– The A-Fib Monster and My Red Gatorade Sword

Such a classic love song by Smokie even though no one remembers it.  Well, I’ll remember this story for sure. . .

The first time that ever I saw your face
I got so excited
I swore that I never would leave this place
Took so long to find it

Can you feel my heartbeat
Can you feel it calling you

The first time that ever I saw your face
I got so excited
I swore that I never would leave this place
Took so long to find it

Can you feel my heartbeat……

Coming back from the track kitchen and running through the mist that had collected between the shed rows with my cinnamon roll clenched tightly in my hand was one of my favorite things to do.  I was only five or six, no more than seven years old when it first happened and I knew it.

Plowing through, and in between the hot walkers circles, I stumbled and lost the grip I had on the glazed delicacy and watched as it rolled ahead gathering horse manure and wood chips then finally going past the ‘Five Second’ rule.  On the track there isn’t even a “One  Second” rule.  “On the ground, and it’s in the mound”, was our motto, ‘mound’ being the huge pile of horse crap piled high at the end of the shed.

Face first in the damp horse hoof churned up dirt was not the worst of it but seeing Shasta, the trainer’s multi-colored dog snatching up the roll her teeth and make a run for it put the ‘icing’ on the downed 25 cent cake.  Saliva was streaming out from the side of her mouth as she ran away.  I sprung up off the ground and looked down at my shirt and immediately sat back down in the mud.  I was dizzy.

I got up again and could feel the light-headedness but was more concerned about what I was going to do to get Shasta to bring my roll back.  Dad was standing inside by a stall talking to David Whited, the leading Jockey he hustled book for, when I walked up.

“What’d you do to yourself? he asked.  David just stared down at me.

“I’m dizzy.  Real dizzy.”

Dad leaned over and checked my vitals using his usual brush of his hand up and over my forehead.  “Did you bump your head?”

“No.”

“Do you feel sick?”

“No.”

“Did someone smack you?”

“No.”

“Good.  You’re okay.  You look fine, probably just not paying attention.  Where’s your cinnamon roll?

“Shasta ate it when I fell down.”

Dad reached his hand into his pocket and pulled it back out with nothing in it and then turned to David.  David already knew and had the quarter pinched between his fingers as he offered to me my second chance of a tasteful wonderment.

I walked carefully away and down the row where several horses were leaning out of their stalls against the chains.  As I passed, one of them lunged forward and nipped at the sleeve of my t-shirt.  I fearfully jerked away, “Stupid horse, stop it!”

Dad yelled, “And don’t walk to close to the stalls, Billy!  They’ll bite you.”  I could hear Dad say casually to David, “He uses the ‘dizzy’ thing when ever he falls down or trips on something.

The excitement overwhelmed the dizziness as I made it into the swinging screen door, front shirt covered in dirt, and asked for another roll from the lady in the white apron at the track’s kitchen.

That’s all I remember.

– Time Travel Time –

“See ya later, alligator,” Mom said as she kissed me on the cheek, she helped me off the couch, straightened the back of my paisley-patterned shirt and opened the screen door of our home sending me off to the Phoenix elementary school named, Westwood.

“In awhile, crocodile,” I turned and answered back.  I could see Mom standing in the doorway.  Then I stumbled, dropping my books into the dirt on the other side of the wood rail fence guarding our yard.   Ringo, my dog came running out thinking I wanted to play and jumped on my face, licking at it with the veracity of a Chihuahua raptor.

Bullhead stickers were everywhere in my hands and on my clothes.  I was dizzy.  I felt Mom’s hands lift me up off the ground.

“Oh Billy, just look at yourself.  You’re all dirty now.  You have to pay more attention.  Look at your shirt.”

I looked down and my shirt was moving by itself.

“Let’s go in and get you spiffed up,” she said in a rescuing way.

“Mom?” I asked as she pulled the last sticker out of my hand as I sat on the couch with my black Converse shoes dangling two inches above the floor.  She looked up at me with the bullhead thorn in her hand.  “Can you feel your heart beat?”  She paused and contemplated the feel.

“No, not really.  Why do you ask me that?  Can you feel yours?”

I nodded,  “I’m dizzy.”

“Did you bump your head?”

“No.”

“Do you feel sick?”

“No.”

“Did someone smack you?”

“No.”

“Good.  You’re okay.  You look fine, probably just not paying attention.  Let me listen.  Mom put her ear to my chest and held her breath.  “I know what it is.”

“What is it, Mom?”

