When I was six months old I began to throw up and continued to do so until I became non-responsive. I was dehydrated. They admitted me to the hospital and said I’d be out in 24 hours… when my heart rate came back down. It never really did, so they released me from the hospital with a resting heart rate of 160bpm. Doctors didn’t want my heart-rate to go above 200, so they told my parents to keep me “relatively calm.” My mom worried when I cried, because my heart-rate increased. Lucky for her, and much thanks to her answered prayers for my crying to stop, I became what they called a “self monitor.”
Sus says, “At times, as a toddler, you would be playing and then just lay down and fall asleep.”
During gym class at school, in Wyoming in March, which is still very much winter, they take my class outside to run the mile. I quickly realize, as I often do, that there is little to gain by hurrying… so I take my time. I finish with bright red cheeks that don’t fade until long after school finishes for the day.
It’s spring in Idaho Falls and my class is taken outside to run the mile. As a competitive gymnast who spent enough time in the gym to call it a nearly-full-time job, I was annoyed. I got plenty of exercise. And I knew that, for those who didn’t, this sort of stunt was not going to inspire them to begin to. Anyway, I remembered every bit of the horror that was running the year before… so I took my time… again. Only to end up red as a holly berry (note festive reference) and burning to the touch. Generic grade school teacher expresses concern, and I swear up one side and down the other… this is, in fact, normal. For me. So, leave me alone. Actually, no. I didn’t say that. I was a very respectful pupil. I promise.
It is again spring in Idaho Falls, but it is by no means warm. My junior high gym instructors (Are they teachers? coaches? babysitters?) take the class outside to run the beloved mile… around the track… in the frigid cold. After one lap I remember… there is nothing to gain in running/freezing my face off… so I take my time… yet again. I’m pretty sure I walked the rest of the way. I think. But all I really remember is seeing my breath and the frost on the goal posts and Ms. Schultz screaming for us to hurry. My heart was beating so hard I couldn’t hear her.
Life goes on. We move to Arkansas. I grow up. And graduate from high school.
I see stars when I get out of bed, stand up from a chair, or bend over. I notice my heart rate seems to grow more powerful and/or more rapid when I see stars. I grow short-of-breathe when my heart rate increases. I lose energy when I grow short-of-breath. I visit my family doctor, who after various tests diagnoses me with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). He gives me a few tips for reducing the chance of fainting, seeing stars, and tinnitus and that’s that.
Summer ends. I return to school. I learn stuff. And meet my husband.
I’m home for the summer. A friend is living with us, on and off, I’m house-sitting for a few families, work has me traveling the country, and my POTS flares up. Talk about inconvenient timing. My doctor refers me to a cardiologist in the area and after another round of EKGs, echocardiograms, and blood tests, I am diagnosed with Supraventricular Tachycardia. Basically, in construction terms (which I went to school to understand), he says I have two wires telling my heart when to beat. And, normally the signal only goes through one, but every so often the signal starts going through both wires… and my heart beats nearly twice as often. There’s a lot more to it, but you get the concept. They determine that at my age (20, at the time), the risks of treatment far outweigh the benefits, and nothing is said (besides what I hear every time I go the doctor*) or done.
Summer ends. I return to school. Get engaged. And get married at Christmas.
It’s winter semester and I am preparing to graduate from college. My husband is applying to graduate schools, I am looking for a job, and we have no idea where we will be living in six months. I take a nasty fall down the stairs in our apartment and go into the doctor to discuss my concussion. While I’m there, I ‘fess up. My heart rate has been all over the map. My POTS or SVT or whatevertheheck it is is interfering with my schooling and I’d really like to get my energy back. Our family doctor out at school refers me to the hospital where they assign me a heart monitor, which I wear for over a month. Lucky for me, the foremost doctor for repairing my cause of SVT works at the hospital just down the street from my university. Unlucky for me, or lucky for me, it is again determined the risks of treatment (sticking something through a vein in my calf, up to my heart and burning the “extra wire”) outweigh the benefits. It is also determined that’s a good thing… my symptoms are not as bad as they could be.
I graduate. We go to Aunt Linda’s in Mexico. Move to Arkansas. And start working for a living…
Later this week…
*Wondering what I hear every time I go to the doctor? Guess. Or tell me what YOU hear every time you go to the doctor. My answer to follow in the coming days.