This is going to be the beginning of a series of blog posts chronicling my “afib journey.” My hope is that by sharing my personal experiences, others might be able to identify with them and realize they aren’t alone.
I believe my atrial fibrillation started in the summer of 2004 when I was just 31 years old or the fall of that year when I turned 32. I can’t recall specifically when it happened. I never made a record of it as you’ll soon discover why. And I’m still not certain if what I experienced was afib or not, but I’m 95% certain it was.
My wife was a store manager for a large retail chain and worked all kinds of odd and crazy hours. This particular night she was working the graveyard shift so I was home alone. It was probably around midnight when I went to bed. Just as I went to lie down, my heart took off like crazy.
At first I didn’t think anything of it. I thought it was just one of those odd things and it would pass. Well after about 15 minutes, my heart was still pounding out of my chest. “What the hell,” I recalled saying to myself as I got up and walked to the kitchen to get a glass of water hoping that would help. It didn’t.
My heart kept racing. I really started freaking out because I had no idea what was going on. Was I having a heart attack? Am I going to suddenly drop dead on the floor? All kinds of crazy thoughts were going through my head.
I was still standing and breathing normally, and I wasn’t in any pain so calling 911 would have just been silly. I decided to call my sister-in-law instead since she was a nurse technician. Certainly she’d be able to help me. She asked the usual heart attack questions: “Do you feel pressure in your chest?” “Is there any pain in your chest or extending to your arms?” blah blah blah.
I answered no to all of her questions and told her my heart was just beating really fast. She concluded it probably wasn’t anything serious but that I should call the heart hospital that was conveniently just down the road from our house. I told her I would do that and let her know if I needed her help.
(I should stress that my sister-in-law was very worried – much more than I was. She wanted to immediately pick me up and take me to the heart hospital herself but being a typical man, I declined. I told her it wasn’t a big deal and that if I needed her help I would let her know.)
I called the heart hospital and luckily they had a 24-hour nurse line so I was able to speak directly with a nurse. I remember having the same conversation with her that I had with my sister-in-law. I explained my symptoms and answered no to all of the usual “heart attack questions.” The nurse concluded it was likely an arrhythmia of some kind and that if I didn’t come in now, I should come in first thing in the morning if I was still experiencing symptoms.
It’s important to note that I wasn’t experiencing any other symptoms but a racing heart. I wasn’t light headed. I wasn’t short of breath. I wasn’t experiencing pain of any kind. My heart was just beating like I was running a marathon – except I wasn’t running!
I thanked the nurse and hung up the phone. For the next couple hours I just laid in bed staring at the ceiling as my heart kept pounding away. Suddenly, as fast as my heart started pounding, it stopped racing. It was beating normally and I was totally fine. I remember thinking, “that was the most bizarre thing I’ve ever experienced.”
My sister-in-law, God bless her heart, called me first thing in the morning to make sure I was o.k. I told her I was totally fine and that I had no clue what happened but I was good. There was no need to worry and there was no need for me to see a doctor.
The nurse from the heart hospital also called. I was impressed with their follow up and genuine concern for my health, but as I told my sister-in-law, I was fine. It was all good. She still encouraged me to come in for a check up, which of course I thanked her but declined. It was just an anomaly after all – no need to worry about me.
I never told my wife or anyone about this experience. I didn’t want to needlessly worry her and I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. It was just one of those weird things – like having a bad headache. It comes and it goes. Let’s move on.
And I would in fact never experience that again – until the summer of 2006.
I don’t know for certain if I had an afib episode, but certainly based on the confirmed episodes I’ve had since, and knowing what I now know about atrial fibrillation, there is no doubt in my mind that was my first “afib attack.”
When I have my episodes I always try to figure out what the potential triggers might have been. Although I don’t know why I do that because one cardiologist I saw said I’ll go crazy trying to pinpoint my triggers since it can be anything. And as I examine my episodes, they do appear to be very random, but I digress.
The only thing I can think of is I was going through significant changes in my life at the time. My wife and I had just moved from the Twin Cities area of Minnesota to Sioux Falls, SD. I had quit my job and wasn’t working at the time. If this episode happened in early 2005, my wife was pregnant with our first child. Can a guy go through any more drastic changes at once?
It’s possible I was under a lot of stress and for many people, stress is a trigger for atrial fibrillation. But here’s the deal, I rarely “feel” stress. I don’t recall losing sleep back then or being cranky or “on edge,” or anything like that. Sure I was unhappy to be in Sioux Falls (my wife’s job took us there and I missed the big city we moved from), but I don’t recall feeling stressed – whatever stress is supposed to feel like.
Other than stress, I can’t think of anything else. If my trigger was something else such as lack of sleep leading up to this episode, mineral deficiencies, etc., I simply don’t remember because I didn’t record anything. I thought this episode was just one of “those things” and I would never experience it again so I didn’t take notes.
That would all change in the summer of 2006. From there forward, I would be taking copious notes of my episodes in an attempt to figure out my triggers.