I only slept for about an hour the night prior to the procedure. It wasn’t so much that I was nervous, I was just anxious to get the ablation over with. We arrived at the hospital at 5:30 a.m. sharp. I should point out that the day before the procedure I went to the hospital to do all the pre-op paperwork and blood work. They like to have all that done the day before the procedure.
You just sign some papers and then they take a few vials of blood from you. I also had a chance to meet with Dr. Natale to ask any questions. I didn’t have any so I just told Dr. Natale to get a good night’s sleep and protect his hands between now and the morning. He got a chuckle out of that and assured me that my procedure would be pretty straight forward.
When we arrived at the hospital we were escorted to a temporary room where I disrobed and put on the hospital gown. The picture of me above was taken shortly after I put the gown on. A nurse came in to put my IV in and then the general anesthesiologist came in as well to give me the run down. A couple other nurses stopped by as well.
The EP Lab
Then around 7:15 a.m. they escorted me and my family to the second floor where the EP lab was. I hugged and kissed my family good bye as they went to the waiting area and I went to the EP lab. When I was rolled into the EP lab it was much different than I expected. I imagined this huge room with tons of computer monitors and lots of nurses and various staff. It wasn’t like that at all.
The room was much smaller than I expected and I only saw one giant computer monitor. And at that moment there were only a few people in the room – the three nurses that were prepping me for the procedure. Everything about the EP lab was totally different than I imagined. It was much more intimate and “understated” – and not nearly as hectic as I thought it would be.
The minute I was rolled in they went to work on me. They slid me from the bed I was on to a bigger bed and started putting patches on my back. Then they had me lie down on my back and within a few minutes they put an oxygen mask on me and told me to breathe normally. Literally a minute later the same nurse told me they were giving me the sleeping juice, as she called it. I had no idea they had even hooked anything up to my IV. That’s how fast and efficient they were.
Immediately After the Procedure
The next thing I knew I was waking up with a couple nurses and my family looking over me. It was the most bizarre thing I had ever experienced. One minute I was being told they were giving me sleeping juice and the next minute it was over. Two and a half hours had flown by but it only felt like a few minutes.
When I woke up I felt totally normal. Sure I was tired and groggy but there was no pain or discomfort. It actually felt like nothing had been done to me! I wasn’t even nauseous from the anesthesia which I thought I would be.
As luck would have it, we got the VIP room, which is the largest room in the hospital. I have no idea how that happened but it was a pleasant surprise as my family had all kinds of room to roam. We weren’t crammed into a standard hospital room.
The Urinary Catheter and 6-Hour Bed Rest
The first thing I did as I started waking up more was feel for a tube around my private parts. I was looking for my urinary catheter. As stupid as this sounds, I was more worried about the “pain” of having a urinary catheter removed than I was of the actual ablation itself. I fretted for days about it.
To my pleasant surprise, I couldn’t feel anything so I asked the nurse where my catheter was. She smiled as if she knew my concern and said Dr. Natale didn’t think one was necessary! How did I get so lucky? All that time I worried for nothing. Needless to say, knowing I wouldn’t have to deal with that made my day.
The other thing I worried about was the dreaded “bed rest” after the ablation. They want you to lie still for six hours after an ablation so the two holes in your groin where the catheters are inserted don’t open up and bleed. This turned out to be a complete non issue. For starters, I was so tired that all I wanted to do was rest anyway. I had no desire to move. I would have lied there all day.
I also found out that while they want you to lie still, you can still move your upper body. It’s not like you’re lying flat on your back looking up at the ceiling with your hands to your sides for six hours, which is what I had imagined. They just don’t want you moving your legs or doing any twisting or turning. Like I said, it was a total non-issue as I just lied there and watched TV and occasionally drifted in and out of sleep. The six hours flew by.
The only discomfort I had during the bed rest was my throat was incredibly dry, scratchy, and sore. They said that was from the breathing tube they put down your throat during the procedure. I’ve never sucked on so much ice before and Popsicles never tasted so good!
A Temporary Set Back
Just as the mandatory bed rest ended, something came over me. I was partially sleeping when all of the sudden I felt nauseous and light headed. My blood pressure dropped dramatically as well. The nurses came in and gave me some medication through my IV to help with nausea and something else for inflammation. During this whole ordeal I had to go to the bathroom really bad as well so my wife had to help me out. I swear I filled the entire jug they gave me to pee in. It was a total Austin Powers moment.
The nurses also called Dr. Natale to come by and check on me. By the time he arrived, which was only about 10 minutes later, I was already feeling better. He looked me over briefly and said everything was just fine. He assured me not to worry. Ten minutes after he left I felt totally fine again. This whole thing only lasted about 20 minutes.
