Jump Ahead To:
Let me first start off by apologizing. I can’t believe I haven’t posted an update on this blog for over two years. Shame on me. Buckle up, though, because I have a lot to say to catch you up to speed. This is your warning. This is a long post…lol.
The truth is, I’ve purposely separated myself from this blog and writing about afib because as time goes on and as I get older, my mortality scares me. I don’t want to be writing about afib all the time. It’s just not good for my mental state right now.
The good news is I continue to be 100% afib free since my March 2015 ablation! I still have to pinch myself that I had my procedure over seven years ago now. How time flies!
I imagine you might be asking, “Travis, you’ve been free of atrial fibrillation now for 7+ years. What is all this talk about fearing your mortality?” Great question!
I’ll be honest with you. I’m a very negative and pessimistic person. And as any of you with afib know, the fear of afib never leaves you. It’s a dark cloud that is constantly over you. I wish I could tell you that fear goes away even after a successful ablation but it doesn’t. At least for me it didn’t, but again, I’m a pessimistic person to begin with…lol.
The main reason I continue to be scared (and why my fear of afib has actually been growing these past couple of years) is because I’m in that “touch and go” post ablation period. Most people will need at least two ablations to put afib to bed for good based on what I’ve read and what I’ve heard from others.
I’ve also heard that a “durable” (i.e. successful) ablation will give you a solid 7-10 years before you might need another ablation. Well folks, I’m just entering that 7-10 year period. My fear and worry are as high as they’ve ever been. Every day I wake up wondering, is this the day the beast will return? My family and friends call me crazy for thinking that way and they encourage me to be more positive but it’s way easier said than done.
Faith vs Fear
What’s sad is that I have been spending a lot of time in the bible these past couple years, and I mean A LOT of time! We’re talking typically two hours of reading and studying the bible every single day of the year. You would think my faith would grow but it continues to be weak.
Through my bible studies I’ve come to learn that fear is the opposite of faith. Simply put, the more fear you have, the less faith you really have.
That truth really convicts me because I should have more faith than fear, especially given the Lord’s faithfulness to me since my battle with afib started back in 2006. He has always come through for me.
When I was “>first diagnosed with afib, it wasn’t a big deal. It had very little impact on my life. God protected me fully from the potential physical and mental effects of afib. I could write an entire blog post about this and someday I probably will, but the point is I could have been a physical and mental wreck because of afib for several years but I was spared.
Then when I would have occasional afib episodes, I was fortunate enough to be near a great hospital that I could easily walk into and have a cardioversion “on the spot” to end the episodes. And every cardioversion was completely painless and not a big deal at all. The Lord continued to protect me.
Then when the afib got “really bad,” He stopped me from making a huge mistake (being ablated by a very inexperienced EP), and instead led me to the greatest EP in the world to treat afib. The result? I’ve had seven years and counting of being 100% afib free – without having to take any medications! Again, He continues to protect me and come through for me.
And what is my response to God’s continued faithfulness? FEAR and a total lack of faith. How pathetic.
My lack of faith really convicts me. I find myself praying to God daily to forgive me for my lack of faith, and to strengthen my trust and faith in Him. I pray that someday I’ll be able to walk in total faith and trust in the Lord that no matter what I face, He’ll take care of me. I pray that someday I’ll no longer fear and worry about afib, but I’m a far cry from that right now even after seven plus years of being afib-free.
The other thing that convicts me is that it seems selfish and ungrateful to be worried and scared about afib after I’ve had such a long reprieve from it. I imagine there are a lot of you reading this post that are struggling with afib. You’d probably give anything to have seven plus years of afib freedom, and here I am whining like a spoiled brat thinking I deserve even more time of afib freedom.
If you are thinking that, I apologize. I don’t mean to sound like a spoiled and selfish brat, but I suppose the reality is I am. That’s the other truth I’ve learned through my bible studies, that by nature all men are selfish and are controlled by their feelings.
