“Don’t let me die, I have three kids and an amazing husband” are the words I whispered while rushing in an ambulance to the hospital. It was so hard to breathe, I was experiencing third degree heart block, my heart was beating 20 beats per minute and I was on my way out. My brain whispered, “I might die today”. I left my children and husband wondering if it was the last time I would see them. This trauma has been the biggest reality check of my life and I’m sharing it to heal myself and to remind you to live fully every day.
Day 3 Post ICD Surgery Personal Message
Am I going to Die?
“Keep breathing” is what the ambulance attendant repeated. All I could do was focus on her positive words as my heart rate dropped to 20 beats per minute on our way to the hospital. Third degree heart block is very serious, I felt so close to death.
All I could think of was will I make it, please keep me alive, and it’s getting harder to breathe and talk.
Everything I was experiencing was so scary, yet I felt peace like someone “had my back”.
I was Close to Death
Admitting that is so hard but it’s true. I was scared, confusion was setting in, I was feeling pressure on my chest, it was hard to breathe, it became difficult to answer simple questions that the attendant asked. “Focus Trina, breathe”, but it felt easier to close my eyes and just let go.
I refocused, “keep breathing, keep fighting, stay alert, listen to her words, answer her questions!” This is what I was YELLING inside my brain.
We couldn’t get to the hospital fast enough
Breathe to Stay Alive
“Keep breathing”, she said, it sounds simple but it was so difficult. The gift of breath is given to us daily yet we take it for granted.
Let’s rewind a moment, I woke up to a beautiful morning, Coached an Online HIIT Camp class on Zoom. Leading the class in movement I was barely participating. While step touching side to side, my heart rate spiked to 150 beats per minute, I felt super dizzy, and then it passed.
Monitoring Heart Symptoms
After class, I spent several hours on the couch with my family monitoring my blood pressure and heart rate. I wasn’t “feeling myself and felt exhausted” but there was no immediate cause for an ambulance or hospital visit, especially with COVID-19 being at its highest ever in Hamilton, Ontario.
Deep down, I somehow knew this day was going to change my life. At the time, I didn’t tell my husband or kids but I knew an ambulance was taking me to the hospital even though my symptoms weren’t “overly alarming”.
After several hours, I told my very concerned husband and kids “maybe fresh air and a change of scenery will do me some good”.
Chest Pain, is this a Heart Attack?
I was slowly walking back and forth trying to get my mind off things and monitoring my heart rate on my Apple watch. Everything was normal and then it wasn’t.
My heart rate spiked high, I had chest pain, the feeling of a brick on my chest, difficulty breathing, dizziness, then my heart rate dropped significantly, I thought I was going to faint and hit the ground. My heart rate dropped very low and I barely got out “call 911.”
Coaching myself to “stay calm Trina, if this is the last time I see my kids and husband, they need to remember me calm and not freaking out like I really was.”
Tears rolled down. I tried to comfort everyone, “it’s ok, everything is going to be ok” is what I whispered before I left. I barely got the words out.
Ambulance Please Hurry
My 3 kids and husband were so emotional and it caused such trauma. The ambulance arrived quickly (oh so lucky) and my heart rate was dropping way too low. I am so in tune with my body that I was able to tell the ambulance attendants what I was feeling and when the “episodes” were coming on. “Hold on” is what they kept saying.
EKG’s and all of the exams in the ambulance were confirming what I was experiencing. We raced to the hospital. “What the heck is happening to me” is all I thought. “Keep breathing” was my main focus.
My husband followed us even though he knew he wasn’t allowed in the hospital because of COVID-19. I focused only on staying alive.
My heart rate dropped to 20 beats per minute
When you are at 20 beats per minutes in complete heart block it’s the most deadly of all, leading to cardiac arrest and ultimately death. You know when people tell you they “saw the light?” Well, it’s true, you do. Fighting to stay alive is what I did.
That is some scary stuff and so dangerous. I was having episodes of a very low heart rate (complete heart block – bradycardia) and high ventricular tachycardia. So much arrhythmia (the electric system of my heart was completely messed up).
