Well it’s the last day of 2015 so I thought I would recap the year’s events. I started out the year having yet another episode of atrial fibrillation on January 18th. And then I had another one on February 3rd. At the time my afib episodes were occurring quit regularly – anywhere from once every week to every three weeks.
Blood Thinners (Eliquis) & The Catheter Ablation
About two weeks after that February episode I started taking a blood thinner for the first time ever in preparation of my ablation. I took 5mg of Eliquis, twice daily. I was really freaking out because I had no idea what to expect. I was worried I was going to have all kinds of crazy side effects or I’d get into an accident or something and bleed to death. Fortunately, it wasn’t a big deal at all. I didn’t have any side effects and I didn’t experience any kind of bleeding issues.
Then on March 5th it was time for the big day – my catheter ablation. I wasn’t scared at all about the procedure itself. I knew I was in great hands with Dr. Natale. However, I was worried about any potential pain I might experience afterwards. I was also worried about the resting period after the ablation – the six hours you have to lie “still” after the procedure so your groin sites don’t bleed.
Once again I was very fortunate. There was ZERO pain afterwards and the resting period was nothing. Lying “still” simply meant you couldn’t bend your legs or move around. Imagine someone telling you that you had to lie down on your back and watch TV for six hours. No big deal, right? I suppose if you have a bad back or something it would be a big deal but otherwise it was absolutely nothing to get worked up over.
The ablation went about as smooth as one can go as I didn’t have any complications, pain, or side effects. It was a total breeze.
The 3-Month Blanking Period
Immediately after the ablation the 3-month blanking period started. This is the time it takes your heart to heal after the procedure. It’s very common for people to have to take drugs during the blanking period such as antiarrhythmics to keep the heart in normal sinus rhythm (NSR). It’s also common to have to stay on a blood thinner such as Eliquis during the entire blanking period.
Once again I was very fortunate. Things went so well during the blanking period that I didn’t have to take any drugs and I was able to stop taking Eliquis early. I had three months of total bliss. I didn’t experience any heart palpitations or arrhythmias.
The only thing I experienced during the blanking period was my resting heart rate was noticeably higher. I went from a pre-ablation resting heart rate of 52 beats per minute to my resting heart rate being consistently in the mid to upper 80’s. I didn’t feel any different, however, which I was pleasantly surprised about. You would think with my heart rate almost doubling I would notice it but I felt exactly the same as I did before the ablation.
As a side note, it is totally normal for your resting heart rate to be higher after an ablation. It can take up to a year for it to settle back down to your pre-ablation resting heart rate. In some cases it can take even longer.
Today, almost ten months after my ablation, my resting heart rate hovers around the mid to upper 60’s. I’m still not close to my pre-ablation resting heart rate of 52 beats per minute.
Magnesium Testing & Naturopathic Doctors
I spent a great deal of time and money during the blanking period working with naturopathic doctors to determine my magnesium levels and to find solutions to my decade’s battle with insomnia. Unfortunately, that time and money spent was mostly wasted.
Seeing naturopathic doctors isn’t cheap. I was dropping $150+ (out-of-pocket) at each appointment. The EXA Test I took, the gold standard for testing magnesium levels, cost over $700! The test revealed I was indeed deficient in magnesium. This isn’t unusual for us afibbers so I wasn’t totally surprised but I was shocked at how low my levels actually were.
I also had an RBC Magnesium test completed because I was curious how the results would compare to the EXA Test. The results showed that I was within a normal range. After exchanging emails with Dr. Carolyn Dean, an expert on magnesium, she said the results actually indicated I was low in magnesium (thus confirming the EXA Test results).
Even though the RBC test results aren’t as accurate as the EXA Test, it’s still an adequate test to get a general idea of your magnesium levels without breaking the bank. The RBC test was only $49! I advise any afibber curious about their magnesium levels to go the RBC test route. The EXA Test is just too expensive.
In an attempt to boost my magnesium levels I increased my daily magnesium intake (went from about 600 mg per day to about 750-900 mg per day) and I switched to different magnesium supplements. I started taking ReMag and Ease transdermal spray exclusively, two highly absorbable forms of magnesium. These are the only two magnesium supplements I take today.
