The first time I remember that it happened, I was at a friend's house. It was the beginning of the summer; I was going to be a freshman in high school in a couple of months. It was mid-morning, and several of us were debating on going swimming or lying on the floor under the ceiling fan all afternoon.
I got up off the couch, and I got light-headed. Tunnel-vision set in, combined with some stars. Vision was restored, but there was this tightness in my throat, like I had just watched a sappy chick flick. It didn't go away.
It's hard to really describe the span of feelings, symptoms, emotions. They all seemed to meld together, into one big feeling of "Oh, no, not again" and then "Please, no." :
The tightness in my throat spread up to my jaw and out through my shoulders. My ears rang. I continued to see spots. I pressed my tongue to the roof of my mouth, and my mouth went dry. My legs went numb and there was this awful, breathless, time-stopping moment of intense terror before my chest started to pound wildly, violently.
My body moved to the rhythm of my heart. thump thump thump thump thump
There was no break in the beating, no stopping the rush of the blood in my veins. I felt my pulse in my ankles, my wrists, my temples, my stomach, on my collarbone, in between my thighs. It didn't stop.
My hands and stomach started to sweat. I was clammy, hot, uncomfortable, and nauseous. I couldn't swallow or talk. I bit my lip until it broke. And bled. I didn't care.
My friends didn't know what to do with me. I told them to take me home. One friend put me on the front of his bicycle and pedaled me the 15 or so blocks home. During the ride, I lost all feeling in my legs, but felt pins & needles in my feet.
I walked in the house, letting the screen door slam behind me.
She was in the kitchen, making lunch. She put her hand to my chest, touched my wrist, felt my forehead. Her answer:
"Your blood sugar? Or hormones?"
She made me a tuna fish sandwich. I remember choking it down, feeling it stick in my throat, lying docile in my chest. I wanted to puke, but my mouth would not water. I tried to lie on the couch, but the pressure of my heart beating was too much. I sat instead, and started counting my heart beats.
It was too fast to keep track of.
I blacked out.
My mother was in the backyard, tending to her roses.
That day, I didn't know what the hell I had. It didn't have a name. I didn't know to take my blood pressure, to get an accurate read on my heart rate, to push my face in a sink of ice water. I didn't know that it would keep happening, whenever it wanted, that it wouldn't stop until it was done, or until I was hospitalized.
When it stopped that day, I woke up slumped over on the couch. My entire body ached, like I had just run several miles with no water, or had been beaten up. The sweat was dry on my chest, back, and stomach. My eyes burned, my ears ached, my throat was so dry and itchy.
I stood up, walked upstairs, & read a book until I fell asleep, the sun's rays shining through my blinds, warming my legs.
This happened for years. After about 6 or 7 episodes that summer, my father was concerned. I was tired. I stopped going for daily runs, for fear that it would start up. I 'relaxed' like my mother and father suggested, but it still kept happening.
We went to see my primary care physician. He suggested I see a cardiologist after suddenly hearing "an odd arrhythmia". My father took me to the cardiologist, one of the best in our area, an expert at arrhythmias. I was the only kid in the waiting room, a room filled with elderly or overweight people. I just wanted answers at that point.
EKG, ECG, chest x-rays, 48 hours of recording monitors sticky-taped to my chest, stomach, and back.
In those 48 hours, my heart didn't do it's "thing", as I began to call it. I even attempted to rile it up, piss it off, and make it happen. I furiously blow-dried my hair, I spent time jumping rope, running around the backyard, riding my bike, even masturbating. Nothing.
We returned the recording monitor, only to be told I would have to do it again.
The first couple of months of my freshman year was spent wearing this monitor. I was self-conscious about it at first, but got used to it after awhile, resigned to the fact that this thing was recording my heart's every move. There was one small "episode" (dr.'s & parents' word for this) during that time, lasting less than an hour.
Within a few days of returning the monitor, we were called back to the cardiologist's office. Again, I sat in the fancy waiting room staring at AARP magazines & listening to the wheezing of a guy sitting behind me.
The doctor explained my diagnosis: mitral valve prolapse and a supra ventricular arrhythmia called paroxysmal supra ventricular tachycardia (which occurs due to an 'electrical connection' problem between the atria & ventricles). I was handed brochures, talked to about medications and surgery, and sent on my way with my first of many, many prescriptions.
At age 12, I was put on a beta-blocker. And it worked for awhile.
At age 13, I ended up in the emergency room when I had another "episode". I had read the brochures, familiarized myself with my options, and took my medicine as I was told upon feeling the first symptom. After 45 minutes of the pain, my father took me to the emergency room on a school night.
The nurse poked me several times in my hand before getting a vein. Chest x-rays, EKG, ultrasound. Sounds of surprise from the doctor and nurse upon seeing my heart rate reach & surpass 200 beats per minute. Medication, puking, sweating, saline drip, another EKG, observation for a couple of hours, my father blowing up rubber gloves & drawing silly faces on them, the fear in his eyes......
I went home and slept hard.
Rinse & repeat. Year after year. I was put on every beta blocker known to man. I had episodes while rollerblading in a park with a friend, while driving to the movies, while out on a date, while showering, while running. It even woke me up one night.
Finally, the very last option worked for almost 2 years.
Almost 2 years with no "episode", no "my heart's doing it's thing", no ER visits in the middle of the night.
I started to breathe easy.