“You have an extra heartbeat.  A lot of kids have that.  It will go away as you grow up.  Now c’mon, you’re going to be late.”

Mom held open the screen door again as I dashed dizzily across the yard.

– Time Travel Time –

30 Something.

I sat up in bed, my heart was racing, pounding, blurping and fluttering.  I looked over at Kim sleeping.  I looked at my t-shirt and could see it moving.  The dial on the half-clock, half-radio was just after three in the morning.

Earlier in the month I had gone to see a doctor about the progressively getting worse, ‘extra heartbeat’ my Mom had diagnosed when I was a kid.  I had learned to do many things and especially learned to adapt to the dizziness.  I could walk straight, I could run straight and I could ignore the constant uproar.

This time it felt different.  This time, I could not only feel the tremendous throbbing but I could hear my heartbeat as if I had my own heart in my hand.

“What’s wrong?” Kim turned and asked worriedly.

“Oh, I’m just out of rhythm again.  Don’t worry.”

“Babe, you have to see what this is.”

“I know what it is.  It’s A-Fib.  The doctor told me that it will go away.”

Ten minutes later I’m in the truck and driving myself to the Urgent Care a few miles away just to make sure.  The nurse welcomed me in and I told her about my heart beating a little odd.  She asked me to lie down and she listened through her pink stethoscope.  She stood up straight and bent back down to listen again.

“Stay right here.”

The young lady walked back through the curtains in the rear and came back out with a cart with wires hanging everywhere.  As she was attaching the wires she asked, “Do you have a Cardiologist?”

“Yes, Dr. Ciemo.”

Doctor Ciemo was a large Amazonian woman whose prowess in the heart field of medicine was well-known in Arizona.  I found her by walking by the sign on her door while I had visited my eye Doctor.  I wasn’t much into research in those days.  A sign would be enough for me.  I like signs.  She drove a large Mercedes and had an EKG readout inside the car.  That must have made her good I thought.

I heard the phone being dialed in the back where the nurse had disappeared again and then heard the five whispered words of doom.  “He’s having a heart attack.”

I instantly went from gut shot to disembowelment.  The added adrenaline sent my dizziness into a full-throttled swirling crash dive.

The nurse came back and said, “I had our doctor and you’re doctor on the line and I’m going to send her this strip.  Just relax.”

I’m thinking to myself, ‘Relax, stay calm, act like nothing is going on, give her the stink eye for letting me hear her on the phone to a Doctor who was not here, and just get me to a real hospital.’ 

I laid there for over an hour it seemed, probably ten minutes but it seemed like an hour.  My wife is at home snoring away and I’m having a heart attack with Nurse Ratchet.

The nurse came back to my death bed and asked me how I felt.

“The same as before, I can feel my heartbeat still.”

“Well, you’re in what they call, A-Fib, the real word for it is Atrial Fibrillation,” she said in a teaching way.  I felt the annoying knowledge-tipped bullets whiz by my ears.  I knew what was coming.  For the next thirty minutes the first year nurse helper went over everything about A’s and V’s of the heart.  Nothing was said that I had not already known before.

“Dr Ciemo wants you to see her in the morning.”

I paid my 30 bucks and went home.  The appointment at Dr. Ciemo was a walk-in.  She came out to the waiting room in her huge white coat.  I stared up at the giant of a woman and worried.

“Next time you call an emergency, you better be dying or I’ll take you off the, ‘Save List’.  You’re in A-Fib.  Go have some hard sex and it will go away.”

I went back to work thinking about what hard sex actually meant and adopted the, ‘Save List’ in my own life.

– Time Travel Time –

2010, the year of the Drosselmeyer, Belmont Stakes Champion.

I had learned to live with the rattling, bouncing, staggering, annoying, deceiving, and frustrations of A-Fib.  I had gone through thousands of episodes of adrenaline rushes that caused me to trip and fall into the dreaded waters of Flutter Lake.  In my early years I could get up the mountain trails, climb the steps only having to stop once or twice along the way.  I thought I was beating the bad beat.

My son and I had taken a trip to the Belmont Stakes to finish our Triple Crown adventure and I was in full A-Fib.  I didn’t tell him until after the third hole at Bethpage Black.  He had wanted to play the course so bad and I had run out of excuses.  We booked the tee time and started to play but it wasn’t long before he asked, “Are you in A-Fib again?”  He could tell easily by now as every trip to our Triple Crown had been plagued by A-Fib or food poisoning, which caused a horrendous episode of A-Fib, anyway.