I’ll be taking a RBC test in the spring of 2016 to see if all this magnesium supplementation is making a difference.
Insomnia, Sleep Apnea, and Muscle Twitching
The naturopathic doctors weren’t any better at helping me find solutions to my insomnia than traditional doctors. In fact, the traditional doctors were more helpful in that the drugs they prescribed were more helpful and cheap (but still didn’t “cure” my insomnia).
The type of insomnia I have is sleep maintenance insomnia which means I don’t have a problem falling asleep but I have a problem staying asleep. I’ll typically sleep anywhere from 2-4 hours and then I wake up. Sometimes it can take up to an hour for me to fall back to sleep – only to get up again in 2-3 hours. Consequently, I usually don’t get more than 5-6 hours of a sleep per night.
I ended up rotating through a few different drugs and supplements to help me sleep a little bit better. I rotated between Kavinance Ultra PM (a sleep supplement), Zolpidem (aka Ambien – 5 mg), and Lorazepam (aka Ativan – .5mg). I continue this regimen today.
I continue to struggle with insomnia but it’s not as bad. For the past few weeks I can consistently get 5 straight hours of sleep. And if I do wake up 2-3 hours after I initially fall asleep, I can usually get back to sleep within 15 minutes. If I can’t, I’ll pop a small dose of Zolpidem or Zolpidem to get me back to sleep and to keep me asleep until morning.
I also had an appointment with a sleep clinic during my blanking period as I was considering a sleep study to rule out sleep apnea. I wasn’t overweight and didn’t have any symptoms of sleep apnea but because there is such a strong connection between sleep apnea and atrial fibrillation, I thought it made sense to rule it out. The sleep specialist didn’t think I would have sleep apnea either but she recommended I have one done anyway just to rule it out.
In the end I decided not to pursue the sleep study. It was too expensive and I just didn’t feel comfortable about doing one. The thought of sleeping in a lab with a bunch of wires hooked up to me while being observed just didn’t sound like fun. My plan, however, is to buck up and have one done shortly after the first of the year. This is something that has been on my list for a while and I just need to get it done so I can cross it off my list and move on!
I also experienced some bizarre muscle twitching during the blanking period. This had absolutely nothing to do with the ablation by the way. It was just a coincidence that it happened during the blanking period.
For whatever reason, I started having muscle twitches in my arms and legs. It was driving me nuts as it went on from morning until night. The possible causes seemed endless. Was it because of my magnesium deficiency? Was it maybe from too much magnesium? Was it a side effect of the drugs I was taking for my sleep issues? Was it because of the lack of sleep I was getting? I never did find an answer but fortunately the twitching just went away on its own eventually and hasn’t returned since (knock on wood).
The Death of My Dad
Watching my dad die within a matter of hours was the biggest (and saddest) event of 2015 – and of my entire life actually. I was very close to my dad and he was my best friend. It was a very traumatic experience for me. He too battled afib and he ultimately died of heart failure. I still struggle with his death and the fact that he died of heart failure still has me freaking out about my own future.
I can’t help but wonder if I’ll die the same way he did, or if I’ll die of some kind of heart-related issue. I also worry about what my future health holds in general. I’m fine now, or at least so it seems, but where will I be 5 or 10 years from now? Will I be on drugs or will I need another procedure of some kind to keep my heart in rhythm? It all freaks me out. I never worried about my health much or my future until my dad died.
Rampant PVCs and PACs
Shortly after my dad’s death and about a month after the blanking period ended, I started having all kinds of PVCs and PACs. It was miserable. At times I felt worse than I felt during my afib episodes. It got so bad that I requested another heart rate monitor from Dr. Natale’s office to make sure there wasn’t anything seriously wrong with my heart.
It turned out to be “just” PVCs and PACs and that there was nothing I had to worry about. I had two options. I could deal with them or take Flecainide daily (or as needed) in an attempt to settle them down or prevent them all together. I decided to ride them out without drugs and like the muscle twitching, they just went away on their own over time. It was a rough few months though.