And that’s the other thing I pray for daily. “Lord, please help me not be so selfish and controlled by my feelings. Help me be grateful for everything you’ve done for me, and everything you continue to do for me. If afib returns, give me strength and total faith and trust in you that everything will be o.k.”
PACs, PVCs, and Heart Palpitations
I suppose what has also added to my fears is I’ve had more bouts of heart palpitations than I’d care to have. As some of you know, I really struggled with PACs and PVCs for the two years immediately following my ablation. I’m no stranger to heart palpitations.
For the past couple of years I have gone through temporary periods of intense heart palpitations. These periods never lasted for more than five to seven days. While I never freaked out over them, I did worry about how long they’d last or that they might turn into full-fledged afib or some other arrythmia. I worried for nothing because those periods of palpitations were short-lived and never turned into anything more than benign PACs and PVCs.
The other thing I’ve been experiencing this past year are several “mini afib runs.” This is a phrase I came up with to describe these unique palpitations. What happens is I’ll be perfectly fine one moment and then suddenly I have the distinct feeling of the beginning of an afib episode.
It’s hard to describe other than it feels exactly how it always felt at the beginning of an afib episode back when I got episodes prior to having my ablation. Except these “mini afib runs” don’t turn into full-fledge afib episodes. They terminate as quickly as they begin. They never last for more than 5-10 seconds.
I don’t keep track, but I have these “mini afib runs” almost daily now – certainly at least five days a week. Of course when they occur, I immediately panic thinking I’m about to go into afib.
I always think of this analogy when they occur. I think of ancient times when people would build walls around their city to protect them from their enemies. When enemies would come and attack, the people inside the city would likely panic wondering if the walls were going to hold. Would the enemies get in and kill them, or would the walls hold the enemies back and ultimately protect them?
The walls are the scars on my heart from my ablation. The enemy is afib. I feel like I’m getting attacked daily. The walls have held strong and have kept the enemy back so far, but how long will they hold? Will the enemy eventually break through? I keep thinking sooner or later the walls are going to fall.
Others Battling Atrial Fibrillation
As the owner of a relatively popular afib blog, I am fortunate (or unfortunate depending how you look at it) to hear from so many people around the world battling afib. I continue to get regular emails from people, which by the way I always I respond to even though I haven’t been very active on this blog. You can always contact me here.
Hearing how others are doing can be very uplifting but can also be a real drag. It really bums me out to read some of the things people are going through. Not just because I worry if I too will be in their shoes some day, but because I hate to read about people suffering. I don’t want anyone to suffer! I wish I could perform miracles and cure everyone that writes me!
But the past couple of years I’ve read more “doom and gloom” stories than uplifting ones.
A dear friend of mine has had so many ablations, she has literally lost count. She is up to five or six ablations now and she still battles afib. What’s especially concerning about her story is she has had all but one of her ablations by the same doctor that did my ablation. Sure, my ablation has held for more than seven years, but will I eventually end up like my friend? It scares me, and of course I feel for my friend. I wish I could cure her. I admire her incredible strength. She has been through the ringer but she hangs in there and strives to live the best life that she can live. I pray for her daily that God will finally put an end to her afib!
Then another friend of mine, Steve Ryan of a-fib.com, had afib return after 21 years. I was convinced he was set for life after his first ablation because he had done so well after so many years, but no dice. He has since needed two more ablations for a total of three ablations. The good news is he writes that his third ablation was smooth and he’s doing well (no afib). I’m happy for him!
But not all is doom and gloom. My good friend, Shannon Dickson, who is the owner of the Afibbers Forum, continues to be afib free after 20 years. I don’t even think he battles heart palpitations like I do from time-to-time. He was treated by the same doctor that treated me so that gives me hope and inspiration.
Finally, I just heard from Doug the other day that he’s been 100% afib free as well after his ablation seven years ago. That gives me hope and inspiration as well and I’m so happy for him. I wish him many more years of afib freedom!
