Ablation a “gift” for Annette

As Annette’s atrial fibrillation (AF) progressively worsened, she made the decision, along with her family, to have an ablation. The procedure was a great success and now she is enjoying retirement in her own personal paradise.

Annette had experienced heart palpitations for years, but had never sought medical help for them. However, when she and her husband retired to Ohope Beach in 2007, her heart palpitations started to become more aggressive and regular, always in the evenings while she was resting.

She could find no “rhyme nor reason” for the palpitations and in an effort to make them stop, gave up her 5pm glass of wine, that she always looked forward to.

“Being retired, I enjoyed the good life really, living in paradise as well. I walk every morning on the beach with my husband and our four-legged friend. I played golf, outdoor bowls, gardened, everything that people do when they retire. I just generally enjoyed life.”

However, in 2010, after experiencing two or three particularly strong episodes of palpitations, which could last from late afternoon to the early hours of the morning, Annette visited her doctor in search of answers.

Atrial fibrillation diagnosis

The doctor was unable to diagnose Annette at that appointment as her heart was beating normally, but recommended she come back or go to straight to A&E the next time she felt the symptoms.

Some days later, the strong palpitations returned and Annette’s husband took her to A&E. She was immediately admitted to the coronary care unit for an overnight stay and an echocardiogram showed that Annette was having fairly aggressive AF.

The doctor prescribed beta blockers, which seemed to work well for Annette for about 18 months, but she still didn’t feel at ease with her condition.

“I never felt like it was cured and I was always aware that it could start. I’d have a few flip-flops with the heart and I’d think, ‘oh no what’s happening here?’.”

Over time, the “flip-flops” got progressively worse and began happening in the morning as well. The AF was also having other effects on Annette.

“The thing that probably was the worst was actually the light headedness, nausea and the feeling of unbelievable fatigue, which make you think ‘was there something else happening to my body?’.”

A change of medication

Annette returned to see her doctor and her medication was changed to include a blood thinner.

By 2016, Annette’s AF had started to wake her up through the night and was happening when she was out walking or bowling, so she visited the cardiologist to speak about her options.

“I had a long chat to him. He put me on a different lot of drugs and spoke about ablation. Initially I thought ‘that’s not me’. I was a bit overawed to think that I would need something that sounded so invasive. I decided to stick with the drugs.”

“A good decision”

However, after three months, with the symptoms continuing to have a significant impact on her life, Annette changed her mind.

“The cardiologist told me it was only going to get worse, so I made the decision with my husband and two adult children that the ablation was the way to go.”

The cardiologist agreed that the ablation was a good decision and Annette had the procedure in September 2017, which proved to be a great success.

“I had unbelievable support from the people at Braemar Hospital. I was in there for a day, came out, stayed in Hamilton for the night and came home. It took me probably two or three weeks to get over it, I was tired. But from then on, I was out and doing everything that I did. Out playing bowls again, doing everything.”

Reflecting on surgery

Since then, Annette has experienced the occasional “flip-flop” with her heart and felt fatigued in the summer months while it was extremely hot, but has had no palpitations. She also continues to take medication as prescribed by the cardiologist.

“I get a flip-flop, it’s like your computer is being rebooted or something. I just occasionally get a day when I’m not feeling well, but I know that I’ve developed an ectopic heartbeat and those sort of go together. I’m old enough and wise enough now that if something’s not quite right, I just have a day of rest. So really, it’s up to me. I think we’ve all got to be in control of our own bodies.”

For Annette, the ablation was the best decision and she would recommend it to anyone in a similar situation.

“If you are my age, I certainly wouldn’t turn it down. And to start, I did. I thought it sounded so invasive and I didn’t want to make a fuss.’ But I made a decision and it was the right one.”

The difficult thing about AF

While it’s common for people to not want to make a fuss about their condition, Annette says she now knows her body well enough to speak out and to rest if she is feeling unwell. She says her family are very supportive of her needs, even if others sometimes don’t realise what she is going through.

“The difficult thing about AF is that people just don’t understand that overwhelming feeling. It’s not the palpitations, you can usually just sit down during those, but it’s the unbelievable feeling after the palpitations that your body is worn out. It’s like running a marathon I suppose. And you look alright, but you’re tired and light headed, but people look at you and think ‘what are you going on about? She looks alright’. So you know, I don’t tell anybody except my family, they’re the only ones that really know.”

“It has given me my life back”

Now Annette’s AF doesn’t stop her from doing anything she wants to, including travelling. She also mentions how much easier it is to get travel insurance since having the ablation.

“For me it was a bit of a gift really. I’ve got six grandchildren, I want to see them reach their potential. I want to see them grow and maybe be a great-grandmother, but they would laugh their faces off if they heard me say that. It has certainly given me back my life.”

 

Shared August 2018

Please note: the views and opinions of the storyteller and related comments may not necessarily reflect those of the Heart Foundation NZ.

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