The atria and ventricles weren’t speaking to each other. It’s like two sisters having a fight and it’s the worst kind of fight with a deadly ending. Get along already!
Admitted to the Hospital
Landing in the emergency room, lots of people attended to me quickly. “This is a super fit and healthy woman, this should not be happening” is what I heard over and over again. Adding to the stress was the huge outbreak and cases of COVID-19, it was awful. Yet, I knew I couldn’t go home because I could die.
I wasn’t allowed to get up to go to the bathroom because my heart was so unstable, so walking was not an option. They hooked me up to tons of wires, IV, defibrillator pads, X-rays, blood work, tons of medical nurses and doctors trying to figure out what was wrong with me. Everyone was poking and prodding me in a big hurry.
This was my toilet
Serious Heart Block and Arrhythmia
“It doesn’t look like you’ve had a heart attack” is what they said first. “This is very serious and more investigations are required” so I was admitted to the hospital.
In the ER, I went in and out of complete heart block (dangerously low heart rate) and spiked high often. It’s exhausting, you feel like you’ve just crushed the hardest workout or marathon, yet you’ve done nothing. All I wanted to do was sleep. That is not me, I’m a wound up energetic person who moves constantly.
ICD Surgery to Save Your Life
The next morning, my incredible Cardiologist came to visit and said “thank god you called 911 Trina because if you hadn’t”… (well you fill in the blanks). We need a Cardiac Pet Scan to further investigate but we need approval from Ottawa first (it takes time)”. They wanted the scan before surgery but it didn’t happen. My body had other plans.
“You need an ICD which is a pacemaker and internal defibrillator in one device to save your life. We are pretty certain it’s a rare heart disease but let’s process one thing at a time.” I cried a lot. What was going to happen to me?
After many discussions with the Cardiologists and Cardiac Care Unit Team, I was put on the list for the ICD surgery so it could save my life when my heart beats too low or high.
Repeating what the doctors told me, “I would die without the ICD surgery” was awful. This was only step one of this new journey and scary is the understatement of the year. Emotions were all over the place.
My arrhythmia specialist asked “do you want to see the ICD sample
we implant?” Yes please. Holy that is big!
4 Days Hardly Moving
I laid in a hospital bed for 4 days, hardly moving because my heart rate was so unstable. I wasn’t allowed to leave my room. The Cardiac Care Unit at the Hamilton General Hospital is no joke. The nurses and doctors are amazing there.
Due to COVID-19 and because I’m high risk, I have not left the house much since March 2020. This was my biggest outing and not a fun one. Hamilton had the highest number of COVID-19 cases and there was an outbreak at the Hamilton General Hospital.
Thank you front like workers for caring for me
Nurses and doctors were incredible, I couldn’t thank them enough. They are abused verbally and physically by patients constantly, I witnessed this first hand. A few times, I was scared for my life with violent and aggressive patients in my room. I’m talking multiple security guards at the end of my bed, needing to restrain and move patients.
All I wanted was to hug my kids and husband. I’m so lucky and grateful to have survived so I kept reminding myself to replace the fear.
Surgery Attempt #1
Day 3, I fasted for the ICD surgery and deeply tried to convince myself that this was a great thing but I was scared and unsettled. This would significantly change my life and has risks like we could puncture your heart or lungs trying to screw wires in, you need the battery replaced a lot in your lifetime. Yikes!
Trying hard to be brave
Almost no food or water for three days, I made it the entire day with lots of tears and fears but my surgery was cancelled as it was too late in the day. The patient before me had a complication (that added to my stress thinking that could happen to me). Feeling relieved and upset, I reminded myself “things happen when they are supposed to” but even for me, this felt impossible to keep top of mind.
Surgery Attempt #2: The Sign I needed to get the ICD Surgery
Day 4, a nurse woke me early morning and said “you are having ICD Surgery today, nothing to eat or drink”.
My nurse was so sweet and comforting. I asked her name, “Nicola” she said. That was the name of my dear friend who passed. Now I’m ready for surgery, Nicola was the sign I needed. Scared and reluctant, I couldn’t live without the ICD surgery.
