Editor's Note: 4ever3 of the SBN site NASCAR Ranting and Raving, and a denizen of Hamilton, ON, was kind enough to share his experiences with catheter ablations. He has undergone the procedure and his experience follows.
Hey there I was asked by PPP to write about this so here goes.
Leafs rookie goalie Jonas Gustavsson recently had a catheter ablation done on his heart and about a year ago I had a similar procedure.
What this particular surgery does is correct a nerve problem with the heart.
To put it a simply as I can your heart works on an alternating current (ie. beat, rest, beat, rest, etc.) but in some people an extra nerve grows on the heart that is direct current that sometimes over-rides the AC nerve telling the heart to beat, beat, beat, etc. without resting.
A lot of us don't know that we have this problem because the heart eventually corrects itself after the DC nerve takes over, and it is not until our heart doesn't re-set itself and our hearts don't slow down that we realize we have a problem.
I was told by the Doctor that those of us who have this problem are born with the extra nerve and there is nothing that we can do to prevent it from happening.
In my case it happened after running one day, my heart just wouldn't settle down so after about two hours (I didn't say anything for the first hour) of this we called an ambulance that way I wouldn't have to wait in the Emergancy waiting room to get seen.
Once I was in the ambulance they tried to get my heart slowed down by having me do a series of breathing techniques and some other things all of which didn't work so they had to administer a drug into my IV that made my heart stop beating for two whole seconds - not long I know, but it felt like an hour - and that eventually reset my heart.
I was then taken to hospital where they monitored me for about 45 min and then released me.
I was not allowed to do anything to significantly increase my heart rate for 72 hrs - my neighbours had to shovel the driveway for me.
I then saw the heart surgeon a month later and he filled me in and told me what they wanted to do. I agreed to it otherwise I'd be on Beta-blockers for the rest of my life with no guarantees that my problem wouldn't come back or when. I do some travelling to other less- privileged countries than ours (ie. Cuba) from time to time and there is no way that I'd want to be in another country if that were to happen again.
They did an ultra-sound of my heart two days before the surgery to make sure I didn't have any other heart problems. Now this ultra sound was done differently - they stick it down your throat and do if from inside your throat. Fortunately they gave me too much sedative and I fell asleep during this.
I was nervous the day of the surgery let me tell you. The most significant surgery I ever had was having a mole removed from my shoulder and now I was looking at heart surgery - ugh.
I was told that they didn't know where the extra DC nerve was located and they wouldn't know until the operation. Apparently that is the norm for this type of condition.
If the extra DC nerve was located on the right side of my heart it would be a quick procedure and if it were on my left side it would take longer. Also, if it were located too close to the main AC nerve they would not continue because they could also kill that nerve and then I would require a pace-maker and my problem wasn't deemed significant enough for them to do that.
With this particular surgery they don't cut open your chest, instead they get to your heart through your arteries. They go up through your groin to your heart and in through your neck - both on the right side.
Through these openings they stick in a series of camera's and operational tools.
The operating table looked like a video gamers dream with about 4 monitors above it so everyone can see what is going on inside of me. All medical equipment, monitors, etc. were hooked into a central control booth with a person sitting inside overseeing everything - to me it looked like the sound booth in a recording studio.
It was also cold in there.
They put me to sleep and I woke up about 3.5 hrs later with them still working on me. I didn't know it at the time but the surgery is only supposed to last about 2 hrs but I stayed in there for 4.
When I woke up they were about to call it quits as they couldn't get to the nerve.
They had tested all the other nerves on my heart without much luck. What they do is give each nerve an electrical stimulus to see if it will kick start my heart into overdrive and the last one they checked was the 'one' and wouldn't you know it, it was in a difficult spot almost too close to the AC nerve to kill.
Fortunately for me the Resident Doctor was willing to give it one more try before throwing in the towel and I had a ring-side seat for the action.
The nurse moved some stuff around in my neck and the Dr moved some stuff around in my groin and they went after it. When he tried to zap it with intense radio waves the first time I felt this warm sensation in my chest, more on the left side than the right, that eventually increased to what felt like a really bad case of heart-burn.
He didn't get it.
Some more movement in my neck and groin.
Some friendly banter between the booth man and Dr.
Some Hail Marys by me.
Another bad case of heart burn.
Some testing with electrical current to get the nerve active and my heart racing.
The operation was a success!
They had everything out of me in a manner of minutes and I was wheeled to recovery where I feel asleep again.
A few hours later I woke up with a stiff neck and what felt like a minor groin pull along with a head ache.
I went back to sleep.
A few more hours later the headache felt better and the Doctors were all standing around me.
After a few tests and conversation I was released, until I stood up and got light headed. They then decided to keep me overnight for more observations. No one thought (including me) that it could have been because I hadn't had anything to eat in almost 24hrs as it was 5 pm now and you are not allowed to eat for about 8 hrs before you operation so that meant that I hadn't had anything to eat since about 10 pm the night before.
I stayed the night and slept almost the whole time and when 9 am came around the next morning I was discharged.
Let me tell you my back hurt worse from that hospital bed than my neck or groin did from the surgery.
I wasn't allowed to do anything strenuous for about 2 weeks for fear of opening my wounds and bleed-out as there were no stitches applied; only band-aids. No worries about my heart.
I wasn't allowed to wear briefs either because the elastic portion of the leg would be right on the wound.
I was back running in 4 days though and the wound on my neck looked like I cut myself shaving.
Actually my neck hurt worse than my groin, it was a bit stiff for a few days where as my groin didn't bother me at all.
Based on my experience, my speculation is that the recovery time that Gustavsson is looking at is not for his heart to recover but rather for his wounds to heal enough for him to quickly turn his head to see the action across the ice and then do the splits in the goal crease stopping a 100 mph slap shot from the point.
This turned out to be a longer than I thought it was going to be so for that I apologize but I hope you now have a better sense of what a catheter ablation operation entails.