The Elephant on My Chest
For the next several hours I felt great – aside from the dry scratchy throat. It wasn’t until the late-night hours that things started taking a turn for the worse. I’d say around 11 p.m. I started having some noticeable chest discomfort. It felt like someone had a belt tied around my chest and was pulling it tight. And yet at other times it felt like there was a balloon in my chest and someone was blowing it up really big. Eventually it just felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. There was no pain whatsoever. It was just a major annoyance and because it was so uncomfortable I couldn’t sleep at all.
The nurse on duty was giving me medications for inflammation and at 4 a.m. she had me get up so she could weigh me. I was five pounds heavier than I was prior to the ablation (183 lbs. vs. 178 lbs.). Obviously I was experiencing some fluid build up which is totally normally after this procedure. The nurse gave me Lasix and potassium at this point.
By 6 a.m. I finally started feeling a little better and was able to drift off to sleep for an hour and a half. At 7:30 a.m. there was a nurse shift change where I was given another round of medication and my vitals were checked. Shortly after Dr. Natale stopped by to do a final check up and to essentially say good bye.
I was originally scheduled to be discharged at noon but the staff was way ahead of schedule. Had my wife been there to take me home I could have left as early as 9:30 a.m. My wife and kids arrived at the hospital at 10 a.m. and we officially got discharged around 11 a.m.
Overall Impressions of My Experience
All-in-all the ablation was far easier than anything I had imagined. I worried about so many stupid things – mainly things about pain. I didn’t want to have ANY pain and I didn’t. I’m still shocked that you can have a heart procedure like this and not have an ounce of pain. Sure I had a sore throat and some chest discomfort but even a wimp like me can handle that. If I have to have another ablation I won’t have a worry or concern in the world.
I also want to say my experience at the Texas Cardiac Arrhythmia Institute at St. David’s was nothing short of amazing. Every hospital and clinic (and every business for that matter) should take a lesson or two from them. Every single staff person I came into contact with was super friendly and helpful. They were all genuinely concerned about me. My every need was met and then some.
And of course my experience at St. Davids wouldn’t be complete without talking about the maestro himself, Dr. Natale. He was kind, gracious, and just a genuinely nice guy. And the fact that he told me I had a very good chance of being an “one and done” candidate only makes my opinion of him higher than it already was!
What About My Atrial Fibrillation?
As someone with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation I wasn’t always in afib. As luck would have it, my last episode prior to my ablation was on February 3rd. As a result, I was in total NSR the day of my ablation. I was in NSR immediately after the ablation and continue to be so as I write this post. I didn’t even have a single heart palpitation after the procedure nor have I felt one yet. My heart’s performance felt exactly the same after the ablation as it did before – nothing but solid NSR!
The true test for me won’t be until June when the 3-month blanking period ends, the time it takes for your heart to fully heal after this procedure. I suspect I’ll have occasional runs of a rapid heart beat or even some quick bouts of afib during the blanking period as that’s totally normal. I won’t really know, however, if the ablation “cured” me until the year unfolds. Prior to the ablation I was experiencing afib every 2-4 weeks. We’ll see what happens after the blanking period ends.
The only difference in terms of my heart’s performance after the ablation is the rate at which it beats. Prior to the ablation I had a resting heart rate of 52 beats per minute. Immediately after the procedure my new resting heart rate fluctuated between 80-90 beats per minute. That might sound like a dramatic increase, and it is, but I didn’t notice ANY difference at all. I was actually shocked to see my new resting heart rate was so high because I felt exactly the same as I did when it was 52 beats per minute.
I’ve been told this will decrease over time but I will likely always have a slightly higher resting heart rate after the procedure. This is actually good news for people like me who have bradycardia. While I never had issues with such a low heart rate, I was never comfortable with it. If my new resting heart rate settles in the 60’s I’ll be perfectly happy with that!
What About Drugs?
Most people that have an ablation need to be on a daily anti arrhythmic drug such as Flecainide to help keep their heart in NSR during the blanking period. However, since I was taking Flecainide only “as needed” (i.e. pill in the pocket) prior to the ablation, I didn’t need to take it daily after the procedure. Of course if for some reason my heart starts misbehaving during the blanking period, there is a chance I may have to take Flecainide daily but for now I don’t have to.
The only daily medication I’m on right now is my anticoagulant, Eliquis. I’ll be able to stop taking that after the blanking period if my heart has been in NSR for the most part during the blanking period.