My grandmother was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation in 2015. At first, she and my family were relieved – the medical team informed us it wasn’t a life-threatening condition, but rather a disease that was “annoying”. Fast-forward to today, the medical team wasn’t wrong. She is now healthier than ever from a procedure; however, over the 3-year battle with the disease, our perspectives were forever changed.
The disease progression of atrial fibrillation (AF) usually starts off sparingly, patients including my grandmother often describe their heart beating out of their chest initially for a couple of seconds. Unfortunately, my grandmother’s condition slowly progressed to the point where it took her life away. She would tell us “I can no longer line dance, have the energy to see friends, get groceries and make food, or even do day-to-day activities, what’s the point of living?”. The most part of the disease was she was always living in fear to when the next AF episode would come – sometimes she felt her heart beating “funny” for days, sometimes it wouldn’t go away and our family would have to rush to the hospital for additional intervention. As she always put our family first, she would repeatedly say, “I feel so guilty for ruining our holidays and family gatherings, every time we have to go to the ER it makes me so mad this is happening”. As her grandson, this was the first time I realized that emotional health was equally as important to physical health. I too felt helpless, she and my grandfather helped to raise me and I am so close to them. All I could do was be by her side for every Cardiology appointment, research facts about AF to help comfort her, bring her to the emergency department and wait with her, and just talk to her so that she wouldn’t feel alone.
But this is where the story takes a better turn. As she was switched from almost every single type of anti-arrhythmic medication with no success, she eventually became a candidate for an ablation procedure. My grandmother was given hope, “through the changing technology helping physicians to treat, I am so thankful I have another treatment option. After the ablation, she began to have fewer and fewer episodes of AF. “All of my sleepless nights, waking up at 4 am to go to the hospital to get “shocked” back to normal rhythm, sadness and loneliness from being bed-ridden was suddenly gone”. While she still has had some minor episodes post-ablation, her life has been a complete 180 thanks to the amazing Cardiologists part of her care. I wanted to share this story as a reminder to have hope, to look at the positives in life, to cherish family, and to know you are not in this alone. The emotional toll of diseases is often looked over, but there are ways to address and fight this.
My grandmother and I thank you for reading her story, our family is forever grateful to the medical team who helped transform her life – a life that she said before was “hard to live”, to now “a life full of opportunity and exploration”. When I got into medical school, her words resonated with me, “I couldn’t have imagined a life without medicine, I can’t wait until you begin to practice, some diseases may be completely eradicated or entirely treatable and that is something we should get excited about”.