Last month, I wrote an article for the Bettyverse about my wicked case of Internet hypochondria. Remember? I told you about how I Google every little ache and pain, dissect and research until I’ve convinced myself I’m suffering from whatever disease or syndrome I’ve been studying. Well, last Tuesday I didn’t rush to the computer when I started feeling odd, and I probably should have.
I’ve always had an irregular heartbeat (a blocked left bundle branch that I was born with). It rarely affects me in any way, except for occasional menopausal heart palpitations, which I get rid of with a couple of tricks I learned very young. Well, Tuesday, I was baking and a palpitation started. I did my usual thing (bear down, cough), and it stopped but then started right back up again. For about three hours, I tried everything from lying down to drinking water to yoga, trying to get rid of the palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, and general burning sensation under my left shoulder blade. Nothing worked.
My friend Charlie, who’d stopped by to drop off a gift for me, turned out to be the gift instead. He insisted I turn off the oven so he could take me to the Immediate Care. The Immediate Care did an EKG and instantly called for an ambulance. I got a very fast ride to the hospital, sirens wailing, and the EMT monitoring my heart rate the whole time (it was at 160 to 190 beats per minute—way too fast). Friend Charlie stuck close, calling Husband to meet us at the ER and holding my hand because I was completely freaked out. Hells bells, I’d just had a heart scan two months ago that came out perfect! Why was I having a heart problem?
In the ER, they did more EKG stuff and started me on an IV of a med to slow my heart rate, which it did nicely. The docs took a bunch of blood, did a chest x-ray, and decided to keep me overnight for observation. The next morning, they did an echo-cardiogram. All the tests turned out perfectly fine—nothing bad in any of them. I’m a healthy strong woman who has a short in her electrical system.
The diagnosis is atrial fibrillation—a glitch in conductivity that causes my heart to speed up to an unnaturally high rate. A fib has nothing to do with my arteries or my weight or my diet or whether or not I exercise—it’s an electrical problem. Not at all uncommon and it can be treated in several different ways. For now, the electro-cardiologist sent me home with a med that will keep me in regular “sinus rhythm.” I’m also wearing a charming little 30-day event monitor that hooks to my belt and has a wire stuck to my chest and one under my left boob. It has a button I’m supposed to push any time I feel a palpitation coming on. So far I’m at Day 4 and thank God, I haven’t had to push it.
The take-away for this cyber-chondriac? Sometimes, self-diagnosis is a bad idea. Don’t try to figure it out and don’t try to fix it yourself. Sometimes, there really is something wrong. And at that point, Googling probably isn’t such a hot idea.
So Betties, if you have something truly weird going on in your body, don’t waste time on the computer cruising medical websites, trust your instincts and get some help.