On Getting Punched in the Tits by a Lightning Bolt

I was defibrillated yesterday.

I’ve had a chance to use practice AEDs on fake people, as part of my first-aid certification. I’ve never had to use them in anger. This wasn’t like that, though. I knew they were going to do it, hell, I pushed for them to do it because it was so fucking cool.

Spoiler: It was kinda an anticlimax.

I should point out that I was conscious for the whole event, I chose to get zapped, it was pretty much guaranteed to work, and had no real chance of making things worse. I wasn’t in the kind of state where people would need to drag an AED over to me or anything — I still had a pulse, it was just really fucking fast and not regular. At no point was my life in danger or anything like that; I got a taxi to the hospital rather than an ambulance.

Monday, 01:15

Get out of bed, unable to sleep. Have a glass of water. Stand up, stretch, click back, feel a weird heart rhythm start. Mutter Oh, fuck, not again.” Control breathing. Drink some water. Start reading a book, as I’ll be awake until this shit’s finished.


Remember I have beta blockers in the flat. Take one. Wait twice the usual amount of time. It doesn’t work.


Realise that this is the longest-running instance. Panic a bit. Have another glass of water. Finish the book, and return to bed in the hopes of maybe sleeping through the last of it, instead feel like my heart’s bouncing around my chest.


Get up, go see GP. He sends me off to Leith to get an ECG. For the first time since I’ve had these abnormal rhythms, it’s lasted long enough that the ECG finds evidence. Yay atrial fibrillation, only without the yay.


Turns out the place in Leith has a cardiologist in to see out-patients one day a week. That one day is Monday. He very kindly has a look over the results (kindly as I’m not one of his patients) and explains what’s going on. In short: hie myself to the hospital, where they can either administer drugs to slow things down, or restart my heart with motherfucking electricity.

Decisions, decisions.


Accident and Emergency is quiet; I barely have time for a sip of water after signing in before the triage nurse takes a look. The fingertip pulse monitor says I’m at 63 BPM. Which is odd, because I can feel it faster than that in my wrist. She goes to get another EGC just to check”.

The actual heart monitor shows that I’m pushing 214 beats per minute. Seeing the number spikes it above 220, which is the point that my vision starts to go and I start breathing very deeply. Everything goes rather quickly.


I’m on a bed in the resuscitation room of A&E. The doctor has tried a couple of mechanical means of fixing the atrial fibrillation (hey, anything with a 40% success rate and no side effects is worth a shot) to no avail. So now I have a full heart monitor hooked up with a screen that I can see as well as one for the medics. I can see that my average heart rate is 191 BPM.

Once again he explains the options. Once again, I beg for lightning.

Oxygen and something closer to morphine than I’ve had before. I get a bit sleepy. I recognise the pads they slap on, they’re the same style as the ones in our AEDs. Some white stuff, I don’t remember the name, then I have a little sleep.

It’s 2040. Our president is a plant.

My glasses aren’t on my face. Huh. When are they going to shock me?


They already have, you idiot. It worked. I feel so much better. My bed’s wheeled off to a corner for observation with a portable monitor, so nurses can hear and fix things if it turns out that the abnormal rhythm comes back. I have another little sleep; this time I can see my watch and know it’s only ten minutes.


I’m released, with some notes on what to do if it happens again.


The painkillers wear off. Jesus fuck this feels like I’ve been punched in the tits with a lightning bolt.

It’s later that I realise that I actively wanted people to turn my goddamn heart off and on again to fix it. I’ve been working in tech support for too long. Realising that there was a wee second there where my heart wasn’t actually doing anything is a bit freaky.


I’ve had maybe four instances of an irregular heart rhythm over the past six years. This was the first one to last more than a couple of hours. It identified the rhythm as atrial fibrillation, which means I know what to do the next time it happens (wait for it to go away, take a beta blocker, try the 40% thing, then go get zapped).


I don’t know what hurt more: my chest after the painkillers wore off, or removing all the heart monitor pads.