Monday, November 21, 2016

Balloon Cryoblation

I can't believe I'm posting this photo
On Friday, I underwent a little heart procedure to correct atrial fibrillation and a heart flutter. One of the best electrophysiologists in the country did the procedure, so I wasn't nervous at all. Below is an account of my experience for all those who care to know.

We arrived at the hospital around 9:30 a.m., and I was in a pre-op bed by 10:00. There, they inserted an IV port in each arm, made me sign my life away, and told me what to expect. The two nurses who would be with me in the electrophysiology lab came to talk to me, then they made me get up and walk down the hall to the lab and get on a new bed. They said I would be glad for the exercise because I'd be on my back for about the next 12 hours.

It took the staff (two doctors, two nurses, and a nurse anesthetist) about 40 minutes to get me ready for the procedure. I had to be hooked up to the IV's, swallow a tube with a thermometer attached to it (which went in through my nose), get my groin area sterilized (this might be too much information), have my wrists strapped down, get instructions (they told me not to be alarmed when I get the hiccups and that I would feel some burning sensations in my chest). All the while I was trying not to think about what was actually happening.

I did ask my nurse, Bill, who was very sweet, if they were going to give me happy juice before they inserted the tubes into my groin. He assured me that they would.

What I actually had was balloon cryoblation to treat paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. That's a mouthful. It boils down to using a tube to enter the left side of my heart, through my groin, and freeze four veins in the atrial chamber. After the four veins were frozen, they used another tube to go into the right side of my heart and burn a vein that was causing my heart to flutter. This procedure took four hours.

During the four hours, I was in a twilight sleep. I would go in and out of consciousness. I could hear the doctors and nurses talking sometimes, and they would talk to me. I can remember moving my head from side to side, I can remember a nurse wiping a tear that was rolling down my cheek, and I can remember trying to tell them it hurt when they burned the flutter vein. They also forced me to have hiccups four times to avoid damaging a nerve near my diaphragm. This all sounds like I was dreaming, but I promise you it all really happened.

After all was said and done, the fun began. My nurses pulled out the tubes and spent ten full minutes applying pressure to the two groin holes. While they did this, they discussed their Thanksgiving plans over my belly. I kept wanting to chime in, but for some reason, I couldn't speak. When the ten minutes were up, they shrink-wrapped a dressing using something akin to duct tape across my midsection. This is why I was not allowed to stand up for seven more hours.

They wheeled me to recovery where I met up with Don who patiently waited for the patient. We got settled in to my room by about 6:00. I was hoping to eat something since it had been about 22 hours since my last meal. Food finally arrived around 7:30.

The reason I was shrink-wrapped was because the holes they made for the procedure were prone to open up if they did not have time to clot. Every 15 minutes, my floor nurse came in and checked to make sure I wasn't bleeding. When she went home, the next nurse didn't seem to care if I bled. I didn't see her unless I pressed the call button.

After I ate dinner, I was sleepy, so I told Don to head on home. I would see him in the morning. No need to stay with me. So he did. I asked the nurse around 8:30 when I could get out of bed, and she said my bed rest would be over at 9:30, so I fell asleep. I woke up at 10:30, still shrink-wrapped. I buzzed the nurse and asked to be released.

She sent someone else in to remove my "Foley," which I found out was the urinary catheter they had inserted prior to the procedure (forgot about that). The nurse then told me to swing my legs to the side of the bed to get up. I reminded her that I wasn't going anywhere until she un-shrink-wrapped me.

How could she forget that? Then she said..."this is going to hurt."

She pulled off the largest band-aid on earth, and checked to make sure my holes weren't bleeding. Then she told me to stand up. I made it several feet to the bathroom door before she started screaming. I didn't even notice that I was bleeding. I looked down, and blood, the consistency of water, was splashing onto my socks and the floor. I had been on a blood thinner for several weeks, and it was alarming how thin my blood actually was!

I was a little dazed, so it took me more time than it should have to get back in the prone position. My bed then looked like a crime scene. The nurse was applying pressure while screaming for help and telling someone to call the doctor. I didn't know what to think. Why had I sent Don home?

They gave me a modified shrink-wrap and made me stay in bed another two hours until I really had to go to the bathroom. Remember, my Foley was not assisting me any longer.

I was afraid to get up, but I used a foam ball to apply pressure to the site while I stood, and I did not let go. I was relieved to get back in bed. I did this two more times during the night with no leaks. Phew!

I went home the next day pretty beat. All I wanted to do was sleep. But now I am feeling almost back to normal. It will take three months for my heart to heal, so I won't know how successful the procedure was until then. But I sure am glad it's over for now!


  1. Wow, you are a trooper!! I can't wait to see you tomorrow!
    - HJR