This is my friend Nicola, one of my angels
ICD Surgery and Pacemaker
Attempt number two for surgery arrived. Lots of doctors explained what I was up against and how the surgery would work. “Because you are a small person, the device is going to stick out a lot, you will really notice and feel it.”
Thankfully my husband was able to come to the Hospital and calm my worries. We cried a lot. He comforted and helped me find the strength to remind myself that everything would go well with no complications.
Before Surgery saying “see you soon, not good-bye”
You got this Champ!
My sweet husband wrote this message to me
I had ICD surgery (implantable cardioverter defibrillator) with a pacemaker, two in one. The surgery went well and I don’t remember any of it even though you are supposed to be awake during surgery (I guess they gave me some pretty good sedatives, thanks Angela my Angel). My husband told me funny stories of me chatting post-op while sedated (I remember nothing).
They did a chest X-ray in my room to ensure the wires were placed correctly. We were informed “you got the BMW of devices, it was the best option and will give you some comfort” (although it comes with lots of limitations and rules).
Before the scar and ICD Surgery Implant, one last photo
Post ICD Surgery
Wires in my Heart – What?
“They usually connect to the inside of the heart with a small screw screwed directly into the muscle of the heart wall. The body forms scar tissue around the lead, which anchors it even more firmly to the heart. The design of the leads allows them to stay attached to the heart permanently.” – John Hopkins Medicine
This surgery is most common in older patients but disease doesn’t discriminate. Surgery reminded me how grateful I was to have dedicated so many years to fitness, health, wellness and nutrition. Let the healing begin.
Wires are attached to my heart, I’m Bionic Woman!
Post surgery, there was tons of chaos as they were moving myself and the 3 other patients in my room to another floor to make room for COVID-19 overflow patients coming from Toronto. Thankfully I was discharged. It felt awful hearing more people were so sick.
How did this Happen?
Let’s back it up. I’ve been followed closely by a Cardiologist since receiving my diagnosis from my Brain Biopsy April 2019, read more here. The disease I have can seriously affect and damage your heart, so tons of cardiology tests and appointments were scheduled to rule out heart disease.
Glowing reports on every test and there was a lot! I was told “you are just below olympic athlete level on your exercise stress tests.” Um thanks for that. I’ve done tons of training to strengthen my heart.
In fact, 11 days before I landed in the ambulance, I had a treadmill stress test, echocardiogram and everything looked excellent. They were able to rule out a rare heart disorder they suspected I might have. I was sporting a 14 day holter test to check things out.
All of the evidence suggested no heart disease and I was looking strong. Great news is what I kept hearing.
All of that changed, this is post ICD Surgery
Incident #1: My Heart Rate was over 200 Beats Per Minute
March 24, 2021, everything changed. I finished a workout as I always do (I had no restrictions with workouts at this point). My workout went amazing, I was on Zoom with my friend feeling strong, keeping my form and everything was under control.
“We finished the workout and seconds
later my body was crashing.”
These were my cardiac symptoms:
- Heart rate spiked over 200+ beats per minute (not good), it kept going up
- Shaking so much I couldn’t monitor my heart rate
- Completely dizzy
- Weak legs I couldn’t stand
- Coughing so much, it wouldn’t stop
- Hard to breathe
- Sweating so much (I wasn’t even sweating during the workout, my head was now soaked)
- Felt like I was going to faint, vomit and needing to go to the washroom
- Complete exhaustion
- Fainted eventually
Hair soaked within minutes
My Instinct “Get to the Ground”
Kneeling to the floor to protect my body in case of fainting, trying everything to get control of my body and breathe, but I couldn’t. My body was shutting down and there was nothing I could do. Repeating to my friend “I don’t feel well”.
I Finally Fainted
I crawled up a few steps on my hands and knees to get to the bathroom because I felt so sick. The next thing I remember is waking and I didn’t know where I was. Never have I fainted. Realizing later, I hit my head and hurt my arm when I fell (thank goodness I didn’t have far to fall because I was already on my hands and knees.)