Today I’m mostly free of PVCs and PACs but I still have my bad days. Ironically enough, as I write this blog post I’ve been experiencing noticeable PVCs and PACs all day long. This has actually been one of the worst days that I’ve had since early fall.
What’s odd about them lately is they are different than they were this summer and early fall. Back then they were really noticeable and made my days miserable. Today they are still noticeable when they happen but they’re not as intense. They still freak me out though because I always wonder if I’m going to go into afib or have other heart-related issues.
Getting the All Clear from Dr. Natale and My Local EP
The year’s main events ended with my appointments with Dr. Natale and my local EP. I flew down to Austin, TX for a post-ablation follow up appointment with Dr. Natale. It was a brief appointment but a good one. He assured me my heart looked great (I had an echo done when I was down there) and that I had nothing to worry about.
After my appointment with Dr. Natale, I also met with my local EP. He too assured me that everything looked great and that I had nothing to worry about. He was the doctor that said I could take Flecainide to deal with the PVCs and PACs if I wanted.
While both appointments should have put my mind at ease about my heart health, they didn’t…lol. Because of my dad’s death I still continue to worry daily about my future. And having these annoying PVCs and PACs from time-to-time doesn’t help either.
I just keep seeing myself dying in a hospital from a heart-related issue early in life like my dad did. I know this negative thinking is the worst thing a person can do so I’m working on improving my outlook in life. It’s easier said than done, however!
My Overall Thoughts of 2015
2015 was very much a yin and yang year. The “yin” was my dad’s death and the “yang” was my successful ablation. One was very dark and negative, and one was very bright and positive. Had it not been for my dad’s death it would have been a very good year overall but unfortunately it overshadowed many of the positive things in 2015 – including the successful ablation.
My dad’s death really shook my world in a couple different ways. The obvious one being I lost my dad and best friend in a very tragic way. That last hours of his life still haunt me and probably always will. The other way his death affected me was it gave me a very bleak and negative outlook on my own life.
A day doesn’t go by that I don’t worry about what my future holds as far as my heart and overall health is concerned. Will I someday face even greater health challenges than afib? Will I die an awful early death like my dad did? I know it’s silly to think this way. After all, why worry about what you can’t control or what hasn’t happened yet? And why don’t I just enjoy the great life I have today and not worry about what tomorrow holds?
I need to figure out a way to put his death into perspective and move on. I need to work on being grateful for what I have today and not worry about what tomorrow holds. It’s so much easier said than done to reverse this way of thinking but one of my goals in 2016 is to work on that.
What’s Ahead for 2016
I’m really hoping things are quiet in 2016. I’ll be coming up on my one-year anniversary in February of being 100% afib free. My last episode was on February 3, 2015. This will be a landmark anniversary if I make it as I haven’t gone that long in between episodes since about five years ago.
I’m hoping that the PVCs and PACs go away completely or at least don’t occur nearly as much as they do. Like I said just a moment ago, they aren’t nearly as bad as they were and they don’t occur as much as they did. It would just be nice if I could go a few months without ANY heart issues of any kind – benign palpitations included!
There are three main “to do’s” in 2016:
1. I need to have a sleep study completed. I’ve been dragging my feet on this forever and I just need to get it done. I’m hoping I don’t have sleep apnea but if I do I’ll do whatever is necessary to treat it.
2. I need to work on being more positive and optimistic. I have a number of books lined up that I’m going to read that will hopefully help me with that. If you have any book suggestions, please leave them in the comments!
3. Finally, I need to work on fixing my insomnia or the very least come to peace with my sleep issues. I have a book I’ve been meaning to read about how to fix insomnia so I’m committing to getting it read. If that book doesn’t help I am going to find a sleep specialist I can work with.
If a sleep specialist can’t help me, then my focus will be to accept my insomnia and just make the best of it. Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, thrived on just 4 hours of sleep a day. There are countless examples of successful people who get by with very little sleep. If I can only get 5-6 hours of sleep a night, so be it. I’m not going to worry about it anymore.
With that I wish everyone reading this good health and NSR in 2016! I’ll be posting another update soon.