Atrial Fibrillation; My Shocking Heart Story

by Al Van Abbema

For most of my life a had no serious health problems and had never heard of atrial fibrillation. I have never been more than twenty pounds overweight. Most of my working years kept me physically active and I didn't start an exercise program until well into my fifties. I pretty much ate what ever I wanted and occasionally drank too much beer. I started riding bicycle seriously at about fifty. I also started working out with weights.

Some years after retirement, at the age of sixty nine, I had a life threatening experience. While wintering in southern Arizona, I made a day trip to Mexico. I had felt a little under the weather for a few days. On the drive home I began having trouble breathing. The condition gradually worsened and one night it was so bad I was afraid to lay down because I thought I would stop breathing. Early the next morning I went to the nearest doctor. He examined me, took an EKG, and called a heart clinic in Phoenix. In a matter of minutes a volunteer for the clinic was rushing me to Phoenix.

After hours of all kinds of tests the cardiologist detailed my problems. I had all the symptoms of congestive heart failure. My lungs were full of fluid. I also had serious atrial fibrillation with a heartbeat ranging from 86 to 204. His staff found a hospital room for me and I spent the next five days there. For the congestion I was put on Lasix, a potent diuretic and I passed about eight pounds of liquid in three days. For the atrial fibrillation I was put on a variety of medications. Some of them were to counteract the side effects of the main ones. I also took medication for high blood pressure. The atrial fibrillation settled down somewhat but not enough. Different drugs were tried with little change in results. After about six weeks I was told about the option of cardioversion.

Cardioversion is a procedure in which an electric shock is directed at the heart through contacts on the chest and behind the heart on the back. During rapid cardiac arrhythmias, an abnormal electrical mechanism overrides the action of the sinus node. With the delivery of a high-energy shock to the heart muscle, the sinus node begins to fire again and a normal heart rhythm is restored.

I was told of the risks and that it was not always successful and may have to be repeated periodically. I opted to go for it and the doctor made the necessary arrangements.

On the appointed day I was prepped with a drug (I think it was demerol) that would keep me awake but supposedly not allow pain to be felt. There was a monitor in front of me displaying very erratic heart activity. When I was sufficiently sedated it began. I really didn't feel pain but I did feel my body bounce on the bed. I think I got two shocks. After some time coming out of the sedation I was able to see the monitor. The heartbeat graph was so uniform I thought it had stopped. The atrial fibrillation had disappeared. The procedure had succeeded beautifully.

I was kept on medication for some time as a safety measure. I did not like the side effects; headaches, lethargy, under active thyroid and others.

I decided I didn't want to live that way and chose to slowly go off all drugs and adopt a new lifestyle. I cut way back on fats (absolutely no fried foods) and animal protein.

I ate at least three fresh raw fruits a day; usually a banana, an orange and an apple.

I ate two or three raw or lightly steamed vegetables and high fiber bread and cereal.

And I walked...a lot... twice a day; a minimum of twenty minutes each.

I have been off all prescription drugs for over two years and feel better than I did when I was forty.

I am an avid proponent of natural and holistic health care. I do not like prescription drugs that treat the symptoms with disregard to the cause.

I think heroic procedures such as surgery are traumatically invasive and should be a very last resort. However, modern medical research has produced some miraculous, life saving procedures and medicines. That needs to be recognized and acknowledged. A massive electric shock to the heart is anything but natural but it may well have saved my life.

You can also read about how I overcame gout at my website:

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