I have an irregular heartbeat. First diagnosed in my early 30s, my cardiologist suggested I stop drinking coffee which I did.
In college, coffee had become my friend. Upon quitting it, I soon surmised that life without coffee wasn’t a viable option. I was dizzy, shook uncontrollably at times, had chills and felt like someone had pummeled me mercilessly with a a couple bars of soap in a tube sock.
I went back to coffee. Immediately the pain stopped. The flutter in my chest returned but I figured it a fair trade. At least I knew the thing was working. I got used to it.
Now in my 50s, it’s a bigger deal. My once irregular heart has become unruly, defiant. Its current state is known as atrial fibrillation. Instead of going thwippety thwop…thwippety thwop…thwippety thwop, it prefers thwippety, thwippety, thwop, thwop, thwop, thwippety, thwippety, thwippety, thwop…(thwippety). Medications tried, fail to normalize it. They merely make me sleep like a bear in winter. My EKG printout looks like a close-up of an upside-down unibrow.
Beyond medication, there are several options to correct “A-fib” First is cardioversion, a series of shocks through the chest front to back, using parallel “zapper” pads (obvious medical jargon) similar to those seen in movies whenever someone with a stopped heart is summoned back to this mortal coil… (We hear, “CLEAR!” then ZAP!!! as the body leaps from the steamy street). If revenge is best served cold, cardioversion is best administered under sedation. I once had it done under inadequate sedation and my body convulsed like a floored Pentecostal, my larynx emitting an equally automatic verbal response I won’t repeat here. It hurt like the dickens. Cardioversion can leave burns, set chest hair on fire and so on. When it works, the chambers of the heart join in sweet rhythm. When it fails, you get it again. That’s where I sit…shaved, burned and still “A-fib.”
My next procedure will be surgical, with a 70% success rate. It’s called Cardiac Ablation, a surgery in which as I understand it, a catheter inserted between the upper and lower chambers on one side of the heart coordinates those chambers, which the other side of the heart then mimics. When it works, (meds aside) nothing further is required. I’ll know more about this soon.
If that fails, it’s time for a pacemaker. Pacemakers provoke a negative reaction in me but I do know they’re better than ever. Cheney has one. That’s of little encouragement, since Cheney’s a flaming asshole.
Surgeons describe such procedures pre-op and always ask, “Do you have any questions?” I think I’ll say, “Doesn’t Dick Cheney have a pacemaker?”, “yes he does,” the doctor will affirm. At which point I’ll ask, “So is becoming a flaming asshole among the potential side-effects of this surgery?” Let’s hope doc’s a dem.
I love Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)s. I play drums. These comments are totally unrelated to everything I’ve mentioned so far in this post but I promise, pertain to what follows.
MRI Machines remind me of being inside a drum as someone goes postal on it. I imagine the ghosts of Buddy Rich, John Bonham or tribal drummers outside it using massive beaters. You have to lay still inside and for me, that’s hard because the ever changing pounding makes me feel like I’m at a rave…or at least how I think I’d feel at a rave, having never ACTUALLY been to one. But I watch TV. Countless whodunits are based on the premise of raves gone awry.
Note, I never said I was a good drummer. I like to blame my lack of percussive prowess in part on my heart because it never kept good time–my body clock has forever been poly rhythmic. But it’s probably because I rarely practiced enough over a sustained period to get good
I got my first drum kit at age 38 (shown below being played by my then 8 year-old son). Early mid-life reaction, I guess–some have affairs, I bought drums. I’d always wanted to play. I’d been in bands as a singer but jumped on the drums every chance I got. I often ended up rooming with drummers because they love to practice and it can drive non-drummers nuts. It never bothered me.
I encouraged my eldest son to appreciate percussion early on. Later, once I got my kit, he saw how much I enjoyed it and asked if he could learn how to play. We started taking lessons when he was 6–we went together. It was a neat thing to share.
I kept him going when he was ready to give up, wrote simple fills when he couldn’t play more complicated ones so he could kill in school talent shows, that kind of stuff–and endured many lunches at a nearby Taco Bell. By High School, he had pretty much left me in his wake.
I tell myself that it’s because his heart beats normally and he was young. (But he also practices incessantly). He’s graduating this spring with his Master’s in Music Ed.to teach music and be a band director. He plays his ass off. I don’t frequently foray into the basement where my lovely antique white Pearls and Zildjians gather dust. I bought this finish because my last drummer had a set I coveted. He convinced me that no other finish is classier and makes better use of stage lighting than off-white. Since I’ve owned them, they’ve never been onstage. I take that back. They were onstage twice, at an Amvets Lodge.
Still, I refuse to sell my drums. Once I get this heart thing figured out, I’m going to try again. With a heart that beats regularly, I’m convinced that becoming a good drummer will be far less difficult. It may not be true, but I remain convinced. If my son lives close enough, maybe I can get free lessons.