I wanted to write a state of my pregnancy address for Labor Day. (Get it? Labor. Har.) But, something rather interesting has come up that I wanted to share with you instead.
Since high school, I’ve experienced an occasional freaky thing with my heart. Every once in a while, out of the blue and usually related to a run, but not always, my heart will start beating like crazy. It feels like it’s going to beat right out of my chest! When it first happened I went to see a cardiologist. He had me wear a thing called a Holter Monitor which recorded my heartbeat for about 48 hours. Of course, I didn’t have one of these incidencts while wearing the monitor, my EKG (measure of my heartrate and rhythms) came back clean and my basic exam showed me to be completely normal. The freaky heart thing, which I always referred to as a heart palpitation, would come on suddenly, leave quickly and once it was gone I felt like nothing ever happened. So the thought was that this was just a quirk and there was no need to worry about it.
Oh to be young and naive again!
Through the years it’s happened again, but these episodes of crazy heart rate started happening more frequently when I began my adult running career. I just assumed it was something that other runners commonly encountered. The first time I remember it happening as an adult, I was doing an interval workout around the Central Park reservoir and in between reps felt one come on. I sat on a rock and waited for it to pass. It freaked me out, but once it was gone I felt totally fine and continued on with the workout! This is pretty typical for the episodes I have experienced over the last 7 years.
My view of these heart palpitation episodes changed a few weeks ago. It was a Saturday morning and I ran super early to get home in time for a busy day ahead. At the half-way of my 5 mile out and back I stopped to pee and felt a heart palpitation come on. But this one was different then the earlier ones that went away on their own after a few minutes and were just minor annoyances. I’ve never had one from running during any of my pregnancies. I’ve had them early in the pregnancy for a few seconds after bending down or something, but those quickly disappear. This one lingered. I was on an isolated stretch of road and sat on a split rail fence waiting for it to dissipate. But it didn’t. And then I started to feel anxious, nauseous and then I felt like I was going to faint! Since I ran from home and only ran short I didn’t bring my phone (I was kicking myself!) There was a house about 200 meters up the road. I got up to try to walk there, but I felt too woozy. I thought about trying to crawl – not kidding! I was so scared to lose consciousness by myself, pregnant, alone along the side road! I sat in the dirt next to the road and wished for a car. Any car. Anyone. Someone. Nothing. I was willing myself to stay with it and then I WILLED myself to relax. I needed to get that palpitation to stop. So glad I had some wits about me! It worked. My heart slowed down and regained its rhythm and I stood up and took a short walk to test everything out. And then I jogged slowly home.
And this is the crazy part. I still felt like it wasn’t that big of a deal! I swore then and there I’d always bring my phone with me and of course my husband was frantic and worried about me. But based on what I thought was going on, heart palpitations, I wasn’t worried about it. When you google “heart palpitations” the information is far from alarming. It sounds like they’re totally common especially when exercising, stressed and pregnant! Well, bingo
At my midwife appointment 2 weeks later I told my midwife what happened and she didn’t look so unworried. In fact, she made me schedule an emergency appointment with a cardiologist. At that appointment, I had an EKG which was totally normal and my exam was totally normal. Based on what I described and what he observed he concluded it was probably just a “benign quirk” and not to worry about it. Cool!
Or so I thought.
One week and one day after my cardiologist appointment, on a Saturday again (coincidence?), after my shower and before I had any coffee, I reached down to pick up some cat fur off the carpet and BAM! My babysitter was over playing with the kids as I was getting ready to leave for the farmers market. I excused myself and went and laid down to wait it out. I got up to go get my cell phone and couldn’t without feeling like I was going to faint. AGAIN! Well, at least this time I wasn’t on the side of the road! I laid there and watched the clock. 15 minutes passed and no change. I wrestled with the idea in my head for a good 5 minutes, but ultimately I did what I had to do. I called 911. Within 2 minutes the paramedics were dodging toys in my living room and hooking me up to an EKG. My heart rate was between 180 and 200 – steady! Yikes! They were not too keen on this and loaded me on the gurney. I made like I was having the time of my life so as not to freak out the kids and off we went. Sirens and everything! The whole time my heart rate stayed insanely high.
We made it to the ER and I was wheeled straight into a room. I was immediately plugged into the hospitals EKG machine and the doctor was in super fast (note: when going to the ER you get awesome treatment when you’re a pregnant lady with a heart problem!) He looked at the EKG and started spouting off all kinds of stuff about electrical pathways that made no sense. He got the name of my cardiologist and left him a message. Then he proceeded to treat me. The first thing he did was have me try a Vagel Maneuver which is just like a push during labor. That supposedly gets the heart to go back to normal, but it didn’t for me. So, after a few tries with that it was on to the next trick to get my heart to get back to normal and this was a bit. well, insane.
The doctor warned me I was in for 8-10 seconds of incredible discomfort. Have you ever seen Pulp Fiction? You know the part when Uma Thurman od’s on heroine and John Travolta has to inject her heart with epinephrin? Well, that came to mind as I saw the nurse and her giant syringe. And then it was made worse when she asked the doctor if his syringe was ready. THE HELL?! I was seriously petrified. And then they counted to 3 and the nurse injected hers (into my IV and not my heart, thank goodness!) and then the doctor counted to 3 and did his and then HOLY HELL! I felt like someone was sitting on my head. I couldn’t breathe and felt immense pressure all over. I was crying and freaking out and then it was over. They gave me medicine that stopped my heart and then more or less reset it. And it was over! Phew! The looooooong hard tempo run heart rate without the actual running part was over. It lasted about an hour total.
After my heart went back to normal the paramedics left (they were SO AMAZING! They waited to make sure I was ok before leaving me there. Thanks guys!!!) The doctor left. The nurses made sure I was ok and they left and I was there all alone, until my husband finally made it. I was so happy to see him! We waited about an hour and then the ER doc came back. He told me I have been experiencing something called supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). He said he talked to my cardiologist and he wants to see me Tuesday to start the process of determining what’s causing it. It’s most commonly caused by something called Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome (WPW), but that is usually diagnosed on an EKG even without an episode of SVT occurring and my EKGs never had the tell-tale pattern for WPW.
The good news:
- It’s not life-threatening.
- I now have this phenomenon recorded and observed by doctors so we can get to the bottom of it.
- There are treatment options that aren’t totally awful.
- I can keep running as long as I always have a way to get help if I need it (carry my phone, tell people where I’ll be, stay in populated areas, etc).
- Baby Boo-Boo is A-OK!
The bad news:
- If it happens again (well, at least until my cardiologist comes up with a new plan) I have to go straight to the ER, which means I might have to call 911 if I don’t have someone to drive me there. UGH. Not a fan of the drama of riding out on a gurney to an ambulance!
- I am allowed ZERO caffeine. ZERO. Oh! The headaches! I LOVE coffee so this is really hard, but I’m 2 days cold turkey so I’m on my way to quitting for good. (Never EVER thought I’d be saying that.)
So this is where I am right now. This happened just yesterday as I write this and I haven’t totally processed it all. I’m scared, but hopeful. It’s funny how something I thought was no big deal and probably something semi-normal in other athletes, turned out to be a totally and freaky thing pretty much confined to a select lucky few. If you’re someone who’s experienced SVT, please let me know how you cope!