You know how I’ve mentioned weird heartbeat issues off and on ever since I got COVID last year? Well, finally I had an episode strange enough that I wrote to my doctor about it.
I got an email asking if I was available for a phone appointment. They wanted to talk to me either that day or the next day.
I talked to a nurse practitioner on the phone. She said I should go to urgent care and tell them I needed an EKG.
I did as I was told. I described my symptoms and prepared to wait around for approximately five hours, like usual.
I had barely made it to the restroom before my phone pinged. They were ready to see me.
I went back and was taken to an examination room. A nurse wheeled in the EKG machine and had my results within minutes. The doctor came in almost immediately. He told me he was going to do a full cardiac work-up.
He asked me a series of questions and then sent me off for a chest x-ray and some labs.
This was more or less what happened when I had the secondary respiratory infection last year.
I couldn’t believe the rapid pace at which all this was happening. I barely had time to visit one part of the clinic before it was time to rush off to another.
I texted my husband and he said that if you complain about chest pain, you go right to the front of the line.
The test results had been reported within hours. EKG normal. Blood pressure normal.
Seven blood panels and the chest x-ray. All normal.
I got a voicemail from the cardiac doctor saying as much, and that he would forward the test results to my regular doctor.
Normal? Okay. Then what was going on with my heart??
Two interesting things happened at that point.
One, the heat was turned down. All the frenetic activity from urgent care came to a halt. We have examined you and determined that nothing is wrong with you, therefore please go away and be weird elsewhere.
Two, an eighth test result straggled in a few hours later. My TSH hormone levels.
Suddenly everything became clear to me.
My TSH levels are back to where they were in my early twenties, a sub-clinical low “normal” result that, in my body, causes me all sorts of problems.
I could have put together the clues for myself, having had the experience and the reading in my repertoire for well over twenty years. I missed what could have been obvious to me because I was busy blaming everything on COVID.
Constantly feeling cold, check.
Tired all the time, check.
Trouble dropping weight, check.
In fact, now that I thought about it, I had been noticing a visible ring around my throat and blaming it on excess body weight and/or bad posture. That same sign showed up when I developed a goiter at age 23.
Back at that age, I started having fainting spells. Vasovagal syncope. I had an ultrasound of my heart and an EEG. Both normal. They put me on beta blockers. I don’t remember whether I had weird heartbeat problems at that time, although I might have.
At other times in my life, I have felt dismissed and ignored by medical professionals. It has been terrifically motivating for me. Okay FINE, I’ll do my own research and heal myself then!
This time, a wave of optimism and joy overtook me. I have data! I have metrics! I have objective criteria to use for myself!
Also, I have been here before! I know what to do!
The best thing about this somewhat useless visit to urgent care is that I got information that my heart is normal and… MY LUNGS ARE CLEAR. No more scarring.
What all this meant to me is that I should be clear to commence running again.
The thing that healed my low functioning thyroid last time around was increasing the amount of very strenuous exercise I did. I stumbled across this by accident. This is good news for me, because emotionally I am well suited to endurance sports. It’s great for regulating my mood and dumping whatever toxic stress might be circulating in my system on any given day.
Such as: the ‘Why won’t doctors listen’ rant or the ‘Why is this still the “standard of care” when it doesn’t actually help people’ perseveration or the ‘Why isn’t more medical research based on female bodies’ query.
I can credit hundreds of miles on the trail to each of these, and thank you!
What I noticed about the weird heartbeat episodes I had been having was that they only came up when I was relaxing. I would be either sitting on the couch for at least an hour, or I would be lying down. It never seemed to happen when I was walking or climbing stairs or scrubbing the bathtub or folding laundry.
Obviously relaxation isn’t bad for me - or anyone. It just seemed that if this was when the weird heartbeat stuff was happening, then moving my body was presumably safe.
When I say “weird heartbeat,” I mean that sometimes it would beat very hard, sometimes it would beat faster, and sometimes it would seem to skip a beat. It wasn’t all that consistent. Only concerning.
A different person would probably campaign for a prescription medication at this point. That is good self-advocacy. For myself, I tend to be chary about taking prescriptions, feeling that I tend to be the side effects person. My test results would probably rule out thyroid hormone supplements, which is smart, because they can cause heart problems if they aren’t needed.
My goal from here on out is to increase my TSH levels. It will probably take me a few months.
What happened to me during the pandemic is probably similar to what happened to a lot of other people. I almost never leave my apartment to this day. I used to walk an average of 8 miles a day, three on an off day, and I was in motion almost all the time. Suddenly all that came to a halt, and I spend almost all my time now in a sitting position.
My body is like a rusted-out dusty old project car sitting in the driveway on four flat tires.
While I probably can’t do all that much to increase my background activity level, I can make sure I do at least an hour of cardio most days. I’ll know I am making progress when I quit shivering with cold when it’s 68F and when I quit noticing the weird heartbeat problem.
In a few months I will ask to have my TSH levels checked again, and then I can share a side-by-side comparison with my doctor. Maybe my experience can help inform his response, or Kaiser’s response, the next time a former thyroid patient calls in with a weird heartbeat mystery.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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