Blog Archive

Monday, September 24, 2012

Heart Monitor

For at least the last year, I've noticed that my heart rhythm would be irregular at times.  Mostly it would occur as a series of fast, more intense beats when I laid down on my right side at night, right after getting into bed.  If I let it go on it's on for a bit, it'd end with a skipped beat and then a really intense beat.  Or, I figured out I could turn over onto my left side and disrupt the arrhythmia, making the beat go back to normal.

It didn't happen all the time and I know that some irregularities in heart beats are common and completely okay.  So I decided to wait to get it checked out.  But then it began happening more and more frequently, to the point that I could expect it to happen 2-3 times a week.  Knowing I'd probably have to wear a heart monitor for 24 hours and then get a referral back to my Sacramento cardiologist, I decided to wait until spring quarter was over.  Trying to squeeze in a doctor's appointment during my hectic teaching/parenting schedule would have been reason enough for my heart to flutter.  

So I made an appointment for my annual women's health check up and mentioned this pattern to the doctor.  She renewed my referral to Dr. Stark and put my description in to the system.  The very next day I got a call from someone at his office telling me I'd have to wear a heart monitor again--but for three freaking weeks!  The woman told me it'd be able to record automatically if my heart rate/rhythm went beyond some programmed baseline and that I could also hit the record button if I felt something happening that I wanted the cardiologist to analyze.  She explained that the monitor would automatically send the data to the office daily, or in real time via FAX if it were a "bad" event.

About a week later I get a call from an Indian man, whose accent was so thick I could only understand about 10% of what he said.  I determined he was calling from Life Watch, the monitor company, and wanted to confirm my shipping address.  He asked for my phone number and I gave him my cell--normally it doesn't matter and it isn't worth explaining to people that I don't have a home phone/land line.  He said, "Is this your home phone?" and unlike most times I confessed that it was actually only a cell phone.  He jabbered on about something I couldn't understand so I ended the call.  I phoned the cardiologist's office and asked why the outsourced guy needed to know if I had a land line.  It turns out my insurance company denied the automatic data transfer heart monitor (didn't tell me or the cardiologist's office, however) and reverted me to a substandard model that requires a land line for data transfer.  It's also less sensitive and doesn't record as much data.  (As it turns out, it didn't even automatically record/detect my concerning events at all.)
The monitor arrived in the mail.
The doggies were pretty interested in how it smelled.  I wonder whose house it was in before mine?
The monitor.  That giant record button was too easily pushed--many times I accidentally depressed it while leaning against the lab bench at school or the kitchen counter while doing dishes.
Then came the headache of getting a land line installed.  Our house was a rental house for it's first 42 years of life, during a time when cell phones were not the norm.  So there are like 15 phone wires in the back of our house, and three separate phone boxes (each with 2 lines in them).  It took AT&T several days to activate my service and the technician didn't label the active line as I had requested.  After too many frustrating phone calls to AT&T and them quoting me a minimum of $50/15 minutes to come out and help me figure out which line was live, I finally got a dial tone on a borrowed cordless phone.  And of course it was the ONLY line that doesn't actually have a wire that leads into the house.  So I had to set the cordless phone outside by the AC unit.  

And as my luck would have it, the cordless phone's 7 and 8 buttons only worked sometimes, so I couldn't use it anyway.  It would have been okay except the phone number for Life Watch was 1-800-700-3788.  
Ghetto phone set up. Dave brought a corded phone from his parents' house once I realized the cordless wouldn't work (I had planned on keeping it my bedroom which is just through the wall to the left). So every time I had to transfer data (every 1-2 days) I had to stand in the backyard or do it in my lab.
There were two electrodes--one near my left hip and one on the right breast.  Those electrode stickers make me break out and they fell off after only a day from all my sweating while biking. They were supposed to last 3 days so I nearly ran out by the end of my term.  I hated how wearing this monitor dictated what I could wear (no dresses, only things with a sturdy waistband on which to clip this ghetto device).
Some days I dug through the closet to find something that wasn't jeans or shorts. You can see Eddie pushing the record button on the monitor. Thanks buddy.
During the monitoring I was in contact with the technician at the cardiologist's office.  She'd give me updates about what type of event the monitor had recorded on it's own versus what I'd prompted it to record. It turns out it only recorded completely normal activity (always in the middle of the night so it'd constantly beep at me to transfer the data--when that happened I usually just unplugged it and dealt with it in the morning since I didn't want to go into the dark backyard to use the phone).  Some of the events I recorded were normal PVC's.  Others were VT's which are much more worrisome.  If you read that link, it's pretty daunting.  My fingers are crossed that mine is minor and can be corrected with another electrical ablation.

After the monitoring was done, I had to get a blood test and an echocardiogram.  I had an echo done in 2008 while in the hospital after my SVT event.  Since then I had the SVT electrical ablation--it'll be interesting to find out if there's been any physical changes to my heart's structure since that time (either due to the ablation procedure or to some other reason).
Doesn't the echo examination table paper look like a 1980s paper towel?
I have an appointment with the cardiologist in a couple of weeks and hopefully I'll find out what's going on.  My dad also has some electrical problems with his heart, which I seem to have inherited.  His are different than mine and are managed with medications.  I emailed my dad and asked if I could get a "refund" since I got a defective heart from him.  His response was: "Hmmmm…….I think that you have to have the product in it’s original packaging, with all of the paperwork. We probably have the paperwork (although, given your mother’s filing system, we could probably never find it) but I doubt that you would fit into the original package any more."  Harharhar. 

Given that I'm only 30 I'm not sure I want to take a slew of medications for the next 60+ years if I can possibly have the problem ablated permanently. And given the state of US health insurance company policies, it might be better for me to have a procedure to completely correct a problem rather than have a "pre-existing condition" for the rest of my (hopefully long) life. Of course my last procedure cost me $3000+ beyond what my measly insurance covered and I bet that money would go a long way for beta blockers.  Obamacare, I need you!


Leah Roy said...

I'm thinking about you and your heart, Julie!

Mariah said...

blech. This sounds awful. I wish I could say that with cute flair. Idiot insurance. All being said you have a rockin body momma go you!

Justin said...

Scary stuff! I empathize with you about the struggles of health insurance... I recently was sick and had to jump through a bunch of insurance-related hoops to get medical coverage around the time I became a student again. I can deal with bureaucracy and I can deal with weird medical problems, but when combined, it's a very stressful situation! I hope all turns out to be well.

steph.kelley said...

On the good side, your outfit is darling and your are adorable for having taken a photo of the exam table paper! On the other side, I'm so sorry about your heart. I had to wear that same monitor for a few days, not weeks, and boy it sucks. (Didn't pick up the symptoms for me either, in fact.) Take heart! I am sending you all sorts of good wishes and big hugs. xoxoxoxo