point. I don’t remember too much after that. I believe the sedative had sent me to sleep quite quickly.
I can recall a few moments during the procedure where I was aware beeping and alarms. My heartbeat fluttered on occasion. I believe they had triggered palpitations as part of the process. I could feel it happening, shortly afterwards, I felt a real tightening on my heart, a squeeze and a blast of pain. I let out a groan and I heard the surgeon say;
“It’s alright, perfectly normal, we’re working on it”
I felt some more pain and I think I remember hearing
“We’re almost finished”
The next thing I remember, I was coming round and they’d told me they’d finished. After I woke up a bit more, they wheeled me through to my ward room to recover. They’d been working on me for around 2 hours.
I later learned that I had actually slept through most of the procedure, but woke up during the actual ablation. This explained the pain I could feel, my goodness me, it was some pain. They applied some more sedative after that. I fell asleep again until it was all finished.
My parents joined me in my the ward shortly afterwards. They told me that the doctors believed the treatment had been successful. They are confident that they have removed the accessory pathway and I should be cured.
While I was in recovery, I was advised to keep my leg flat for 20 mins, then was briefly assessed. A short while later, the ward nurse came by to check the wound around the incision site (the groin). It was still bleeding so they had to apply pressure on it for about 10 mins. This hurt a fair bit.
Apart from feeling a little tired, drifting in and out of sleep for an hour or so, I generally felt ok. Apparently, I was making less when I was speaking. I had a bite to eat and felt much better.
A few hours later, I was free to move around, pack my things and prepare to leave. Getting off the bed for the first time, I was aware the extent of restricted movement due to the would on my leg, I reluctantly shuffled around, struggling to put clothes on and had to ask my dad to tie my shoelaces. I was soon discharged and I slowly hobbled down the labyrinth of corridors, heading for home.
The following 24 hours were somewhat of a blur, fortunately, my family were on hand to help look after myself. I was advised in no uncertain terms that I was not allowed to be left in charge or lift either of my children for the first 24 hours after discharge. This was due to the effects of the sedatives. Sitting around and not being able to help care for my newborn son was a little hard to take.
The next day, I was able to walk a little so we managed to take the kids to the park to let off some steam. On the return home, I did feel the strain around the groin area, a reminder to take things steady in the early days.
As the days have passed, I have been increasingly more mobile. I can walk normally most of the time and can climb stairs without too much bother, I get the occasional twinge in that area so I will be taking things a little more cautiously over the next few weeks. I was advised to not lift anything heavy for 2 weeks. This has nearly passed now so I am more or less back to business.
The bruise on my leg grew over the first 5 days, but has now faded a bit in colour and is looking less angry.
I have had the occasional beat skip in my heartbeat and a few moments where I have felt as if I was about to have another episode of palpitations. According to all my discharge advice and research, this is entirely normal. It is usual to expect the odd blip while the heart heals.
As I am no longer required to take bisoprolol, I think I can feel some of my natural energy returning. I do however, have a new born baby in the house. With the interrupted sleep that comes with that, I do still have a bit of tiredness, but I suspect this is not relating to the treatment or my heart’s recovery.
BACK OUT ON THE STREETS?
As the treatment date for the procedure was far later than I was expecting, I regretfully had to withdraw from the #Tedicated 2 marathon challenge I set myself around this time last year. Although I have been told the treatment has been successful, I will have a follow up appointment where any further issues/complications will be assessed.
Due to the nature of the procedure, total success can only really be determined once the scar tissue has formed and the heart has returned to its new normal state.
I should be able to start gentle exercise shortly. Once I feel confident my leg has healed enough, I plan to lace up and go for very gentle jog for a mile or so and see how it that feels. I have sought advice from other sufferers of the condition through the Cardiac Athletes. The key point is not to over do it in the early stages of recovery. The journey back to full fitness may be a bit slow and steady.
Thinking more long term, I will find out if there are any restrictions on activities I can pursue. I will then re-evaluate my goals before making any firm plans concerning getting back to more serious event running.
Thank you for reading.