Holiday Heart

In mid-April of 2016 I had a blood test where I’d been told I “show indicators of being pre-diabetic”. And frankly, I brushed that off because I was silly enough to have had a beer or two the day before and was told I only needed eight hours before the blood test clean. But it was a warning sign, I decided to ignore. After all, I was not hugely overweight, I was fairly active. I chalked it up to my own bad timing.

In late April 2016, I loaded up my bags for about a week long combination of vacation and working. I would start with a long family weekend at a fairly isolated place with my family in Homosassa, Florida. Then a night or two with my Mom to help her get a new PC and work remotely from her place. Then I would stay with some fantastic friends in Dunedin to reconnect with them and my old haunts while working in the daytime. And the following weekend, I would be celebrating my son’s college graduation from University of Central Florida with his degree in International Business and flying out the Sunday after.

It was an aggressive and busy schedule. But it had been more than a year that I had seen family and friends, so I intended to make the best and most of it for the entire time in Florida.

Suffice it to say, there wasn’t a night that went by where I didn’t down at least a six pack. On some nights it was twelve or thereabouts.

Did my drinking cause major drama? No. I’m fairly mellow as a drinker. At least that’s my perspective and most of what I’ve been told confirms that. But every evening I knew I wasn’t driving, I had something in my hand and a few in a fridge nearby.

The night I got back home at the end of the week long travel, I felt a little out of it. Nothing serious, just like something wasn’t quite right. I thought maybe I was a little dehydrated, so I made sure I had plenty of water. Climbing into my own bed was a relief, but that night I had a hard time resting. For some reason, I felt incredibly amped it seemed to take forever to get to sleep. During the night I woke up.

I woke up because my heart seemed to be pounding out of my chest.  I laid there staring at shadows in the darkness and felt concerned. With my heart pounding so hard I could feel that every so often it was skipping a beat, noticeably. I lay there counting the beats until the skips. Like a four count foxtrot, I counted, while staring at the shadows. For each set of four beats, I’d say okay, and then would come the skip. It was every twenty beats and then would come the skip.

That long pause that would make me question, ‘Am I okay?’. I took control of my breathing and tried to relax. I convinced myself that I was just wound up from the previous eleven days of travel. Maybe I was just tense.

Eventually, I was able to get back to sleep, restlessly. By the time morning came, I went for coffee and got on with my day. Checking my Fitbit told me I had been down for about seven hours, but a lot of restlessness. It confirmed how I felt.

The day was a bit long with lack of rest, but nothing insurmountable. I felt okay about things.  took a few tabs of melatonin before laying down. After all I had a few cups of coffee in the morning.

But when I lay down for the night, I fell asleep okay, but once again, I was struggling to rest. Again I woke up late in the night, this time at least twice. Once again, it was my heart pounding on the walls of my chest and the high pitched ringing in my ears. My tinnitus, old friend from ear damage that kicked in over drive when my blood pressure was up, was ringing it’s horrible high pitched squeal. Once again I lay there, staring at the shadows in the dark, not stirring because I didn’t want to wake my wife, breathing deeply to relax, counting the heartbeats. Tonight, my first counts were one skip every sixteen beats and I wondered, ‘am I okay’.

At times, as I listened to the pounding of my heart with that inevitable skip, it seemed incredibly long and I wondered would I be able to wake my wife with the last of my willpower while my heart was stopped? Could I pound my own chest to restart my own heart? How long would I have before completely losing motor skills with my heart stopped? I propped myself up with pillows, practiced deep breathing and no longer questioned if something was wrong. I knew something wasn’t right and I decided I was going to try working on it. I swore off coffee for the next morning.  

I practiced deep breathing, correcting my posture as best I could, and attempted to be very calm. My rest was fitful, even though I lay there for a full eight hours, I felt exhausted when morning came.

I told my wife about my restless nights, the tinnitus and that my arrhythmia was acting up. I didn’t entirely share my deepest fears. I drank decaf that morning. I made it through the work day with no coffee. I skipped any thoughts of alcohol. I go for an easy paced jog, thinking it may help me get rid of whatever is stressing me.

I promised myself, one more night of this and I’ve gotta see my doctor. I tell this to my wife.  

Evening came and there it was again, like a bad date that never ends. Again I woke up in the middle of the night. Again, I tried to control my breathing. And again, I counted the pounding of the heartbeats in my chest while the tinnitus pierced my sense. This time the skips were one in twelve. The skips coming so often seemed like gaping maws of time that I might fall into and never hear my heartbeat again.

Was it possible that I could just have my heart stop, while I lay here, watching the shadows, next to my peacefully resting wife, and just pass away? Could I muster enough strength to cry out or motion for help? I was scared.

Now, I told myself something is messed up with me. I’ve never had this kind of challenge before. I swore to get into my doctor at the first chance. I was fitful all night.

When morning came, I told my wife that I’m going to see my doctor. I didn’t share the deepest fears, but I let her know I’ve got to figure this out if I’m ever going to sleep. It also occurred to me to check my blood pressure.

We had a simple bp cuff. So I pulled it out and my bp was elevated. I stayed off the coffee, even though I was exhausted from lack of sleep and just wondering what I needed to do to fix things. When I first started checking it was reading high, like 160 over 90 kind of high. And my arrhythmia was affecting me in the daytime.

I call my doctor’s office and they got me a slot first thing the next day. My BP seems elevated all day. I fight the caffeine withdrawal and the lack of sleep headaches with aspirin thinking maybe that will help with my BP. By night, I feel a mission to get a full night of rest.

I fail miserably. The late night wake up call with my heart attempting to break out of my chest woke me up once again. The skips were one in twelve beats. The pauses of silence during those skips is likely only a second, but each one seemed like minutes. I get up, I lay back down, I take some time to breathe as easily, deeply and naturally as I can. The fitful restlessness lasts until morning.

By then, the BP had fairly normalized, but the heartbeat is still skipping one in sixteen or occasionally one in 20. I change and head to the doctor first thing. I describe all my symptoms and he doesn’t seem significantly worried. Mostly because if I had a real heart issue I never should have survived a jog.

He says I could see a cardiologist to run a battery of tests. I had done all that in 2011 and they said go away for at least ten years. I didn’t see that as fruitful.

He asked about the stresses in my life and I couldn’t think of any real ones and mentioned that I just came back from a great ten day road trip in Florida. And he shares with me that there is such a thing as “holiday heart” and it’s generally attributed to short term heavy drinking.
My primitive brain said, “Bingo”.

Author: 21Buzzards

Mid-life retired reservist in the corporate IT world parenting a grandchild. Sharing my evolution as age and priorities impact life.

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