Dare To Be 100: Roadkill At Stanford

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As I conjured a term to represent how I felt last Thursday evening after eight hours of general anesthesia and hordes of people beating on my poor helpless carcass, the only term I could propose is that of roadkill. Those innocent squirrels or bunnies or bullfrogs were merely trying to cross the road, no evil intent there. Then they encountered Detroit, and their road crossing days were finished. They became smashed flat on the roadway, a grim splattering of flesh and guts. Their executioners probably even unaware of their deed.

I too started last Thursday chipper and innocent. I checked in at the registration desk of the interventional cardiology department at 6:45 and reported that I was there because I was 11 months pregnant and expected immediate delivery. I was way overdue.

My case of atrial fibrillation started last fall and I was not a happy camper, easily breathless, fatigued and generally out of sorts. My tolerance of dysfunction is slim to none. I sought counsel from the dozens of cardiologists whom I knew at Stanford and across the country, and the predominant advice was "live with it." The appropriate drugs that might help had prominent side effects, and I don't like drugs in the first place. The only other alternative was ablation. I had never heard the term in medical school or in my early training. But here it was, ablation for atrial fibrillation. I asked widely about and located a prominent cardiologist in San Francisco whom I consulted. Before long in October I was strapped to a table. His approach to ablation was gentle, random, and ineffective.

I was disappointed, but fortunately the week after that a new Stanford cardiology recruit, Dr. Sangiv Narajan, appeared before our Medical Grand Rounds on the topic of ablation for atrial fibrillation. His new approach was further technically advanced using data provided by catheters in my groin into all the chambers of my heart yielding a complete mapping of the beating heart, and like a telemetered jigsaw puzzle it all was there for them to interpret.

I of course was totally out of it, knowing none of this, but now my heart had lost its syncopation and was back to its metronome pattern. Sangiv had found the irritable focus, had singed it. The price paid for this however was the grimmest night of my life. It was roadkill. I had no vitality I hurt everywhere. I was ordered to "Lie still." My legs were confined. I felt encased in Saranwrap. Tubes in every part of me, most notably one in my penis that aggravated me mightily. My restless legs were demanding to move, "NO!" My nurses whom I had encountered earlier caring for my patients as a busy admitting physician tried to console me, but even their gentle platitudes seemed futile. The night was endless, the second hand seemed in slow motion. I hurt everywhere, and had doubts at that time whether the effort was worth this misery.

Now, three days later, my pregnancy delivered with a normal beating heart I am starting to train for the Boston Marathon in 2020 when I'll be 90. I ran a slow mile this morning.

Life springs eternal.

Even roadkill can spark again.