Backstory – Troubles of the heart

backstorylogo5I clenched my hands. My whole body felt tingly. I felt a shock and let out an agonizing scream. The feeling defied any perception of pain. I thought I was dead.

***

My whole life I’ve had minor heart problems. I was born with a hole in a ventricle and had multiple surgeries as a baby. I’d be exaggerating if I said my limitations were strenuous. I got tired really easily during physical activities, but I was blessed that my heart wasn’t causing me major health issues.

McGuire had two different surgeries in March and early April, 2012 (Cara Smith/AQ)
McGuire had two different surgeries in March and early April, 2012 (Cara Smith/AQ)

However, over the last two years I had begun passing out. Whether I was studying or playing video games, it would just happen unannounced. I had become a regular visitor at the Edward Chalmers Hospital. I’d go, they’d run tests, and they weren’t entirely sure what the problem was. After one episode, they suggested I go see a specialist.

My roommate agreed to drive me to said specialist in St. John. I left with the clothes I was wearing, my Blackberry and a fantasy baseball magazine. I didn’t expect a lengthy visit, but that’s what I got.

They wanted to do a surgery called electrophysiology study in ablation. They could perform it in a week. I ended up wearing the same stinky clothes for way too long. I had no internet, no books, no magazines, my phone was dying, and I was alone.

***

The first surgery was horrifying. I had been lying down completely naked on the surgeon’s table before the shock. They didn’t give me much anesthesia. I was cognitive and awake. The process was simple. They froze the right side of my groin, and inserted catheters through the incision which led all the way up my body to my heart.

Beside me was an ultrasound of my upper chest. I could see them stimulate my heart. I felt the wires in my chest. I could see the catheters on the screen beside me. I could see how fast my heart was beating. I was watching my own surgery live.

The main surgeon wrote down my beats per minute, constantly reassuring me that everything was OK. After consistently stimulating my heart with the wires, suddenly my heartbeat went from roughly 80 beats per minute to almost 200. I started shaking. I couldn’t breathe. I watched it unfold on the monitor.

They administered the shock unexpectedly. The pain was the most intense feeling I have ever felt. My blood felt like it was boiling. Then it was a sensory nirvana. Everything went white and slowly, colour faded back into my perception.

A female surgeon was holding my hand as tears flooded my eyes.

She started to apologize and reassure me. “We had to administer a shock,” she said.

The electric impulses had caused a dysrhythmia. The shocked stopped my heart from overwhelming itself.

***

After the surgery, it was decided a defibrillator would need to be installed. If my heart was to fail, like it did in the surgery, the machine would send a shock to balance everything out. It’s a decision I didn’t question.

My parents took turns coming up from Nova Scotia to see me. My friends came from Fredericton. I honestly have never felt more loved. Before the second surgery I got encouraging messages on Facebook which shed a bit of the sadness.

Soon I had graphic novels, magazines, cards, candy and multiple changes of clothing.

***

The second surgery was less excruciating. I loaded up on anesthesia and don’t remember a lick of it. I woke up with a massive bandage on my arm. My concern however was the time. My favorite show, Community was on, and I would be damned if I missed it.

After the show was over, I shamelessly tweeted my battle scars to Joel McHale and Yvette Nicole Brown. What I got back was incredible. Brown told me “Whoa, Liam! That’s big time stuff! I hope the second time is the charm & you and your ticker are 100% soon! ;)”

Now if my heart wasn’t supposed to be stimulated further, this wasn’t helping. McHale had briefly followed me to send me a message, saying “You just made my day get better fast.” It was incredible.

***

When I was allowed to leave, every song on the radio sounded better. I had never been so happy to hear Nicki Minaj.

My mother lived at my house for two weeks after I was released. I wasn’t allowed to lift anything over five pounds nor was I allowed to exert myself. She wouldn’t let me push shopping carts or lift pots filled with water. She helped rearrange my cluttered life.

She is a rock star. She helped me through the funk, through the feeling of utter uselessness, and I love her profoundly for that.

My roommates and friends also deserve a starring role. Without them I don’t know if I could have gone through this experience. Whether it was the hospital visits, the advice ,or the consistent helping hand, I am blessed to be surrounded by them.

***

Sometimes you have to experience rock bottom to truly appreciate what you have.

Things now are much better.

I am healthy and happy.

Also I can gross out my friends by the imprint from the defibrillator when I lift my arm up a certain way. Plus the machine hasn’t gone off yet.

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