I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation in 2010 (then aged 33). For three years I was on Flecainide, Diltiazem and a small dose of aspirin, which worked fine and I had no symptoms. Then in May this year I had renewed symptoms of fast rate, breathlessness on minimal exercise, etc. These were quite nasty and lasted for a few weeks. My cardiologist determined I had had a "breakthrough" which meant the drugs weren't as effective as before, and because of my relatively young age he decided an ablation was the best course of action. So I finally had my first one four days ago. It's too early to tell of the success of it (although my surgeon is very confident), but I thought I would let you all know how it went to allay any fears.
I went in at midday on Tuesday after 4 hours of fasting. The nurses and doctor told me what was to happen, which was a TOE (transoesophageal echocardiogram), and then an ablation using both radio and freezing energy. They decided to use both radio and freezing at the same time to increase the chances of a first-time success. I was told that I would have a local anaesthetic in the leg and some sedation. I was also told that I may get hiccups towards the end of the procedure, which is due to them testing a nerve in the chest which can become damaged during the procedure.
At 13:45 I went down the "lab" as they call it. It was much more like a lab than an operating theatre actually - there were about 10 computer screens in there and a massive plasma screen, and very little surgical equipment! The surgeon told me he was about to sedate me, and he injected something (I think Rohypnol!) into the canula in my hand. After about a minute he asked me if anything was happening, and I said not yet. He said he guaranteed it would work, and that is the last thing I remember. I wasn't just sedated, I was totally asleep. It felt to me exactly like the general anaesthetic I'd had before for an unrelated operation.
I woke up later with the hiccups in the middle of the operation. I was not in the slightest bit anxious about this, but I wanted them to know I was awake just in case, so I asked the time. They told me it was 430pm, and I went back to sleep! I woke again with the hiccups a bit later, and asked the time again, and they said it was 530pm and the operation was nearly over. I don't think I went back to sleep this time.
I was wheeled out of the room and back in my own room at 545pm. I was extremely cold and shivering at this point, which they said was because of the freezing energy that had been used. I was warm again within minutes. From then on I was in and out of sleep (mostly in!) until 8am the next morning. I'd had some quite heavy sedation and apparently some morphine so this was no surprise. I even fell asleep in the middle of talking to a nurse, and apparently in the middle of trying to do a wee into the bottle whilst on my bed!
The hardest part is the lying very flat for hours after the operation. Despite being mostly asleep, I still had my canula in, a 24-hour ECG machine, and was starting to get sore on various parts of my body. You have to lie very flat to let the leg heal properly. I was allowed to get up to the loo at 1130pm, and my leg did bleed, but it stopped after compression for a few minutes and the nurses weren't worried.
I left hospital about 10am the next morning, and have rested at home since. I do have slight soreness all over the chest, both front and back. I do also have a sore leg, although that's much better 4 days later. The worst part is the sore throat and sore neck muscles, which I think must be the TOE beforehand, but it's really no worse than if you sleep badly. It's slightly uncomfortable to lie flat as it feels strange on my heart, but sitting up is fine and I've slept like a log every night, presumably because I still have the effects of the drugs in my body.
I'm desperate to get back to exercise; because of my young age I want to prove I'm still healthy I suppose. I have been told to start with a gentle walk, then maybe a run after two weeks (so that the leg has healed fully), then gradually progress to the more difficult stuff. It seems that there is no danger at all to the heart in doing the harder exercise, they are more worried about the leg bleeding.
Overall I just wanted to say that my experience was that the procedure was quite simple, and not frightening at all. People about to have it should not worry too much. I was lucky enough to go private with my company, so I hope everyone on the NHS has as good an experience as I did!
Good luck everyone