vs. Minnesota
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"Call the paramedics."

Have you ever asked a teacher or professor "When are we ever gonna have to use this stuff?" When I registered for this quarter's classes, I had no idea that I would get to experience the course topic first-hand. I was told that it would be a really neat class to take because by the end of the quarter we'd know how to build an ECG (Electrocardiogram) from scratch, measure blood flow and a host of other neat little bio-medical trinkets that involved electronic circuits. In addition, Cardiovascular Instrumentation (BME C-83), taught by my advisor Dr. Alan Sahakian was the only technical elective available that would fit into my schedule. I agreed to take the course--after all, what was I going to do, say no? I had to have three courses and this was the only one that would fit. C'est la vie.

Gettin' medieval

The night before the game, my girlfriend's sorority was sponsoring a date party that I of course was invited to attend. Laura's roomie needed a date as well so I set her up with my team-mate, surfer-boy Joe Harmsen (if you saw him you'd know why I call him "surfer-boy," even though he hails from Fon du Lac, Wisconsin--wherever that is).

The House took us all to a really cool restaurant/show called Medieval Times in Schaumburg, IL. The entire theme is, of course "medieval times" and they make every effort to make you feel as if you were actually back in time. The building is reminiscent of a castle, the employees are all in costume and they even sell swords. I had my eye on this righteous samurai sword and stand for about $400 and it was all I could do to keep myself from dropping the Discover card on the table and saying "no need to wrap it...I'll be wearing it out." In fact, if it weren't for the $800 or so I had just spent on a new hard drive and CD-ROM I would've bought it for sure! I would have been a great addition to my dorm room. :-)

After checking the place out, the crowd was escorted into sections surrounding a huge sandy arena where the games would be played. We were seated in the green section. As we all shoveled whole baked chickens into our faces (I had two, actually, Joe had 1 1/2) we watched a bunch of fools dressed in medieval gear beat the snot out of each other with maces, swords, whips and the whole nine yards. We all had a great time cheering on our knight (the green knight) who was cast as the "ruthless bastard" (their words, not mine) of the show. And did he ever live up to his billing! He was about as pleasant as Bobby Knight on a bad hair day). Joe, a football player, and I had a blast harassing the other knights at the tops of our lungs, totally embarassing our respective dates. That's okay, we didn't care. After all, we're jocks--we're supposed to be rude and obnoxious during sporting events, or whenever else we get the chance. =-)

I almost lost my voice that night but it was worth it. I wanted that sword really, really bad but thought that my R.A. would freak out and call the cops on me if she saw me wielding around a samurai sword with a 3' sharpened blade, so I just settled for a couple souvenir photos. It was still cool.

Would you like a match for your gasoline?

Friday, the day before the game, I picked up a copy of my favorite publication (insert copious amounts of sarcasm here) The Daily Northwestern and there across the entire back of the paper was the headline Carlisle guarantees win. Terrific. We've won how many games and Geno's throwing gasoline on an already fired-up team (speaking of Minnesota's string of losses before they stepped into Welsh-Ryan)? Wonderful. Nothing like giving the other team incentive to skin us alive. I didn't say anything, just shook my head...I can just see the Monday Daily reading something like "Carlisle lies" or "Promises broken". It should be interesting.

Something ain't right

Midway into the first half, Coach Byrdsong threw me into the mix. I ran over to the scorer's table, checked in and took Evan's place on the floor to give him a little break. After running up and down the court a couple of times I felt really winded, but thought nothing of it--it's not altogether uncommon for me to feel a little winded at first and I figured that I'd snap out of it. I didn't. Up and down, we exchanged possessions with Minnesota and then I came out almost as quickly as I was put in--Evan was ready so I had to step aside. So I returned to my reserved seat there next to Assitant Coach Paul Swanson, all the while panting like a dog.

A few short moments later, my services were called upon again and I replaced Evan. I had pretty much calmed down since my first outing but I still felt a little weird (physically that is). Then it happened. Joe Harmsen grabbed a rebound and got surrounded by a Gopher or two (sounds kinda funny doesn't it?) and in a panic, threw the ball to me (I'm really not the person you should throw a basketball to if I'm facing the basket 12' away--that's a guaranteed turnover in most cases) and then proceeded to pin his man behind him. Then I saw it...a gap so big you could drive a herd of buffalo through and that path led straight to the Promised Land--the basket. With a single dribble I went straight for the basket, elevated and tomahawked (at least that's how it was described to me--opinions may vary but I really don't recall exactly what style I used to dunk--I just did it) the ball into the hoop, sending the student section into a frenzy. When I came down from the dunk my heart was pounding like I'd never felt before and I thought it was going to explode. As the Gophers came scurrying back up the court, I awaited my opponents' arrival, panting even harder as my heart threatened to jump right out of my chest. I started feeling dizzy.

When the buzzer signaled the end of the half, I walked back to the locker room clutching my chest. I put my hand over my heart and felt it go thump, thump, thump ....... thump, thump ......... thump, thump, thump.... It was definitely irregular and the more I walked the dizzier I got. Something wasn't right, I knew it, but I also knew that my team needed me and they couldn't afford to have me sitting on the bench for the rest of the game so I didn't say anything to anyone about it.