In the meantime, my friend had called my husband who was working from home. All I wanted to do was sleep, I was exhausted and couldn’t stop sweating.
Hospital Emergency Room Trip
I went to the emergency room, had ton of tests. “What happened is really bad. Something is definitely wrong, this should not have happened to someone of your fitness level and your EKG test is abnormal”, the doctor said. After several hours and tests, the doctor came by “we normally admit you but, I spoke to your Cardiologist and she agreed to see you tomorrow morning. Go home and do nothing”. You bet doc, I’m scared out of my mind, I won’t move!
Trip #1 to the Emergency Room
So the mystery heart disease began. My Cardiologist ordered lots of tests including an echocardiogram, MRI of the heart with gadolinium, treadmill heart stress test, blood tests and I had to wear a 14 day Holter monitor.
Fear and More “Heart” Episodes
Going from crushing workouts and feeling strong to feeling scared, weak, tired and “not myself” was scary. I practice meditation and positive thinking, but as great as I think I am at this, medical issues and disease stress really wears you down.
Originally thinking it was triggered by exercise but in the end, it wasn’t. Two other scary heart episodes occurred before the final one that landed me in the hospital.
Brushing your teeth and feeling your heart rate spike to 159 beats per minute is scary and not normal. It should be under 100 BPM when you are relaxed. Perspective, your heart rate could be 159 beats per minute while training in our Online Live fitness classes, not brushing your teeth.
Post ICD Surgery Recovery
Now I rely on a permanent ICD defibrillator with a pacemaker and lead wires into my heart to help save my life (I am officially bionic woman).
With strict orders not to do anything, I remind myself “this is temporary.” More than the pain and limitations, not knowing is the worst. The ICD doesn’t fix the problem or make it stop, but it will help save my life. My medical team is working to figure out the next steps – what it is, how to treat it, more tests and a long journey ahead.
What life is like right now:
- Lots of hugs with my family, I never know if this is my last moment with them
- Do not raise left arm above head for a minimum 6 weeks (you can tear the lead wires out and need another surgery, no thanks)
- No ponytails, I can’t put my hair up
- Hard dressing, I can’t wear a tank top or sports bra, only loose baggy shirts that stretch over my head without raising my arm
- Shortness of breath
- Constant cough since they rolled me out of surgery (more tests to figure it out)
- Can hardly climb one level of stairs without sitting and heart rate spiking (I am so fit what the heck?)
- No workouts
- Even slow walking spikes my heart rate high
- So many emotions to process
- Serious high and low heart rates daily (up to 181 beats per minute doing nothing and my ICD goes off at 185 BPM!)
- Lots of therapy and rehab to work through trauma
- Heart rate spikes that make me feel awful, and dropping so low that the pacemaker kicks in (that’s a workout in itself)
I am finally home and healing. When you go through this, you must grieve your “old life and the loss you feel.” It’s an awful but necessary process.
ICD is sore, heavy and pulling but I’m alive
Life as a Fitness and Health Professional
I have heavily dedicated my personal and work life to health, wellness and fitness since 1998. When you are fighting for your life, none of that seems to matter. You feel slapped down even though you’ve done everything right. Constant reminders “what would have happened if I wasn’t so healthy?”
“Will people miss me or notice that I’m gone?”
“Have I made enough of an impact and legacy in my world?”
You process a lot having experienced a very heavy trauma like this. Perspective rolls in hard.
The fact that my heart was so strong from years of training, healthy food and lifestyle choices was a life saver.
Days before my Heart almost stopped
Healing with my Family
My life is quite different post ICD surgery. Reducing stress, spending as much time with my 3 kids and husband with love and messages from people who love me. My friends and family have been so supportive, they listen, let me vent and bring me out of the “dark hole” when I’m there. My current job is tons of doctors appointments and tests.
May this give you the kick in the booty that you need to prioritize health and enjoy life as much as possible.
Diagnosis and What’s Ahead
We do not yet have a diagnosis. They tell me “figuring it out is not easy, you’re an anomaly and have a complicated case”. My disease is very stubborn and aggressive but it could also be something completely different or another disease.
