I am sorry, Donna, but the story must be told! Did you read “26 Miles Across the Deep Blue Sea”? Well if you haven’t, you may want to go (click here for THAT post) and read it, then come back here.
A couple of years ago I got a call from my friend Donna, who reported to me that if felt like her heart was racing and she wanted to know what should she do. Well, after a quick lesson on pulse checking, we discovered that her heart wasn’t only racing, it was qualifying. I asked her a few questions and found out that she’d just started taking a new weight loss supplement, one that contained ephedra. Chances were Donna was in what is called “supraventricular tachycardia” or “SVT”. Not generally dangerous when triggered by ephedra, it is easily treated with a quick call to 911 and a follow-up visit in the ER. Paramedics carry the intravenous medication that “knocks out” the irregular heart rhythm so that the normal “pacemaker” of the heart can start to be in control again. Anyway, she of course refused to call 911 and refused to go the emergency room and wanted to know what other options she had. “Well, there’s vagal maneuvers” I told her, but you need to have somebody there with you in case you pass out and don’t wake up immediately. She assured me that the “girls” (her daughters) were there. So we vagaled. And her heart rate dropoped from the 170’s down to the 120’s. I told her to drink lots of fluids, stay in bed, avoid all stimulants, and call 911 if she developed chest pain, shortness of breath, anything like that. She was zonked for days, but she recovered without further incident.
And then comes my birthday in June of last 2005. Hopefully you have gone back and read like I told you to. One of the things I have wanted to do for decades, is to spend the night on the Queen Mary in Long Beach. And that’s where my birthday party started. We (Diane, Connie, Lizzie, Whitney, Donna, and I) checked in and had a wonderful evening of wine and food. Perhaps we drank too much, perhaps we had a little too much coffee before bed, but in the morning, while taking a shower, Donna’s tachycardia came back. I had her lay on the bed, drink a bunch of glasses of water, and do a couple of vagal maneuvers. Her heart rate slowed from the 180’s to the 120’s and she began to feel better. But every time she’d exert herself (and by exert, I mean MOVE), it would kick back into high gear.
After a bit of a rest and more fluids, she decided she wanted to try to meet the rest of the girls for breakfast. We only sort of made it there, and sat down, but then had to go back to our room. And this time I couldn’t get her heart to slow down at all. I told Donna, who was starting to look panicked around the edges, “Just let me call 911. They’ll make you better in a jiff, we can spend a couple of hours in the ER, and then be on our way”. But she was adamant that she wanted to gut it out and not be a problem. But she couldn’t sit up. After a couple more encouragements to let me call 911, I finally sat back and told her, “you just tell me when you are ready to call them, okay?”
And at about noon, she finally acquiesced, because now she was having chest pain. She looked up at me, and said “Okay, you can call 911 now.” Finally! 🙂 I called the front desk and informed them of the situation, and they took care of calling 911. The poor girl that answered the phone tried to give me advice on what to do. She sounded like she was going to cry! “Don’t worry”, I told her. “I’m an ER nurse. I know what to do.” She heaved a sigh of relief and expressed “good, cuz I sure don’t”.
As it turns out, the paramedics were already on there way for a woman who fell and injured her ankle. But life wins over limb, and we got that ambulance crew about 1 minute after calling 911. And in about 30 seconds, my hotel room was filled with boys in blue woolens and yellow turnouts. It was like Christmas! I gave the lead medic the history and told him I thought she was in SVT. We hooked her up to an heart monitor, and she was.
Now, because she was not only in SVT but was having chest pain, they had to contact the base for orders. Only thing was, cell phones didn’t work in the hull of that ship. I wish one of us would have had the foresight to have our camera out so that we would have had a picture of the paramedic hanging out the porthole talking on the cell phone!
Frustration of all frustrations, though Donna has amazing veins, the medics couldn’t get an IV started. Do you know how badly I wanted to jump in and do it for them???? (Here’s the aftermath…)
Eventually they got the IV in and it took two rounds of the medication, but her heart converted to a normal rhythm. It was pretty cool, because my little sister, Liz, was in her last year of nursing school and was able see all this stuff first hand!
And, when we finally got off the Queen Mary, we had transportation awaiting…
A limo for Diane, Connie, Lizzie, and Whitney…
And an ambulance for Donna and me!
Sisters Liz and Diane, and Donna, in Catalina
Despite its questionable beginning, it turned out to be an amazing trip. We had a wonderful time together. One I’ll never forget. Today is Donna’s birthday. Happy Birthday! I miss you. Wish I could be celebrating with you today!