Ventricular tachy-whatty-ah?


Aye caramba. I’m now more of an expert in ventricular tachycardia than I ever thought I would be – I didn’t even know what it was before yesterday (although, the tachycardia part was a clue – something to do with fast or irregular heartbeat).

My dad was rushed into hospital on Tuesday morning, not very well at all.

He’s had heart problems for a few years now: doctors keep promising him that this surgery or that drug or this new pacemaker will sort him out, but somehow they never quite seem to live up expectations.

My dad was in hospital most of last week; not for anything serious but beccause they were trying out a new drug and wanted to keep him under observation, in case there were any side-effects. However, he came out on Saturday – the drug had had no effect on his heart, and he was still very easily tired and prone to some bouts of unpredictable heart rhythm – so they’d sent him home.

Not, however, before doubling the dose of the drug he was being given. The same drug they’d had to keep him in hospital for previously; on a heart monitor; with expert supervision available at all times in case there were any side-effects.

They doubled the dose and sent him home. Does that make any sense to you?

Well, anyway, I got a call on my mobile at five past seven on Tuesday morning; I hoped it was the Lovely Melanie, ringing to remind me that Millie’s name is Millie, or that she needs to wear clothes, or not to give her vodka – something like that.

Because everyone knows that telephone calls after midnight and before roughly 8am are just bad news for everyone concerned: no one ever rang between midnight and 8am to offer me a place on the next space shuttle flight, that’s for sure!

And sure enough, it was my brother saying that my dad had gone into hospital with heart problems and wasn’t very well. Something to do with ventricular tachycardia. My brother’s a paramedic and told me that dad was lucky to be alive now, as sudden ventricular tachycardia is often rapidly fatal. Given that my parents hadn’t wanted to make a fuss, and that my mum had driven my dad down to A&E in the car (my dad originally wanted to phone them for advice!!) he was luckier still to be alive!

But alive he was, so having checked there was nothing I could do, I finished feeding Millie (not with vodka), dropped her off at nursery and went into work. I spoke to my other brother (I have two, both younger than me) who lives in Bristol, and he was on his way to Swindon to visit my dad.

When I got into work I looked up ventricular tachycardia on the Net. Given that my youngest brother, the paramedic one, had already said it was pretty serious, this wasn’t very reassuring at all: the prognosis for people like my dad, with pre-existing heart problems, who then have an attack of ventricular tachycardia was…patchy.

I told my boss what had happened and then caught a train to Swindon.

Coincidentally, it was the fastest trip to Swindon I’ve ever made, but that’s another story.
I met my mum outside Swindon station and we went to the hospital…only to find the cardiac unit was closed to visitors for a couple of hours so that its patients could get some rest. Fortunately, we found a sympathetic nurse there who recommended we give him a little longer to rest and come back in half an hour or so.

Half an hour later we were ushered into a twilight zone of beds and bleeps; kind of like a normal hospital ward, but with more room and more equipment and more nurses. My dad, as far as we could see in the darkness, was fast asleep, covered in monitors and wires (I mean, really covered in monitors and wires – his chest had almost no hair left on it afterwards!), plus a particularly big monitor right over his heart, which my brother later told me wasn’t a monitor at all, it was pad for delivering those electrical shocks that restart the heart if it stops beating.

Apparently, if they you expect you to “arrest” (as it’s called) then they put the pads on beforehand, to save time. It’s not something they do willy-nilly, and was just another measure of how serious my dad’s condition was.

As we went in he woke up…and, basically, over the next couple of hours, he got better; to the point where my mum was apologising and saying that he really hadlooked quite desperately ill that morning. 

By the time my youngest brother arrived at about 3pm, my dad was sat up in bed, drinking some tea, reading the paper and joking about making it out to watch The Town (Swindon Town FC, that is) play that evening.

My brother looked at his ECG readings (his heartbeat, essentially) and pronounced him fit and well. And that, really, was that. I caught a train back home an hour or so later. 

My dad’s still in hospital, still being closely monitored, but fairly decisively recovered. He’ll stay in hospital for another couple of days, they think, but then he’ll be back home.

And I got back to London in time to see a very very tired Millie just before she went to bed. So everything worked out OK in the end.

Except, perhaps, for the cause of the ventricular tachycardia; but if that wasn’t caused by the incredibly poor management of my dad’s experimental new drug, then I’m not a world-renowned heart specialist!

And, lest you think I’m blaming our brilliant and noble National Health Service (which, for all its faults, is an institution that makes me incredibly proud to be British), my dad has private health care. The NHS only came into the picture when things went badly wrong, and it had to clean up the mess left behind by private healthcare.

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