From perfect health to atrial fibrillation
At 67, Roger had never had any health issues and there was no history of heart disease in his family. The first sign of any trouble was a few dizzy spells.
Roger was playing golf twice a week, walking a kilometre every morning before breakfast, and eating a sensible low-fat diet.
But then came the dizzy spells, a few while playing golf. By the time he’d get to a doctor, however, the symptoms would be gone.
“When I first went to my GP with my wife, I wasn’t showing any symptoms. And my doctor told me that I would have to have an episode for him to be able to diagnose me.
“After about a year these episodes got more frequent, until one day I was so bad my wife called the ambulance. I was immediately diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. A condition I will have now for life.”
The ups and downs of treatment
Initially, Roger was prescribed a beta blocker which helped, but a month later he was back in A&E with another AF episode.
He was then put on a different beta blocker which he found to be effective, though for Roger there have been side-effects.
“I feel lethargic, tired and have a dull headache. The cardiologist says most people are okay with (the medication) but I have quite a few side-effects, which they said may go away. It’s a question of the lesser of the two evils, as if I stop the pills the AFib will get worse.”
“I must admit, I have had a bumpy heart a few times, but not gone into acute AFib again. Without the hospital and its skilled staff and all their knowledge and equipment, we would all be in a real mess.”
Loss of confidence
Though the episodes are fewer and shorter now (every two to three weeks), AF is never far from Roger’s mind.
“I get weary socialising and I don’t like being away from home, even for a few days. What if I have an episode and I need medical attention straight away? It’s worrying and upsetting,
“Sometimes I can feel faint, dizzy and weak. An episode can happen within half-an-hour and last for two to three hours. And although it’s not life-threatening at the moment, I know that it can lead to a stroke.”
Knowing that there is medical help nearby is a comfort, he says.
“You just need to know that you have people available to look after you.
“I joined St John’s which is reassuring and I don’t hesitate to go to hospital if I need to. The staff are so very, very good because they understand that even a panic attack can lead to AFib and vice versa, so even if it’s a false alarm they are really good about it.”
When making travel plans last Christmas to see family, Roger wondered how he would cope with the flight and keeping up with the grand-kids. Ultimately it gave him peace of mind knowing he’d be close to Wellington Hospital should he need its services.
“Reassurance is the key,” he says. “AFib is miserable and I pity anyone who gets it, but we’re alive and luckier than some.”
“The only advice I can offer is, make sure you get into the hospital and get your condition properly diagnosed and managed. They have the skills and knowledge. Although it scares the pants off you when it happens, you don’t usually die from it, but untreated there is a strong chance of a stroke.’
Shared June 2017