Back in 2006 I spent the better part of the year (from January until mid-November) with thousands upon thousands of PVCs a day. My heart would skip a beat once every 5-6 beats, all day, every day. Multiply that out (100,000 regular heartbeats per day on average) and you get around 5 million PVCs.
But here I am, 3 years later, having had exactly 80 “bad” days of PVCs since then, or just under 8% of my days since that awful period.*
How Did I [Nearly] Cure My PVCs?
To tell you how I did it, I need to take you along on my journey, beginning in September 2006. Actually, it starts back in late 2005. My company was building the waterfall pictured to the right as well as the surrounding landscape. It was a big project for us and I knew going into it that I was making a deal with the devil taking on this project, the devil in this case being the general contractor. We’d done work for him before and every time we did I swore we’d never work for him again. But this was a big project with great visibility and we needed the business, so we took it on. As could have been predicted, each day on that job site was like living in hell.
You’re probably wondering “Why is he talking about this waterfall? I thought he was going to talk about his PVCs.” For me, stress is the primary trigger for PVCs. And this project was nothing if not stressful. It started six months late, and when it was finally time for us to do our work, we were racing against the start of winter, battling freezing temperatures, a property owner who changed his mind daily and a general contractor who was pretty sure everyone was put on the earth to serve him. And getting full payment out of him was nearly impossible.
About a week into the two month project, I noticed I was having quite a few PVCs. Much more than usual, but nothing alarming. We pushed through the project, miserable as I was, got paid most of our money and then closed up shop for the winter on November 22nd.
At that time we had a beautiful little one-year-old. My wife, who had been the primary breadwinner for years, left her job in May that year to be a stay at home mom. And 2005 was not a great year for the business, so money was tight. Trying to figure out how all of our bills were going to get paid was not something we were accustomed to having to worry about, but were quickly getting initiated.
As the winter wore on, the funds dwindled and prospects for the 2006 construction season weren’t great. Stress was ridiculously high. I noticed that I was having near constant palpitations now, from the moment I woke up until I went to bed. Every fifth or sixth beat, all day. Every day. I’d had PVCs that bad before, so I waited the usual week or two for my heart to settle down.
It never did.
The 2006 season started and we had to return to the waterfall project to do a few little things here and there. And we had to fight to get paid. I was already a wad of stress before the season started, and with the normally hectic pace of spring, fielding client calls, designing, selling and supervising construction, I just got stuck in a stress and PVC rut.
One good thing about the hectic pace of spring in a new construction season is that there just isn’t time to worry about things. You’re just too busy to think of anything but the next task in front of you. And so on it went through May, June, July and August. I was always aware that I was having constant PVCs, but I was busy enough that I could just manage to push the worry out of my head enough to function.
But by September the work schedule was set for the remainder of the season and calls typically dwindle to a trickle, which gives me time to start focusing on other things. My PVCs pushed themselves into my consciousness, front and center. I was no longer able to ignore them and those fears – you know the ones I’m talking about – started making me afraid to do anything. Afraid to live and afraid to die. I started wondering if my little girl would have to grow up without her dad, and how my wife would get along without me.
I wallowed for weeks in depression and fear.
Then, like many of us do after PVCs make an uninvited, extended stay, I decided I wasn’t going to go down without at least a little fight. I was going to do something. Try something. Try anything to get these heart skips to stop. I got on the computer and started researching everything and anything to do with reducing or eliminating irregular heart rhythms.
I cut out soda completely. Regular, caffeine-free, diet – they were all off limits. No more coffee. I started cutting back on products with refined sugar. I swore off chocolate. But after a month I was still having as many ectopics as I had with the soda, sugar and chocolate.
I tried getting more sleep. My sleep patterns had been terrible, especially since now we had a second child on the way. I started drinking lemon balm tea.
I tried some methods of stress relief. I stopped watching the news completely – nothing but doom and gloom coming out of that box. I started unplugging from the world about an hour before bed, taking my time getting ready to go to sleep, then spending 30-40 minutes in bed every night reading a book. This quickly became time I looked forward to, time that was nobody’s but my own, and I could just turn my brain over to the story being told on the pages in front of me and shut everything else out.
Three months later, my heart finally started to settle down. Soon I’d have so few PVCs per day that I stopped counting the beats between the last and next palpitation. I stopped taking my pulse. I could finally start laughing again and enjoying time with my family.
Fast forward to 2009 – I still have flare-ups that are as bad as my worst days in 2006. But those flare-ups stop as abruptly as they start and rarely last more than a few days. When they do occur I think back to all the things I did in 2006 to shut down those overly excited heart cells. I unplug from work, take some time for me, cut back on the caffeine and chocolate (oh yeah, did I forget to mention? I eat chocolate and drink soda again!), and within 3-36 hours my heart has mellowed out, thumping along happily.
I wish I could tell you there was a magic bullet for these PVCs, but for most of us I don’t think there is. I don’t think there’s a point where you can be certain you’ll never have another palpitation, no matter what you do to prevent it.
For many of us I think stress is the primary cause, and chronic stress can make your powerful brain do some strange things to the rest of your body. And the worst thing about stress is there’s no outward, telltale sign. Your fingers don’t turn blue and you don’t break out in hives. And for me, stress doesn’t fall like a bag of bricks. It’s a slow river, it’s acidic waters slowly etching away at the insulation of my nerves, changing me so slightly from day to day as to not notice any change at all, until suddenly a bit of the raw nerve is exposed and my heart starts tripping and skipping. But if I can back away from those things that may be making me anxious and just let go of some of my worries, my heart settles right back down.
I hope an idea or two here can help you, too.
*I keep a running excel spreadsheet with notations to track my arrhythmias, so that I can look for trends in either time of year or circumstances, so that I can limit my exposure to those things that are likely to cause me too much stress and consequently too many PVCs.