Frustrations with Atrial Fibrillation Treatments
As I reflect on the past seven years, I’m disappointed in the lack of advances in the treatment of afib. Sure, there have been some advancements but nothing “game changing.”
We now have the promises of pulse field ablation, or PFA, but from my limited reading of the new technology, it simply makes ablations safer to do so that even inexperienced EPs can do ablations with far fewer side effects. Don’t get me wrong, that’s wonderful, but at the end of the day the success of an ablation still comes down to the skill, knowledge, and experience of the EP. PFA isn’t some kind of new ablation technology that guarantees better success rates over RF or cryo ablations in terms of actually putting afib to rest. PFA just makes ablations much safer.
Then I read about the promises of a flecainide inhaler. This actually makes me feel better than the promises of pulse field ablation. Imagine being able to terminate an afib episode within minutes in the comfort of your home by simply inhaling flecainide!
This is a promising advancement if it comes to fruition (it’s still in trials), but it still has the potential drawbacks of traditional flecainide pills. For starters, not everyone will respond to it. In fact in the trials so far it’s only 50% effective. It’s also very likely that people will develop a tolerance to it so over time it will stop working. And in the end, flecainide is a temporary band aid at best. By no means does it treat or stop afib indefinitely.
Then we had the development of collagen plugs. These have actually been around for a while now and they do nothing to treat or stop afib. Prior to these coming along, you had to lie still for about six hours after your ablation so the catheter insertion spots could heal. Otherwise, if you moved around too soon they could open and you’d bleed.
With collagen plugs, they fill those insertion spots with collagen so that you only have to lie around now for a couple of hours after your ablation. Because that recovery time has been reduced so significantly (6 hours down to 2 hours), the need for a urinary catheter in most cases is now nonexistent. This is especially good news for men…lol. Again, more good news but still doesn’t do anything to treat or stop afib.
I was hoping by now we’d have some serious advancements in the treatment of afib. Specifically, I was hoping we’d have some kind of technology that would drastically improve the effectiveness of ablations, or perhaps a new kind of procedure all together that would be more effective than ablations. Heck, I’d even settle for an effective drug with few side effects.
Sadly, not much has changed in seven years. Ablations continue to be the gold standard in treating afib, and their overall effectiveness has stayed about the same. And we’ve had zero new drugs to hit the market.
The Future of This Blog
I’ve obviously been absent from this blog for a long time. There are a few reasons for this, the least of which is my incredibly negative mindset these days as I stated at the beginning of this post. With all my negativity and pessimism, who needs me to be more active…lol!
But in all seriousness, it’s obvious I just don’t have the mental strength to be “in my illness” on a regular basis like I used to be able to. It depresses me to think about afib or write about it. I hate this disease and what it has done to me mentally. I wish I could be strong and inspiring for others, but I’m not that person right now.
For a great uplifting afib resource, I strongly recommend Steve Ryan’s afib website. It’s the best afib website out there. I admire his positivity, energy, and general outlook on life. I also admire his desire to help other people with afib. You can’t help but walk away feeling better after reading through his website!
Having said all that, I do have a couple articles planned for this blog that I hope to publish in the coming weeks. These are going to be articles that will allow you to share your stories, thoughts, and opinions. I don’t want to say any more than that right now but be on the lookout for them. I’m certain they will create a lot of interest (and potential controversy).
Finally, I’ve been coaxed by some of my readers to make a donation option available on my blog. These are readers who either felt my blog helped them one way or another, or who reached out to me directly and I was able to help them. Either way, they wanted to know if there was a way they could “give back” as an appreciation. Up until now there wasn’t a way to make a donation, but I’ve decided to start taking donations to help support this blog. Feel free to make a donation if you’d like but no pressure.
Until next time, I wish you all the very best. If you are struggling with afib or are newly diagnosed, I know how lonely (and scary) the road can be. It’s always great to be able to “talk to someone.” You can always “talk to me” by contacting me. I read every email and I always respond! God bless to all of you!