Controlling Arrhythmia

Some people think that all our local ER does is stabilize and transfer patients on to bigger, better-equipped hospitals, but in fact, over  93% of our patients have their issues resolved through their visit to the ER and do not require transfer to a higher level of care. Here’s the story of a local who had that experience.

If you’ve ever shopped at the Blue Moon on a weekend, you’ve probably met David Kirby, known to most simply as Kirby.  A resident of SoHum for more than 40 years, Kirby, a Vietnam War veteran and retired real estate agent, has been very active in our community. Besides his weekends at the Blue Moon, which was founded close to 40 years ago by his wife Bunny Wilder, Kirby has served on various local Volunteer Fire Departments, on the Humboldt County Planning Commission from 1992 to 1996, on the Redwoods Rural Health Center board in the late 1990s, and then on the Southern Humboldt Community Healthcare District board in the early 2000s. But it wasn’t until years after his involvement in healthcare governance that he experienced our local healthcare as a patient in urgent need.

Tachycardia is a type of arrhythmia, the technical term for a wide range of problems with the rate or rhythm of your heartbeat. It is characterized by a more rapid than normal heartbeat. Other types include bradycardia, a slower than normal heartbeat, and atrial fibrillation or AFib, an irregular pattern. Like many forms of arrhythmia, tachycardia becomes more common as we age, so it makes sense to educate our local aging population to take steps to avoid it, recognize its symptoms, and respond appropriately if it occurs.

As with other debilitating conditions we may acquire as we age, arrhythmia is best avoided by healthy living.  Keeping blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body weight within normal ranges is very helpful.  Exercising regularly, eating a heart-healthy diet, avoiding smoking, and limiting one’s alcohol intake also help to reduce the risk of acquiring arrhythmia.

Some forms of arrhythmia, left untreated, can quickly become life-threatening, and some may require surgery.  In most cases, though, prompt treatment with appropriate medications and lifestyle changes allow patients to lead normal lives with normal lifespans.

For Kirby, the onset of tachycardia in 2014 was at first annoying and then increasingly alarming, finally compelling him to go to Jerold Phelps Community Hospital’s ER one afternoon in March. When he told the registrar about his rapid heartbeat, it took only moments for an ER nurse to come take his pulse, usher him to a bed, and inform the on-call physician. Within a few minutes, the doctor was at his side, and Kirby was hooked up to a heart monitor and given a blood test, with treatment beginning soon after. Once his heart rate was back to normal levels, Kirby was released with a prescription for a medication to slow his heart rate. Before he could get that prescription filled, however, tachycardia struck again, and he was back to the ER three more times in the next few days, each time being treated quickly, efficiently, and kindly by the ER staff.

Ultimately, the medication took effect, and his bouts of tachycardia became less intense. They dropped from several times a week to only several times a year. Subsequent visits to cardiologists confirmed that the diagnosis and treatment Kirby received at Jerold Phelps Hospital was appropriate. He still takes the medication originally prescribed at our ER, and he hasn’t had a debilitating heart rate episode in years. 

Untreated tachycardia can result in heart attack, stroke, or even sudden death.  Says Kirby, “If it were not for our local ER, I might not be here. Faced with driving myself all the way to the Fortuna with my heart racing out of control, or with the drama and expense of an ambulance ride, I might have just stayed home.”

Emergency services began at our current location in 1949, and they’ve been available here 24/7 ever since, now treating thousands of patients per year, caring for the community we’re privileged to serve.

Barbara Truitt, Foundation Director, Southern Humboldt Community Healthcare District

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