“I’m always in A-Fib but this is worse than usual.  My jaw hurts and I’m out of breath.”

I trudged along until we hit hole seven or eight when I told him that I wasn’t sure if I could finish nine.  Again the ‘A’ Monster had struck, beating me down and ruining a trip of a lifetime for Dan and I.

We came up to the small refreshment stand and I sorely announced, “I have to sit down.”  The dizziness was out of control and I was totally lacking any breath.

I sat there huffing as Dan went up and bought us two Gatorades, a green and a red.  He shyly handed me the red.  I saw glimpses of Nurse Ratchet in his face.  He was worried.

I slugged down the red electrolyte filled beverage in four gulps and tossed the empty in the expanded metal garbage can.  I huffed once and then noticed a change.  I looked down at my shirt and couldn’t see it move.  A deep encouraging breath overcame my ordeal.  My jaw felt normal.  I was in rhythm again.  Dan had unknowingly found the red Gatorade sword I needed to kill my life-long demon.

I stood up, “I’m back in.  I’m back in!”  I reached into the can and pulled out the empty Gatorade bottle weapon and showed to the world the cure Dan had found.  “Let’s go play some golf buddy!  Let’s pound this course!”

The Nurse in Dan came out again but for only a moment as he picked up both bags.

“I can handle that.”

“You sure, Dad?”

“Yep,” I assuredly said as I grabbed the strap off of his shoulder and walked to the next tee box.

I played hard because I felt so good.  I played so hard that I pulled a muscle loose in my back.  I pulled the RibAss muscle on my right side, the one that goes from the bottom of your ribs to the top of your ass.  We all have two of them, the left RibAss and the right RibAss.   A shredded RibAss was nothing compared to the evil spirit living inside the treacherous caverns of A-Fib.

When we arrived back in Phoenix, I went to Costco and bought cases and cases of Gatorade and picked out every red one giving all the others to the kids playing in the wash or to friends.  I envisioned red sugar cubes being handed out to all the A-Fib patients in the world as the newly discovered vaccine against the savagery of the disease.

Two weeks later and I’m in full-blown A-Fib again and huffing more than ever.  My skin had turned red from the dye in the drink.  I gave up.

– Time Travel Time –

Today.

A very close friend, named Teresa, knew how bad it was for me and had told me before how her brother, Steve and her Dad had A-Fib and that her Dad had it for his entire life and he was a young 89, going to be 90 this year.  Her brother Steve, had went and had a procedure done twice before and it had not worked entirely for him so he was going to have it done again.

I happened to be in rhythm for a couple of weeks it seemed so the relaxation had masked what was inevitably to come.  I asked her for the doctor’s name but over a couple of weeks she had not gotten it yet so I forgot about it.  Then I got just a touch of food poisoning probably from some bad chicken at a fast food and went flying into a tormenting 15 round Championship fight with A-Fib.  This one was different.  I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t complete a full sentence.  A-Fib was about to finish me off for good with a knockout.

“Teresa, I need that doctor’s,” I hesitated and breathed in enough air to say the rest, “name and I need it today”

She made the phone call to Steve.

“Dr. Vijendra Swarup, MD, he’s a Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiologist.  Here’s his number.  My brother said people from all over the world come to see him and how lucky we are that he’s in Phoenix.”

I grabbed the note and went to the phone to get my appointment.  I had to wait a week to get in and worried if the A-Fib army would pull out and then when I go to him, he would not see what I have been going through.  I wasn’t let down at all.  I was riding a horse named Full Force Fib and we were making a stretch run to the finish line.

Kim and I stepped into the elevator and pushed the number seven on the elevator pad to light it up and go to see my new doctor.  A man reached in and pressed the door to stop it.  He was wearing a white coat and carrying a small cardboard box.  The three of us stood there as the doors closed and he didn’t press a button as he too was going to the seventh floor.

We didn’t make eye contact at first until I read the embroidery on his coat.  ‘Dr. Vijendary Swarup, MD’ was blazoned across his heart in italics.  I looked up and he must have seen me reading his name because he was looking at me,  “Hi, I’m coming to see you.”

“You’re coming to see me?”

“Yep, I’m coming to see you to fix this.”  I pointed at my heart.

Dr. Swarup only smiled confidently and pointed us to the door as we got out.  “See you soon,” he said.

I looked at Kim and said to her how unusual it was to meet my doctor for the first time in the elevator, “Who does that?” I asked her. “Must be a good sign.  I lke signs.”

