Hello! I’m a 78-yr old Canadian woman. I live in Southern Ontario. I’m a retired public health nurse and I was a certified Lactation Consultant, too. Married with 3 adult children and 1 preteen grandchild. I have Paroxysmal AFib and moderate Aortic Stenosis. I’ve always been quite strong and healthy, and luckily, I’m that way today.
I had an Atrial Ablation done on Friday, July 5 in 2019 at a nearby cardiac centre in a well respected university teaching hospital.
Before I share my story, I want to tell you that I have been happily AFib-free for 5 straight months after my ablation and I feel great!
Jump Ahead To:
May 2012 – The Beginning of My Afib Journey
I had my first and quite serious atrial fibrillation episode in May 2012. I was in the ICU for 36 hours. At that time, we were experiencing a lot of stress and I know that I had been ignoring nutritious eating. I was also not getting enough fluids.
Prior to that time, I’d been on no prescription medications and had enjoyed very good health. Nevertheless, from about age 60 years onward, about 3 or 4 times a year, I would experience a brief heart flutter and a sense of “blacking out” for no more than 2 seconds. A quick hard cough would relieve it.
This was checked with a Holter monitor once per year but nothing was ever found. I’m sure that they suspected AFib developing. Oddly, after I was started on the prescription medications in 2012, I never again experienced that “blackout” sensation, not even during an AFib episode.
After May 2012, I was prescribed a low dose Bisoprolol and Eliquis. I couldn’t tolerate any of the statins.
I’ve always known when an AFib episode was starting. All were quite unpleasant, and sometimes I’d feel weak. I hated them and they made me feel discouraged, frightened and frustrated. Some were short-lived, others not. I did find Travis’ list of suggestions on how to stop an afib episode helpful once my episodes began. I also knew within a minute or so that they had ended. Occasionally I needed to be cardioverted. The ER staff in my hometown community hospital was terrific!
March 2018 – Initial Discussion About Having an Afib Ablation
I had my first appointment to discuss an ablation with an Electrophysiologist in March 2018. I was still very undecided. I asked him many questions and he was immensely patient with all of them. When asked, he did agree that weight loss could not only help prevent AFib episodes, but that it would also help ensure a more successful outcome to an ablation.
He booked me for an ablation in the fall of 2018. I then proceeded to go on what I facetiously called my, “No Ablation Diet,” which was more or less the Mediterranean Diet, over the next few months. I lost about 12% of my body weight. My BMI had been 30. It has been 27 since then. I’m aiming for a BMI of 26.
Better Afib Management with Dietary Changes & Losing Weight
I did far better with AFib control after I started losing weight and when I also made sure that I ALWAYS was well hydrated. As an aside, I never go out without a water bottle – not even for a short errand.
The various studies that support weight loss were very inspiring e.g. the chart by Dr. Prash Sanders:
— Prash Sanders (@PrashSanders) June 16, 2018
For most of 2018, I went several months without an episode so I cancelled the October ablation appointment.
Then the AFib episodes started up again in December 2018. I tend to push myself quite a lot and that trait didn’t help it. Dr. John Mandrola states that many of us with AFib tend to keep our “foot on the gas.” I’ve always been that way. I have never been a heavy drinker, but I found that beer or wine could trigger it too so I stopped all drinking. I replaced alcoholic drinks at suppertime with a nice grape juice or Verjus. Thankfully, I had no issues with a large morning coffee (1/2 decaf, Fair Trade Organic Arabica, using a French Press).
December 2018 – Afib Progresses; Time to Seriously Consider an Ablation
Unfortunately, the episodes started coming every month or so starting in December 2018. By May 2019, I felt so discouraged. I hated how the episodes would come out of the blue. It got so bad that I had a “hospital bag” ready in case I had to go to the local ER.
I talked again with my cardiologist and with my family doctor too. I figured my family doctor would pooh-pooh the idea. He’s brilliant, yet usually of the school of “less is more,” yet both doctors supported the ablation idea.
With that I researched even more. I’ve done tons of research, yet I’m always very careful about my resources. I saw the studies that compared long-term use of an anti-arrhythmia drug versus ablation and that ablation was shown to be more effective over the long term – without the known potential toxic effects of the drug.
I finally called the EP Clinic and they had a cancellation for early July, and so, I was booked. I canceled a summer trip we’d planned with our grandson. I was quite terrified over those six weeks while I was waiting. It would have been so easy to cancel.
Would I do it again? YES! Though I do know a few more things now that would make it all easier.
I had to arrive at the hospital by 6:30 am on that Friday morning and I was on the procedure table by 8:00 am. I reminded them (again) that I’m always very sensitive to all medications, including anesthetics, but I don’t think that was particularly heeded. Next time, if need be, I will press this point.
For the first 90 minutes following the procedure, I felt like a mummy in a tomb. I didn’t like that heavy feeling.
My procedure was 4 1/2 hrs long. My EP did it on his own. In most places in Canada, it’s the norm for this to be done in a teaching hospital, and so, residents almost always work along with the EP. I hadn’t been keen on that second person idea. Perhaps the resident was ill, or perhaps the EP thought that I was so nervous that he would do it on his own. Fortunately, he dealt with both the AFib and flutter pathways that morning.
