My AFib Secret: How I Kept It From My Kids (but Eventually Told Them)
I was officially diagnosed with atrial fibrillation on Father's Day in 2006. Nice Father's Day gift, right?
At the time I only had one child and she was just two years old. When I had my first ever episode that evening I had no idea what was going on.
I was just enjoying dinner with my wife and daughter and then it hit! My heart was off to the races and I had shortness of breath. I knew immediately something was wrong and so did my wife. Fortunately, my daughter was too young and clueless to pick up on anything — she just kept smiling and munching away at her dinner.
I told my wife my heart was racing and I had shortness of breath. She panicked more than I did and insisted we call 911. I thought that was overkill so I told her to hold off.
About five minutes later, which felt like an eternity, I started to panic so I told her to call 911 but to have them meet me at the front gate of our apartment complex. I didn't want to make a scene by being carted out of the apartment complex in a stretcher!
Looking back, it's funny how vain we can be, even in an emergency. But I also made that request because I didn't want to frighten my daughter. What is she going to think if I'm carried out in a stretcher? I thought that would be too traumatic for her.
With my daughter in the back seat still smiling and clueless as to what was going on, my wife drove me to the front gate entrance of our apartment complex and we waited for the ambulance to arrive. When they did, my wife got out of the car with me but we kept our daughter in the back seat watching a movie.
Again, I didn't want my daughter exposed to any of this so we just kept her occupied in the car. My wife ended up following the ambulance to the hospital.
As a stay-at-home dad I've always had a very strong bond with my daughter, and when my wife came into the ER with her in her hands, I wanted to cry. I was scared I was dying and I would never see my daughter or my wife again.
I resisted the urge to cry and kept up a strong front for both my daughter and my wife. There was no way I was going to let either one of them think anything was seriously wrong with me.
I just smiled and told my daughter I wasn't feeling well so I had to see a doctor. I assured her I would be leaving shortly. She didn't look the least bit worried or concerned.
Fortunately, I was only in the hospital for about four hours that evening. I was eventually electrically cardioverted and sent home.
As far as my daughter was concerned, daddy saw the doctor for his sickness and was all better. I never spoke of the incident again with her and AFib was never talked about.
The AFib Secret Continues
I was extremely fortunate because in the next eight years I only had an episode once a year or two. When I'd have my attacks we'd have a neighbor watch the kids so my wife could drive me to the ER to have an AFib cardioversion.
I would have four cardioversions over the years, and each time my kids would have no idea what was going on.
Because my episodes were so infrequent and I had a simple plan in place (go to the ER and have a cardioversion), AFib was never really a worry or concern. I never felt the need to talk about it with my daughter or my son, who was born a year after I was diagnosed.
There were times I wanted to let them in on my secret, but every time I was going to tell them I changed my mind. How do you explain atrial fibrillation to toddlers when most adults don't even understand what it is?
I didn't want to needlessly worry them. There was also a part of me that didn't want to admit my heart wasn't normal — as soon as you have to sit down with your kids and tell them you have a problem it suddenly becomes real. It was just easier to continue to keep it a secret.