Thursday, 28 August 2008

What it’s like to have Electrophysiology Studies and Ablation

I’ve just come home from having this procedure done. Thought I’d write it all down, for my own amusement, to satisfy friends’ curiosity (folks, it's long and uninteresting I won't mind if you skip it), and to help out any total strangers that find this page as a result of a search (that's why the title is so detailed!). If you are in that third group, then of course your experience will be different from mine, but reading my anecdote my just help you approach your big day with a little more confidence.

That's me in the picture. Took it myself before going home (hence the ratty quality). See that clunky old iPod in my pocket? It's a telemetry unit, the heart patient's favourite accessory - it means you can walk around, go to the loo in private, and steal cups of tea when the catering staff aren't watching. But on to the story...

I had to fast from 6am – I couldn’t sleep much anyway, so I was up at 5.45 having a sneaky cup of tea. Check-in time at the hospital was 10am for me, for a noon procedure. Those two hours were taken up with paperwork, blood tests, an ECG, meeting the anaesthetist for a detailed chat, a quick shave (not too embarrassing) and some sitting around, all at my hospital bed. I had to change into a gown first thing, and it was cold, so before long I was tucked up in bed. Jeff stayed with me and we did crosswords together. A less patient husband could be forgiven for wandering off about then.

At just before noon an orderly arrived to take me to the – whatever they call the room they do weird stuff in. Trundling on the bed of course. We went into a smaller room first where the prepared me a bit more. More heart monitor dots (once you are a cardiac patient you get used to them!), this time applied to skin treated with swabs and sandpaper (proper surgical sandpaper). I met lots of new staff here. I only spent a few minutes in this room, and then got wheeled into the procedure room. They assured me that there was lots of scary looking equipment there, and not all of it was for me, they just use the room for many types of procedure. They were right, it was scary lookin’. A big table in the middle of the room (narrow and hard, just what I was hoping for) with a big semicircle thingummy hanging over it made it look suitably futuristic. They transferred me to the table (I did have a pillow). It was really cold by now (it was a 3-degree day in Melbourne) and my nerves made me shiver a lot. They put some inflatable heating pads next to me, and an extra blanket. I warmed up quite well. Until they got me to sit up while they attached a large pad to my back, which felt like an ice pack! I lay down again, and they did an x-ray (that equipment was part of the table) to see if the pad was placed right. There were more pads on my shoulders. Didn’t ask what for (the patient doesn’t need to know all this stuff).

My doctor shook hands with me again – I noticed he was wearing a suit, while everyone else was already into protective lead garments. They make lead garments in leopard skin print now, you’ll be pleased to know. I met the anaesthetist again. I could see eight computer monitors, and intended to keep an eye on them for a full progress report.

The procedure started with some sedation for me – I’d been told that light sedation was best for this procedure, and it would be increased if needed. I don’t know if mine was varied at all – didn’t ask. The anaesthetist asked me if I was OK with needles. What a question! I’d had several already that day.

Now, “light sedation” was a new experience for me, but it did the trick. Two hours and forty-one minutes of procedure passed with me feeling like I was dozing on and off. I think I saw a heart with wires inside on a monitor, but I really couldn’t concentrate on anything. I certainly didn’t feel any pain. I was aware of a very fast heartbeat on several occasions, which felt a bit upsetting, and felt some heat, which I assume was the ablation.

At the end, they inflated something on the table, which slid me comfortably back onto my old bed with no effort from me. The doctor spoke to me, and told me about the results (all good). I spent just a few minutes in the recovery room, and was allowed a few sips of water. The nurses gave me a chocolate for later – apparently some reps had been around giving them gifts.

I got wheeled back to the ward, and had to spend 2 hours lying flat on my back (with a pillow). I had a drip (just fluids) and a heart monitor. I was tired but not spaced out – watching TV was easy enough, and I watched videos on my iPod, but I was a bit too blurry to read. I couldn’t reach anything! Once I’d downed a few sips of water they were happy for me to eat and drink anything – a bit tricky in this position. My long suffering husband was there (he had been out walking during the procedure) and fed me banana cake, and tea through a straw. Once he could see I was well, we sent him home to look after the kids, and I concentrated on resting. I had observations (temperature, checking pulses in both feet, and checking the groin) every fifteen minutes (which is a lot of nurse visits when you think about it). After two hours I was able to sit up about halfway, which made reading and eating easier. After another two hours (though it turned out to be later, since there was a nurse shift change) I was able to get up. Thank goodness – I hadn’t been to the loo in seven hours, and there had been a drip going. The drip got taken off, but they left the – um, drip thingy. You get to wear them all the time, it’s for quick access if they have to give you something. I got an injection of blood thinner into the stomach, along with some shocking news – I’d have to inject myself for three days at home!
I was very thirsty and drank heaps all evening, and watched movies on the TV quite happily. Had dinner. Very dull. No fruit. Nightime was rather noisy and disturbed (hospital staff kept coming into the room), and I had an ECG at 5am. I found the way to the pantry to help myself to cups of tea (they had Earl Grey – they’d been holding out on me!). I got breakfast (wrong cereal, still no fruit) and more tea, and felt almost human. Another injection. The nice young man from pharmacy delivered my take-home injections, in a fancy kit, complete with a sharps container, and instructions on DVD. By about 9am I was unhooked from the heart monitor, and had my drip thingy taken out.

Jeff arrived to take me home. We dropped by his office on the way home, and he gave me an apple (I was suffering fruit withdrawal – honestly, of all the foods, you’d think hospitals would serve you fruit every meal!). At home I felt a bit tired all day, in a kind of rag-doll way, but not particularly unwell. One last chance to do the invalid act! The follow up for me is a doctor visit in a few weeks, and a stress test on the treadmill. But secretly, I’m visiting the local clinic today, to get a nurse to do my injection (I’m such a wuss).

So that’s what it’s like to have EP studies and ablation. If you’ve read this far, I hope it’s because you are waiting for the same procedure, and that it’s helped you feel more prepared. In the mean time, eat fruit!


Chris said...

I read the whole thing and I'm not going for an electro-thingy, just a concerned friend.

Glad you are on the other side of this thing!


Gail Kirby said...

Hey Pauline,

Glad to hear it went well. I also read the whole thing, very informative and you no doubt will put someone's mind at rest who has to go for one. Rest up and hope your future tests go well.