After speaking with the anesthetist, and the very pleasant nurses for a few seconds, I felt absolutely NOTHING for the 4 1/2 hours of the procedure.
I was returned to the clinic resting area by 12:30 pm. My husband stayed with me over the next 4 hours. I didn’t like the heavy feeling that I had for that first period, but after that it was fine. I did not feel like listening to my iPod or reading as I’d planned. I lay quietly, rather bored if anything, and sipped some fluids and rested. No pain. No catheter and they didn’t have to tilt my bed to offer a bedpan either.
Before I was allowed to get up, they disconnected an IV or two, and the monitor. I also had an arterial line in my right wrist. That hurt a lot while being removed because of the extremely firm pressure needed. I walked to the bathroom a couple of times and was told I could go home just before 5:00 pm on that Friday.
A Trip to the ER After Being Discharged From the Hospital
My husband took me downstairs in a wheelchair and before we even hit the front door, I felt faint and dizzy. I suspect it was an emotional and physiological reaction to everything. The EP clinic closes at 7:00 pm and they couldn’t take me back, so I was sent to their ER with an AFib episode.
There’s a nice café at the hospital, and I think if we’d gone there first before trying to leave for a half hour or so, that this wouldn’t have happened. I wish they would keep people overnight, but this doesn’t seem to be the norm anymore in Canada after an ablation.
From 5:00 pm until 6:00 am in the ER, it was hard. This is a very busy inner city hospital so it was extremely busy on a Friday evening. Many people who came in had far more dynamic needs (physical and social) than those in the community hospital to which we usually go.
I spent most of the night in a staff hallway with the busy staff lounge door opposite my stretcher. It was noisy with staff and police officers walking by and chatting all night. I also had a Cat Scan at 1:30 am. Little sleep. No pain at all, just exhausted and still apprehensive.
Early the next morning, I was transferred to the cardio floor and it was reassuring and comfortable there. The EP who discharged me around 10:00 am told me that had I complained about anything that they would have kept me overnight – though I don’t know if that would have been in a dedicated area OR in another hallway!
Drugs I Was Prescribed at Discharge & My Experiences with Them
On discharge right after the ablation, my EP gave me a prescription for Colchicine – a gout drug. I DO NOT have gout. Some ablation studies postulate that this drug can help prevent inflammation of the heart tissue – which in turn can cause scarring and then more AFib. I also had to take two other drugs to protect my stomach from this specific drug. I was to take a dosage of 0.6 mg of the Colchicine for a few weeks.
By mid-morning on that Saturday, we drove home which was about 20 minutes away. I was utterly exhausted. I had two hours of sleep in the ER hallway the night before and only about four hours prior to the procedure due to apprehension. Likely I was somewhat dehydrated and certainly still affected by all that had happened.
Within four hours, another AFib episode started up. At 6:00 pm we went to our local ER. I suspect that had I not been discharged so early the day before that this would not have happened either. They couldn’t cardiovert me because I’d been off the Eliquis for 24 hours for the procedure so the ER cardiologist prescribed Amiodarone to be taken for two months. I was not happy about that!
Things went far better, however, and by Monday morning I was discharged. I felt pretty good. On Monday, my alert and conscientious pharmacist suggested I reduce my Bisoprolol by half (to 1.25 mg) because the Amiodarone could interact very negatively with the Bisoprolol. I cut it back right away and saw my own regular cardiologist the next morning. He agreed with that decision.
By the way, he kindly shared that it’s normal for many people to feel rather low and rather depressed for 3-4 weeks after an AFib ablation. He compared it to the “baby blues”; the anticipation, the experience, the discomfort, and the continued apprehension.
By Tuesday, however, I started to become nauseated. That seemed odd. This nausea became far worse as the day went on and I also had increasing diarrhea. The diarrhea became horrible by Thursday. I was weak, not eating much, and I could visualize myself becoming extremely ill.
On Friday, I emailed my cardiologist and he said to stop the Colchicine. Being stubborn and creative, and also wanting that extra “hoped for” healing protection, I decided to stop it for a day and then resume it at a half dose of 0.3 mg.
I was OK on Sunday, but by the next day the nausea and diarrhea started up again. My cardiologist insisted (by email) that I STOP it entirely. I did and quite quickly felt much better.
When I’d felt so yucky from it, I read online that people over the age of 70 should only receive a half dose of Colchicine (i.e. 0.3 mg). Its toxic effects can be quite bad for some people and the literature says to STOP if any of them occur. During those few days I lost about 7 lbs because of the nausea and diarrhea.
The Initial Days of My Ablation Recovery
I ate very little – mostly homemade electrolyte drinks, homemade applesauce, oatmeal and homemade broth. My throat wasn’t too bad, a mild irritation that was relieved with DelMonte fruit juice popsicles (delicious) and the odd lozenge.
