I Thought I Was Going To Die Last Night

Adventures in tachycardia.

I need to take you back to early 2013 for a moment. Just another day of waking up for work at that time of day reserved for emergencies and setting off on holiday, but on this occasion, my heart was racing.

It wasn’t the first time my heart had decided it wanted to beat three times the speed it should, but it was the first time it decided to do this when it should have been resting. Following the principle of ‘ignore it, it will go away’, which used to be my first-line treatment of choice, I set off to work.

It was mid-morning break time before the realisation dawned that I felt tired and breathless running up the stairs towards my classroom. 5 hours. 5 hours of palpitations and rapid heart beating. I wondered how long it could continue before it would slow down. Or stop. But that wondering wasn’t enough to make me do anything differently. That’s the thing about automatic pilot — it has a habit of missing the signs.

The day continued, as did the race my heart was running.

It was mid-afternoon when I became scared. It was the first time I had sat down that day. When I counted 8 hours, as if 5 wasn’t enough, combined with dizziness, shortness of breath, and a feeling of ache and heaviness in my arms, it didn’t take Google to tell me these were symptoms I shouldn’t take for granted.

An hour later, I was in A&E strapped to a machine that would restart my heart should it decide to stop, with 6 people rushing around looking far too serious for my liking. The words “we couldn’t get a blood pressure reading in the left arm and her pulse is way over 200” chastised me for my ‘ignore it, it will go away’ placebo.

The words from the doctor’s mouth said “don’t worry, everything’s fine”, but her eyes disagreed.

I cried.

They needed to inject me with a drug that would slow my heart.

I cried even more.

My phobia of injections/needles/any pin-like stabbing device that ‘won’t hurt a bit’ hijacked all rationality.

My heart beat faster.

There was one other option they would try before the needle. The Valsalva manoeuvre. The name itself deserves a drum roll. To this day I am grateful for this elaborately titled manoeuvre for saving me from one less needle. Yes, I was upset about having an injection, even considering the circumstances. As I write this, I realise how ridiculous that sounds.

After almost 9 hours of endurance racing, my heart found relief.

I was home an hour or so later feeling exhausted but so overwhelmingly grateful to be alive.

In 2014, I remember setting off on my running commute to the train station after a long day at work. It was towards the end of my first mile, and I couldn’t understand why I was so exhausted. I felt heavy. I knew that the next five miles would be an unusual struggle but I didn’t listen. I carried on, never learning that ‘ignore it, it will go away’ is not the right thing to do.

It turns out that my heart doesn’t like being ignored.

I had to stop running moments later because my heart was already sprinting.

The closest station was almost a mile away so I walked, needing rests along the way. I couldn’t slow my heart and I was feeling dizzy and sick. For the first time since that day in 2013, I thought “but what if I don’t make it home?” What if I ignored it, so it did go away? For good.”

My life has been punctuated with moments like these — each one bringing a reminder of the fragility of life and a wave of gratitude for being here.

I have seen two equally wonderful cardiologists who put me through all the tests! I’ve now been tested many a time on many an occasion and the verdict is consistent — my heart is healthy. It’s just ‘one of those things’ — my heart occasionally likes to dance to its own beat. It turns its treadmill all the way up to 11 and doesn’t know how to stop.

I’ve had periods of my life where it’s been worse. Despite the doctor saying it doesn’t seem to be triggered by stress, caffeine, or any other external factors, I’ve seen a direct correlation between those days of extra coffee, too much wine, and long days of fight or flight survival mode at work. Throw in a little exhaustion and a few sleepless nights — that’ll get my heart going.

Since I’ve cut the caffeine, stopped drinking, changed my career, started sleeping for 8 hours a night, and truly begun listening to my body, it rarely happens anymore.


I think not.

Last night was one of those rare occasions. I felt my heart flutter as I climbed into bed. Then it raced. Full speed.

Luckily, it was brief — no more than a minute or two. Nothing compared to the few hours of high intensity working out it used to partake in.

But, I was alone last night and my daughter was asleep. I was on my own, away from my phone. I had that brief momentary flash of a thought — no words — just the image of my little girl finding her mum and not being able to wake her up.

I never take it for granted anymore.

I always listen to my body.

To my heart.