Courage at Twilight: Supraventricular Tachycardia

During gym class, playing volleyball—that’s when it happened. My heart started to flutter and I became weak and light-headed.  Sitting on the sidelines with my fingers pressed to my jugular, I managed to count 300 beats in a minute.  Then it stopped, and I was fine.  I was 17.  My doctor trained me to stop the runaway heart-beat using vagal maneuvers, bearing down while holding my breath.  Normally, lying on my back was all it took to slow the beat.  Fully 40 years later, the vagals would not work, and my friend took me to the emergency room after two hours at 180 bpm.  My cardiologist explained SVT—supraventricular tachycardia—a condition in which the electric circuitry of the heart becomes confused momentarily and takes an unintended and incorrect short cut, sending the heart racing.  He thought low-dose Metoprolol would do the trick, and it did.

The roofing inspector had come to examine the 25-year-old shingles, and Mom watched from the back yard, seated on the rock wall.  She began to feel funny in her eyes and head, stood up, became dizzy, and collapsed.  The mortified inspector helped Mom to a chair.  Her lip had glanced on a rock and was swollen and red.  A brain MRI showed no stroke, no tumor, no inflammation, nothing but a very healthy brain.  But the halter heart monitor revealed repeated episodes of rapid heart rate.  Mom’s doctor, a neighbor, called me to explain the test results, the textbook symptoms, and the treatment.  Knowing all about SVT, I jumped in to inform him of my condition and treatment.  We chuckled in astonishment and excitement at the genetic coincidence.  “Looks we know now where you got it from,” he said, amused.  Chuckling felt appropriate, because Mom’s condition is not a heart defect, just a minor electrical short, and easily treatable, and because after four weeks of tests and consultations and worry, we both felt so relieved to have the answer, and such a positive one.  Mom took her first dose tonight, and is already back on the stationary bicycle, albeit slowly and carefully, her fear ebbing, on her way to renewed strength.

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