I didn’t have the energy I usually have, yet all along I was fully able to handle all of the steps in our 4-level back split home. A bit of chest discomfort – little pinches for a month or so. I found that was relieved with a flat non-electric heating pad. A tiny bit of groin discomfort at first, but I had virtually no bruising in my groins. A few moderately hard groin pains for just one night about a month later. Never again after that.
My EP has a super reputation and I sense that he has done a great job. A quiet and kind East Indian man, who is thorough and utterly meticulous in his manner.
I made it easier for myself to climb onto the high mattress at first by carefully stacking some large coffee table books beside my bed. I did that before the procedure. That worked well!
My entire inside right forearm where the arterial line had been was extremely bruised and a bit achy for a week or so. Gentle heat helped that too. It was fine within a couple of weeks. I was able to make a meal after a few days and could do the odd task just fine. I took it easy and paced myself.
Yet I was anxious for quite a while and often thought to myself about the ablation, “Yikes, I agreed to that???” I was anxious the first couple of weeks when going to bed at night thinking, “What if something happens during the night?” NOTHING ever happened.
Fortunately, we have a kind and understanding family doctor who prescribed me Ativan (0.5 mg) as needed. That helped if I was feeling particularly nervous. Sometimes I slept in the living room for the first week or two because oddly, I felt less anxious there. That feeling passed in time.
A Word of Caution About Taking Iodine When Taking Amiodarone
I learned to avoid any supplemental IODINE product if taking Amiodarone. I’m a “Foodie” and cook from scratch, buy mostly from local farmers, and we don’t use iodized table salt. We’ve made up for the potential missing iodine by taking a scant 1/2 tsp of dulse flakes each day for the past few years. That represents about 60% of the required daily amount (RDA) of iodine.
Fortunately for me, I inadvertently didn’t take the dulse flakes too often after the ablation when I was taking the Amiodarone because one day I read that the Amiodarone contains 100 times (not a typo) the iodine we need each day! I was horrified. Not good for the thyroid if taking dulse flakes too.
I plan to write the pharmaceutical company to recommend that they indicate something about iodine on the Amiodarone bottles. I suspect that many more people these days are eating/taking some form of seaweed product. I will write Health Canada too.
Within five weeks I did pretty much whatever I wanted to do. Outings, short hikes, light gardening, cooking, and housework. Being older, I worried beforehand that I might become permanently frail afterwards. That did NOT happen. I still pace myself, however, because my M.O. has always been that I start a job and push through for 5 or 6 hours without stopping.
Life After the Blanking Period (3-month recovery period)
My resting pulse has been slightly higher since the ablation, but not by much. Prior to the ablation my resting heart rate was in the range of 57 vs 52 bpm. After the ablation and after the Amiodarone left my system (after 2-3 months), it’s now steadily at 61 bpm.
I’ve not increased my beta blocker back to the former 2.5 mg. As an aside, I learned about a year before my ablation that even though my FitBit could NOT recognize an AFib episode nor count the pulse properly, that my $60.00 blood pressure machine could easily read the number of fast and irregular beats AND I observed that the sound the machine makes during a blood pressure reading is different if I were having an AFib episode, an irregular and jumpy sound.
If I have to have a second ablation I will somehow arrange this post-procedure thing better. At the very least, we will go to the café for a while before leaving, or pay to stay overnight (although that probably isn’t allowed). If only there were a nice hotel next door!
I will take no Colchicine, and will have a few lighter meals put away in the freezer. I will also ask for the ablation to be done first thing in the morning and between Tuesday and Thursday if at all possible because fewer support staff are available over the weekend if one has questions or concerns. Of course, I will want a top-notch EP too.
As far as maintaining my current healthy status, I now heed what Dr. Prash Sanders and Dr. Mandrola strongly advise – regular exercise and keeping the weight down to a desirable level. I still take Eliquis and the Bisoprolol (very dry mouth at night with the latter, I think), but otherwise no problems with either of them. I also take Magnesium and vitamin D supplements.
I had my post-procedure week-long Holter monitor done at three months (with the tiny patch type, how nice it is) and the results were excellent. I see my EP in January and he said he may take me off the Bisoprolol at that time.
I hosted a full traditional Thanksgiving dinner for our family in early October, just three months post-procedure, and we are hosting 18 people here on Sunday for an afternoon family Christmas party. And I now often go quite a long while without thinking about my AFib or my FitBit. A welcome change!
I feel super and I’m very thankful to my EP, my cardiologist, my family doctor, pharmacists, and to the many online professionals and people who have AFib who write online about it. I also thank my husband, who unfortunately didn’t learn how to cook after my ablation, but who was a great emotional support, as were our adult children.
A big thank you to Travis as well for his kind and helpful support and your sense of humor. I laughed out loud when I read his posts blaming every symptom afterwards on the ablation:)
Editor’s Note: I want to thank Helen for all the many email communications we had throughout her afib journey. I especially want to thank her for taking the time to write about her experience and for sharing it with my audience. I’m confident many afibbers will find her story inspirational and very helpful. Thanks, Helen, and God Bless. I wish you many years of NSR!
If you have an afib ablation story you’d like to share with my readers, please contact me.