MY Heart Was Going Haywire - So Doctors Switched off. I Felt Utter Terror ; No More Racing Heart: Author Fay Weldon

Daily Mail (London), September 18, 2007 | Go to article overview

MY Heart Was Going Haywire - So Doctors Switched off. I Felt Utter Terror ; No More Racing Heart: Author Fay Weldon


Byline: fay weldon

YOU can judge a country by the state of its hospitals, says novelist FayWeldonwho should certainly know. Over 40 years, and often in far-flung destinations,she endured literally hundreds of attacks of an alarming heart condition knownas tachycardia.

Her heart would beat twice as fast as normal, her skin took on a ghostlypallor, and she would become breathless and in increasing pain with theviolence of the cardiac contractions.

While on book tours overseas, she would often have to go to the local hospitalfor treatment to re-set her heart. In the last decade of her illness, beforeundergoing surgery, Fay was regularly given a drug that stopped her heart.

I would flatline and everyone would be on alert to resuscitate you in case yourheart didnt start up again. It was, effectively, like dying, and it wasterrifying, she says, speaking for the first time about her condition.

Fay was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). This is when thehearts electrical impulses, which usually regulate its beats at between 70 and100 per minute, go into an abnormal pattern, beating at between 140 and 240times a minute, for minutes, hours or even days. The condition can occurspontaneously or be triggered by too much caffeine, stress or being run down.

Once, when she was in Sweden and had put off having hospital treatment, Faysheart raced for 12 hours. She has also had attacks while appearing on live TV.A lot of blood is pumped to your brain, so it makes you rather sharp-witted,she remarks.

A year later she had laser surgery to cure the condition and has had no moreattacks since. I feel ordinary now I no longer have tachycardia. I miss thedrama, she says wryly.

Her first attack of SVT was in 1967, when she was 36, and on a tour to promoteher first novel, a controversial feminist work called The Fat Womans Joke.

I was verbally attacked in public by a fellow author on the platform, whichcaused a surge of adrenaline. That night, I was woken by my heart poundingabout 200 times a minute, the vein in my neck pulsating wildly. I felt as if Iwas going to pass out.

I assumed I was having a heart attack and made peace with my maker. I rang thehotel reception and a doctor came and told me not to move while he organised anambulance.

FAY was wired up to an electrocardiogram (ECG)

to monitor the hearts electrical activity. A coronary angiogram, in which dyeis fed into the blood vessels of the heart and recorded by X-ray, ruled out anyunderlying heart disease.

She was injected with verapamil, a muscle relaxant which, within 15 minutes,slowed the nerve impulses in the heart.

It is frightening, but in hospital I felt safe. (My father was a doctor in acottage hospital in New Zealand.) I was told I had SVT and it never killedanyone; that only healthy hearts can take the strain.

SVT originates in the atria, the upper chambers of the heart, as opposed toventricular tachycardia, which is in the lower chambers and is more serious andoften associated with heart disease.

However, SVT is not without consequences. In some patients, the irregularvolume of blood pumped can cause it to pool, coagulate and form clots, whichmay cause a stroke.

I went home the next morning, feeling a bit sorry for myself, and with amuscular heart pain rather like the kind you get in your legs after climbingstairs.

A couple of years passed before the next attack. The same routine was followedin hospital, and then Fays GP put her on beta blockers, a medication used tolower blood pressure and that also slows nerve impulses, preventingtachycardia. But it failed to break the cycle of erratic electrical impulsesand the attacks increased in frequency.

On book tours abroad, Id often have an adrenaline-inducing public speakingevent followed by a late dinner and an attack after going to bed, says Fay. …

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