Information, not ablation

Ablation: A relatively new procedure that scars or destroys tissue in the heart with the aim of getting the heart to beat normally.

The doctor I consulted last week specializes in ablations. My cardiologist referred me to him because the heart medication wasn’t working to control my atrial fibrillation.

I wasn’t there that day because I wanted an ablation. I wanted more information about how I could fix my atrial fibrillation (A-fib) naturally, but I knew that I wouldn’t get that information from him. I had gotten that information myself and was hoping that taking cell ready liquid magnesium and other mineral supplements, listening to high frequency music, and correcting my breathing patterns over the past couple of months had put my heart in sinus rhythm.

The TV on the wall in the waiting room broadcast eerie warnings about all the possible things that can go wrong with your heart, no doubt a deliberate strategy to scare the bejeezus out of us sheeples so that ablation looks like the only solution.

After my name was called and I shuffled into the consultation room, the nurse sat me down and asked a few questions about my medication history. I told her the side effects to my heart medication were intolerable and I wanted off! She agreed that the drug should be dropped. I noticed a cardboard sign on the counter opposite us illustrating what dead arteries look like. I excused myself, got up off my chair and walked over to turn the picture to the wall. “Gee, said the nurse, “I had thought about removing it because we don’t deal with artery disease here.” (I couldn’t help noticing that the only pamphlet in the room was a glossy brochure on why you need an ablation. Continue to ramp up the fear, why don’t you?)

Next, the ECG. To my immense relief, I was in normal heart rhythm. I haven’t had a normal rhythm detected in a doctor’s office since one was last heard in December. I may still have A-fib, it’s just that it now it appears that I no longer have persistent A-fib. I’ll take that.

Now, if I was expecting this new doctor to talk to me about natural means of eliminating my A-fib I would be incredibly naive and misinformed about what a heart rhythm specialist in Florida actually does and how much he earns doing it. The top heart rhythm specialists (electrophysiologists) can make more than $600,000 a year, way more than even what cardiologists earn here. I’m guessing the doctor I was about to see earns well over a gazillion dollars per year because there are lots of us old folk in Florida who have arrythmias. We’re easy pickin’s.

Getting a second opinion from an MD in Florida strikes me as a waste of time. I had done my some of my ablation homework by searching for second opinions from YouTube cardiologists about what atrial fibrillation is and why ablation should be avoided. (Don’t let your doctor tell you otherwise: YouTube is a great source for medical second opinions.) What I learned from YouTube about ablation is this:

The operation is successful in about 30-60% of cases. Many people have to keep having them done and of course, it is a surgical procedure that carries its own risks. You should only consider ablation if you feel that your quality of life is impaired, for example, maybe you’re an athlete who doesn’t like getting winded or maybe you’re a sedentary type but having trouble doing even small amounts of physical activity. It’s not for people like me who are able to live with it. Better yet, rather than just living with it or going for the surgical option, why not first investigate the miracle of liquid magnesium? As ablation is a relatively new procedure, not much is known about what can happen to your heart down the road because of the procedure. You still need to take an anticoagulant even if your ablation is successful. Just because you have no more heart arrhythmia does not mean that your risk of stroke has diminished. Strokes are fellow travellers with A-fib but A-fib does not cause strokes, as my favorite YouTube cardiologist explained. You need an anticoagulant to mitigate against strokes, not an ablation.

I also learned from YouTube that A-fib can be minimized and even eliminated using natural means. The benefits of cell ready liquid magnesium are touted,** the desirability of losing weight if you are overweight, fixing any sleep apnea, cutting back on coffee and alcohol, destressing your life, etc. And, most critically, you don’t need an ablation if A-fib doesn’t bother you.

The doctor I was about to see makes his living by telling you that A-fib is a problem, and he can do something about it. Here we should all pause for a moment: Remember the enthusiasm for lobotomies back in the 1940s and 1950s where connections were severed in the prefrontal cortex of the brain in an effort to control mental illness? How well did that experiment turn out?

There was a quick knock on the door and the high earning specialist entered the room. We shook hands, exchange some pleasantries, and got down to business. I had about fifteen minutes to find a drugless way forward.

Right away he said that I could drop the heart drug I’m currently on. (Strange that even though the ECG reading was normal for the first time in months the doctor didn’t claim that the heart drug was now suddenly working. If there was another explanation for why I was in sinus rhythm, he wasn’t curious to know.) I briefly started talking about the magnesium effect, but he wasn’t listening. He had whipped out a pen and notepad and began drawing an electrical storm of misfiring atria while enthusiastically writing down and circling the names of the drug possibilities I could take to control the A-fib. No talk of ablation but also no talk of natural means. He was fixated on the drugs of which there were about seven. He mentioned a “pill in a pocket”, something I could take as needed when my A-fib kicked up. “Okay, I’ll take that one,” I said, not that I was planning on using it. He promised to phone my prescription in to the pharmacy. End of appointment.