When we emerged from the tunnel at the end of intermission I took my place in the layup line first passing the ball, then rotating into the other line to await my turn. As I got the ball and elevated, I could just feel the energy leave my body and my head started spinning. Upon landing on the other side of the paint, I walked over to trainer Mike Gilmartin.

"What's up Dan?"

"Mike, I don't feel right--my heart is ready to jump out of my chest and I'm very dizzy." I bent over with my hands on my knees to try to steady myself.

"Alright, go back to the locker room so I can check out your blood pressure."

When I stood upright I nearly collapsed on the court, blacking out for a brief moment. As I recovered my vision I began the walk back to our locker room where I met Coaches Byrdsong and Jamal Meeks. I gave them a brief account of what was going on. Byrdsong was concerned ("Awww, sh*t" I believe was his response, fearing another Nick Knapp situation). Mike took my blood pressure and found it to be normal (135/70) but my pulse was very irregular and my lips were getting numb. Mike gave the order to call the paramedics. It was about this time that I started to freak out. When a problem like this arises, it'll grab your attention like nothing else will. If you get your nose broken or your throat busted so hard you wake up the next morning and can't breathe that's one thing, but having a cardiac arrythmia is another thing altogether--it'll scare the mess out of you as it did me.

C'mon Brian

The paramedics arrived and hooked me up to a heart monitor. "It appears to be atrial" said one. "I agree...it's definitely atrial." I knew what they were talking about. I was in atrial fibrillation, a condition where the upper two chambers of the heart go wild, beating whenever they feel like it (which was somewhere around 130 beats per minute) even if the ventricles (the two lower chambers) are beating at 80 bpm. I knew from my Cardio Instrumentation class that a-fib is not a life threatening condition--more an annoyance than anything else and that many people have it--but it freaked me out nonetheless. When the heart fails you're in a whole world of trouble--trouble I didn't want. I remember lying there in the back room with electrodes on my chest and an oxygen mask on my face hearing though the air vents "Wildcat foul on number 51, Brian Chamberlain, his fourth, team's second."

"C'mon Brian," I moaned.

I began feeling sharp pains in my left chest and I threw up a prayer of desperation. It wasn't death that I feared, it was the pain that accompanies cardiac arrest I feared--I don't like pain too much. I'm allergic to pain.

On the way over to Evanston Hospital (my home away from my home away from home) the paramedics called ahead to have a few firefighters from across the road meet us at ER receiving to help unload me (they had a pretty rough time getting all 255 lbs. of me into the ambulance). I chuckled a little as the pain in my chest continued to nag. Turning to my right I could see the traces on the heart monitor going crazy following the fibrillation and skipping beats. I thought that if I took my eyes off it, I would die. I believed that by using my Jedi mind powers, I could prevent myself from dying. It worked--my Jedi mind powers never fail me.

In the ER I was promptly hooked up to a heart monitor, blood oxygen meter and a full-fledged 12-lead ECG and I did hunger. Keith Peshke (team manager) and I had made plans to get some Papa John's pizza after the game and I was just a little more than disappointed that I was going to have to eat dry turkey-on-wheat sandwiches, courtesy of Evanston Hospital...blech! Every time I saw the nurse, I nagged her about the whereabouts of my pizza. So, when I heard from Laura I asked her to bring my Discman, my CD's and a pizza from Papa John's. One hour later, in walks Laura, Keith in tow, with my pizza and a pair of hightops on top of the box (almost couldn't see the pizza box!). It was a glorious sight...and a glorious smell. Not wanting to waste any of my precious few moments on Earth, I ripped into it, not even tasting the first 4 or 5 slices. It was good...real good.

My heart in fibrillation

(click on img to see full ekg)
All in all I think I had something like 15 wires coming off of me--it was pretty funky. The plot above shows perhaps the clearest example of both the atrial fibrilation as well as my irregular heart rate. Note the irregularly spaced QRS complexes (the big spikes where the ventricles contract) and the jagged traces between these complexes. Compare that to the ECG (below) of me the morning after. Pretty funky, eh?

The Morning After

(click on img to see full ekg)

At 6:30 in the morning I was rudely awakened with a needle in my arm. The nurse at the other end of that instrument grunted, "I need to draw some blood from you." Without verbally responding to her, I threw my right arm in her general direction and let her go to work. For all I knew, it could have been a janitor pumping Drano into my veins. I didn't care--my pulse was 40 bpm and I was dead to the world. A little Drano wouldn't have hurt.

Several hours later I felt strange hands on my leg, and they weren't mine. The doctor woke me up, told me I could eat lunch and go home. The discharge note said that I am not restricted with regards to activity so I'm looking forward to travelling to Illinois for our game this Wednesday, but I have an appointment to see the cardiologist tomorrow at 4:30pm where I'll have a stress test and a host of other tests awaiting me. I'd better go now...wouldn't want to fail any of my tests tomorrow and make it any easier for Jerry Gee and crew to walk all over us (for the second time).

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