My family and I feel entirely helpless because it’s beyond our control. Lots of anger, fear, tears and reminders of how precious life is.
We are working through the unknown as best as we can
Questions that came up for me:
- If I die today have I done everything I want to?
- Have I said what I need to, taught and loved everyone fully?
- Did I raise my kids with enough love and attention?
- My answers were “yes”, I have lived a life with no regrets.
- Keep me alive please, I have lots more to do!
Keep Putting One Foot in Front of the Other
My plan is focus on the positive. Life has changed, I feel angry, scared, grateful and every day I’m at risk to be defibrillated or worse. Once I’m cleared, I will continue modified workouts, eat right, sleep enough and try to think mostly positive thoughts (acknowledge the negative but don’t stay stuck).
My recovery and medical situation would have been much worse if my body wasn’t as “healthy and strong as it was and is.” Your heart is a muscle, train it regularly. The electrical system of my atria and ventricles isn’t working properly. I’m counting on the ICD /pacemaker to save me when needed.
Make Health a Top Priority
If I can give you any advice, it’s live life fully, take care of your beautiful body and make small changes daily to improve your life and happiness. Reduce your stress and how you react to it and be kind to people.
I appreciate you reading this and caring for me. We may or may not know each other but I believe in you and your ability to change.
Once cleared to workout, you will find me at my Fit4Females Studio building muscle and strengthening my heart. For now, I will heal, walk, rest, cry, eat good food and do everything in my power to get stronger and battle this nasty and incurable disease. Staring down my challenge and living hour by hour is my daily goal.
Do everything NOW
Choose Healthy Most of the Time
My life consists of daily exercise, I don’t drink alcohol or smoke, I eat healthy, I am a positive person, get plenty of sleep, yet this feels hard to believe. The reason I live this way is because I enjoy it, not because I have to or because I want to “look a certain way”. Be motivated by health.
Disease doesn’t discriminate, healthy people get sick too. If you want to help those around you who are struggling, I’ve suggested a few things to help and avoid. These situations are hard and we can be lost with what to say or not to say.
What not to do with “Sick or Stressed” loved ones
It’s hard to know what to say and many of us avoid it all together. I’ve been on both ends. Watching friends and family die of serious disease and feeling helpless. Now I am the patient and all of my support circle feels exactly as I did, helpless and not sure what to say. Here are a few things to avoid:
- Avoid saying “good news it’s not (whatever illness or disease), cancer, heart attack, etc. This makes the person feel worse.
- Was this caused by stress? Exercising too much? Is it genetic?
- Forget making assumptions and a diagnosis because it makes everything worse.
- Are you going back to work?
- How are you going to handle this?
- Do not expect a response to your messages or texts. The person is going through so much emotionally, be patient and know that your words and messages mean so much (even if they are not responded to).
- Just listen, the person is “grieving” what they lost, they are scared and very emotional.
- Do not take anything personal, their life feels upside down.
Post ICD Surgery Flowers brighten my Day
What to Do:
- Check in with the person even if you don’t get a response, do not avoid them because you think you are “bothering them”.
- Message as often as you can.
- Just listen, don’t try to fix the problems or emotions.
- Send food, a small care package or a handwritten note (everything is appreciated).
- Hear them out, they need an outlet.
- Don’t try and fix anything.
- Tell the person how they’ve impacted your life, send a love note reminding them.
How can you Support Me:
If you want to help, this is how:
- Read and please SHARE this story.
- Leave a comment below xo.
- Send me a message on social media or email with your love and kind words.
- Comment on any blog or post that I’ve written and post in the future.
- Share anything I have written or posted that inspires you #Fit4Females
- If you need help, every purchase allows me to keep my team on board and our business open, 10 Day Lean and Clean, Fitness Classes, Express Fit and more.
Your words and messages help so much, leave a comment below. xo
ICD Surgery Conclusion
No worries, Fit4Females is still running and classes are Live with my incredible team.
Trina Medves xo
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