The day of the scheduled ablation came around quickly. I'd had to stop my sotalol in the run up to the operation, a crucial part of the procedure is the "mapping" where the consultant will produce an electrical map of the right ventricle to find the precise pin point of tissue causing the short circuit. I was adorned in a very sexy hospital gown as I was taken to the theatre.
The theatre was cold, I began to shiver. It wasn't from nerves, I was excited to get the procedure done to finally put this sorry mess to bed once and for all. On goes the iodine, ahh some warmth at last. "Sharp scratch" as the local anaesthetic is injected into my right groin. Shortly after comes the pressure and the insertion of a sheath into the vein through which the ablation catheter was to be fed.
So far so good. Here comes the catheter, the consultant firing it up my vein at a rate of knots that made me think he was running late for his lunch. I jump as I feel the catheter ricochet off something deep inside me. "Steady fella!" I'm thinking, wishing the consultant would go a little bit easier and slower.
I divert my attention to the large screen high above my head and wonder at the images. Wow, look at that, a cool video of a tricuspid valve in operation, I'm fascinated by the ryhthmic, hypnotic action of the valve opening and closing. I glance to the left of the screen, I see writing. I squint closer to try to make out the letters to form words , I realise as I'm identifying the first few letters it's my name. Oh crikey, the penny drops, that's MY tricuspid valve! Just look at that bad boy go. Nothing wrong with that at all, it's a fine specimen.
"How cool is this? How many people ever get to see their own heart valve?!"
My gaze is fixed on the screens, oblivious to the chatter and the plethora of machines whirring and clicking around me. I'm locked onto the image when all of a sudden the camera moves forward down through the valve like Alice down the rabbit hole. My right ventricle, final destination. Somewhere lurking in this pulsating bag of blood there is a gremlin. Go blast that sucker Doc.
The consultant found various foci, areas of concern revealed by the electrical mapping. Like an excited kid on a fairground whack-a-mole, he set about burning away inside my heart. I thought I would feel it but thankfully not. Eventually he ran out of moles, he withdrew the catheter and sheath then proceeded to do a handstand on my groin. This was apparently to stop bleeding but I was now starting to suspect the Doc might enjoy his job a little too much. Once the Doc eased the pressure slightly, a large adhesive tourniquet strap was placed around the back of my thigh towards my knee, over the wound and over onto the front of my hip. With the leg straight, it exerted a surprising amount of pressure. I would need to stay like this for a few hours, flat, to reduce the risk of a bleed. I was taken back up to my room on the ward to recuperate, family eagerly awaiting my return.
"I'm fine, that was actually quite cool!"
I started to recite the experience to the family. Mum starts to fuss around me like only a mum can. I'm laying back on the bed thankful, at last my goal has been achieved. It's taken 4 years but at last it's over. The sotalol is history, the SVT has been whacked and I'm free. My only dread left now is due to the realisation of my hairy thigh and the thick band of super strength adhesive elastoplast now covering it. I knew I was soon to be having an extreme insight into a woman's world and the business of waxing.
Time passed and we chatted with a sense of relief. Then came the sensation. It was fleeting at first then left again.
Hmm, what was that? There, that, it's back again.
My heart is misfiring like a vintage car.
"What's wrong" mum asked instinctively, sensing my puzzled but concerned expression.
"Something is wrong, it's like before but this feels different".
The Doc was summoned and he duly came and carried out some observations and drew conclusions.
"It can occur that the heart becomes irritated and sensitive after the procedure giving rise to arrhythmia. This is the most likely reason. However we also need to be prepared for the fact that a foci may have been missed or hasn't been fully ablated during the procedure."
So we are off to theatre again are we Doc?
"We need to further assess but we can't repeat the procedure until the heart has fully recovered from today's work. We are looking at three months until we can try again. We need to look at medication therapy to cover you in the interim so I'll be starting you on a different beta-blocker"
I felt the sense of relief drain away again. So close yet so far, this can't be happening, this wasn't the plan. Give me a break, new meds, three months of recovery to come back and do this all over again? Are you kidding me? Frustration starts to give way to anger and negativity, then he is there.
I can see his image so clearly, sat smiling, waving to me from his mum's knee, just how I left him. My anger quickly dissipates with the realisation I'm still one of the lucky ones.
"Suck it up Nick and stop being a wimp. Another three months and some tablets, it's no big deal. Aaron would jump at the opportunity to have another three months, be grateful. Time is priceless, appreciate it. Sorry little fella, thank you for the reminder."
This situation is simple, I can see it clearly now. Doc missed a mole, simple as that. We'll get it next time.
After a couple of days on the new medication I was released home. I caught up with friends and updated them on my progress, even though it didn't feel like I'd made any. Friends offered words of support and copious amounts of laughter. James always made the effort to catch up when back visiting family. I started to appreciate my friends even more, grateful for being called a "malingerer" and "lucky" amongst others. Paul was now working away as a contractor, building his career and type ratings. He'd check in regularly and come home to offer support when needed. He was carving out a great future for himself and I was very proud to tell people my brother was an aeronautical engineer.
The ablations were repeated twice more in a desperate attempt to track down the mole over the course of the next year. Each time it evaded capture and annihilation. The penalty for his freedom was me being rendered more unstable a bit more each time, the individual medications that were constantly getting introduced began to stop working. Soon we were going for larger and larger doses and combinations of drugs to keep me with a semblance of stability. All the while I was getting smashed down to the ground physically and mentally, each failure coming like a heavyweight blow to the body and head.
I really needed Aaron now more than ever
He remained loyal to me and never left me to struggle alone. All those nights, in bed, alone and quiet with bouts of serious arrhythmia, scared, unable to focus on anything other than the percussion chaos in my chest. If I closed my eyes tight enough his image burned brighter and helped me to focus, relax rather than panic, enabling me to ride it out He was teaching me that no matter how hard I got hit I was to get myself back up, no excuses, no shortcuts, each and every time. Nothing worthwhile in life comes easy and I must focus on life's positives which are always there if I choose to seek them. With his help I was starting to realise I am strong enough to deal with this and keep smiling. I was finally starting to understand how to cope with my illness. What I wasn't prepared for was the bomb that landed right after my 21st birthday.