I am back in Sequoia Hospital – three days and three nights – for an Atrial Fibrillation ablation. Ablation means the removal or melting away of an unwanted structure or tissue (and I can’t help but think of that scene in India Jones where the the Nazis’ faces melt off). With the caveat that I really don’t know the details of what is going on inside my body, I think what is happening is that my heart was making extra – weaker and erratic – heartbeats. Usually, our heart contracts and relaxes to a regular beat pumping blood through the lungs to aerate it and then through our bodies. To quote an American Heart Association webpage, In atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) beat irregularly (quiver) instead of beating effectively to move blood into the ventricles. About 15–20 percent of people who have strokes have this heart arrhythmia.
Normally, the sinus node fires an electrical charge to start the heartbeat and – because the cells in the heart muscle transmit that electrical charge – the upper chambers contract, pumping the blood. The heart can develops additional beats from the other nodes that are caused by the thickening of the heart walls (in my case by the heart working harder before I had my aorta valve replaced with a cow valve).
The ablation disables the troublesome extra node activity by fishing a tube up through a vain from my groin to my heart and burning them with radio frequency energy (with the heart full of blood, and not, at first so obvious to me, in the dark). Among other semi-miracles, they find the troublesome areas by mounting plates on my chest and back that guide the inserted probes with a sort-of personal GPS.
This was all done on Friday and I have been in the hospital – feeling much better and a little bored – ever since to monitor the results. I am looking forward to getting out on Monday and – hopefully – will be more active than I have been in the last year.