On my way out the door he asked if he could give me more information on ablation, evidently hoping that I might reconsider. I said I’d be willing to consider having the procedure done if I felt that my quality of life was becoming impeded. “What are the chances that the procedure would actually be successful in my case?” I asked playfully. (I knew the answer.) Funny, but I don’t remember his answer. I think he laughed, but I’m not sure.

If you’ve read all the way through to this point, you may be wondering what on earth this has to do with my usual theme of schizophrenia. My point is this: How would someone half my age with a diagnosed mental health problem be able to do the amount of homework that is needed to be an effective self-advocate, let alone make himself understood in a fifteen minute med check?

Fifteen minute med checks are a danger ground.

*The usual disclaimer: I am not a doctor and what I am writing should not be construed as medical advice. I specialize in opinions only. Do your homework. Form your own opinions.*

**See Dr. Carolyn Dean, MD, ND

8 thoughts on “Information, not ablation”

  1. Rossa, this is so true. In the 10 minute appointment my son had with his psychiatrist he was asked: “So, what would you like me to give you?” Since Alex, my son, cannot swallow tablets, we have limited choices, I have to do all of the research for liquid form of antipsychotics…I can’t imagine a worse doctor…

  2. I am thrilled to learn about your ECG results! Congratulations for having found an alternative to surgery. Your incisive description of the primrose path set out by the “ablationist” is extremely valuable. This personal discovery is something you could bottle and go to the bank on.

    Your personal research parallels mine with Focused Listening Music Therapy for schizophrenia (and other conditions). Daniel got into serious trouble during his last trip to Montreal, as far as I can tell, through no fault of his own. However, in the fallout from his brutal treatment by the police, he succumbed to the temptation to use drugs with local friends, which plunged him back into schizophrenia. (His last episode was at the beginning of 2016 and took about five months to heal.) He had been using Focused Listening sporadically. When he actually quit using everything but cigarettes (alcohol, cannabis, the recent cocaine) and settled into two hours of FL per day along with the coloring exercises, he began to improve.

    It’s hard to pick up the truly rational statements through the primarily irrational language, but in moments of clarity he has indicated that he is ready to wind down the Montreal experiment. He has been able to continue with his gardening, but not at the anticipated level of expansion of that operation.

    Watching and listening to his fractured language reveals new insights. The way a dyslexic disorders sounds or letters in words and words in sentences, the schizophrenic is reversing larger chunks of information. Charged with the “reversals” of values in the right-brain, he intersperses chunks of history, people he knows and their situations, current news, and so on in run-on sentences that have a grammatical structure but nonsensical meanings. I might become “The Virgin Mary” or “Joan of Arc” or some despicable figure; he might become God or Jesus or Satan as he tries to sort out the cast of characters floating in the amoral right-brain. Yesterday, however, he had risen from those elemental figures and moral concepts to actual events in history that were more fully rounded and realistic, although he was having great trouble with chronologies. He was struggling to sort ancestry, races, nations at war, and the snippets of news streaming from the TV. Today, he states that he is “designing the present and the past and the future with God.” The distinction between “AS God” (yesterday) and “WITH God” (today) shows an improvement in his perception of time that is making his self-concept more realistic. His sentences are longer and more complex. His vocabulary is richer. While his emotions rise and fall during the day and accordingly alter his linguistic ability from poor to improved, the general trend is towards increasing speeds of integration. He has resumed making his own simple meals and occasionally does something for me: a bouquet of daffodils or apple blossoms, a pot of tea, an assist in the kitchen, responding to some request from his father to do something outside. Sometime very soon, I expect him to “awaken normal.” Then, we’ll see how he intends to address the remaining addiction issues that stand between his intermittent needs for care and his genuinely mature and independent living.

    1. Laurna, you have the patience of a saint. It is so discouraging to watch our relatives slip. Maybe this will be the wake call that he’s been avoiding. Focused Listening requires daily devotion and it’s long term. I know this quite well because when I made my transatlantic move, my routine was thrown off so I only did the focused listening on and off. The temptation to nail bite began to creep back after several months. Ashamed to say that I completely “lost it” about a month ago and am back to nail biting. This time, though, I know how to fix it. My slippage has given me more sympathy for Chris. It’s easy to think that someone can just change, but the ingredients of change are complex and so is the knowledge of what we need to change. I think your understanding of how schizophrenia is related to dyslexia is brilliant. In the case of my heart arrythmia, I think the biggest factor is the liquid magnesium, which I’ll continue to take for the rest of my life. In addition, it mitigates against osteoporosis. Keep up your good work!

  3. Thanks for the post. It really amazes me too that a discussion about ones health is done in 15 to 20 minutes. Any longer and you’re considered in a negative view. With much speaking about you in lower tones. So it’s a “calling” like no other to stand in the gap for another and devote oneself to the research needed to make well informed decisions for ourselves and those we care for.

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