That was a Wednesday, and Dr. Swarup of the Arizona Heart Rhythm Center had me in a gown in the Arizona Heart Institute the next Monday, which was only last Monday from this story’s date, for a full ablation of the heart and the pulmonary vein in the right atrium where he suspected another rogue nerve lived.  He took the time to show me what he was going to do with his weapons of cameras, needles, saline sprayers, radio waves, and a special Platinum-tipped spear to my haunting Prince of Darkness known as A-Fib.

Most doctors of this caliber are too smart to spend time on social skills.  Most highly skilled as those in these types of medicine fields are way too intellectual to understand what their patients need to feel good inside on an emotional point of view.  Not this one.  This man is special.  An amazing intellectual combined with all the people skills any patient could ever want as his time is no concern to him unless it’s your time.

My Anesthesiologist, Jacob, mind you he took the time also for me the day before just to talk with a phone call, came by early to check on me before they wheeled me into an operating room which was filled with more gadgets and people in white coats that even Dr. House’s staff would’ve drooled.  That point worried me but Jacob was there and he settled me down with some magic serum.

I stopped everyone in the room and asked them to stop what they were doing and listen to me, I wanted their attention.  They have probably had more people say more stupid things to them while in the grasp of Pixie Dust as I was at the time.

“I want you to listen up,” I announced.  “This is an opportunity for you all.  You need to take it and become significant.  This is your opportunity.  Don’t let me down and especially don’t let Kim down.  You got it?” I said as I looked at the tall and very pretty blonde nurse.

She nodded affirmably and smiled as she firmly told me, “Put your head back down Mister.”

“You got it?”  I looked at Jim the nurse and Guy the nurse/bully barber.  Jim wrapped my arms in cloth while Guy just continued to dry shave my chest.  I remember telling him it was an okay shave job even though his shaving skills were lacking or that his shaver was dull, because my wife and a friend test drove a waxing on my chest once before when I was younger and I survived.

“You got it?”  I asked as I looked straight up at Jacob who was doing something over the top of my head.  I know I saw him roll his, ‘here it goes again, we have a talker’, eyes.  Then all went black.  I didn’t know that it went dark until after it went light when I awoke.

Everything took around six hours.  The procedure took almost four itself.  I told my Daughter I was going to wake up not crying as usual but I was going to wake up slapping at the air like a baby Tyrannosaurus on its back.  We laughed at what I would look like.  To me, I was out and awake in seconds.  Nurses were everywhere working feverishly to get me settled in recovery.  I called one, ‘A Little Spitfire.’  She told me I was right as she  held my groins from bleeding from punctured arteries.  She might have been the World Handshaking Champion, her grip was that good.

I noticed then that I didn’t have the same difficulty I have had before under anesthesia with being able to wake up without a struggle.  No dry heaving.  Jacob must have done a great job.  Thank you Jacob.

I remember the plastic covers of the fluorescent lights mounted on the ceiling of the hallway passing over me as they wheeled me into my room.  I wasn’t dizzy anymore.

Kim was by my side the whole way.  I could hear her talking.  The nurse introduced herself to me through the fogginess of the room, quickly hooked up a machine to my chest then left.

My eyes cleared as Kim put her hand on my shoulder.  I looked up and over at her beautiful face.

The light in the room glanced off her skin just at the right angle that I could see the dried pathway of a tear across her makeup.  She was smiling so big.

“Why are you crying?  I can see where you were crying on your face.  I’m okay.  I’m really, really okay.”  I tilted my head slightly to shift the light again at a better angle.  I could see the mark again.  I could see the dried remnants of the tear from her eye and down the front of her cheek.  There may have been two, much like you would see when two slalom runs cross over each other in the purest of snow.

She grabbed my hand and said through her wonderful smile, “Because the first thing you said to me as you were waking up, not knowing where you were, was,” she paused, trying not to cry again.

Kim stuttered a sniffle of a small breath through her nose, knowing the 55-year-old monster living inside of me was finally dead and gone, slain by a man yielding a Platinum-tipped sword who I had met in an elevator, with his name stenciled in gold-laced thread on the heart of his white armor.  A man who I had only known for a few days in my embattled life.

She raised her tired shoulders and squeezed even harder as she swallowed up her emotions to finish her sentence of what I had said to her while in the shallows of the anesthesia.  “You said,”

‘I can’t feel my heartbeat.’

 

The End

“The best part of life starts at the head of the stretch.”

The WiseGuy

Click here for the latest story of The WiseGuy Diaries

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