Abstract: "The Fast Track."

Rosenthal, Elisabeth. "The Fast Track." Discover. December 1990. pp. 80-83.

A young man recently came into a hospital after blacking-out while exercising. Previous times while exercising, he had also blacked out. Finally, one time, after exercising, his serious condition worsened, and he was blacked out for three minutes. When he came to, he found himself on a stretcher, being whisked off to the hospital. What was the cause of his problem?

The cause of his increased problem was the Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. [query: why are Doctors so conceited? And why would they want to name a DISEASE after themselves? I guess after spending eternity in med-school your cranium looses its clear-thinking abilities.] The main feature of this syndrome is a supplementary band of conducting tissue that sneaks its message to the heart. In the normal conduction pathway, the sinus node acts as a pacemaker by sending an electrical signal down the ventricles. Then the atrioventricular node acts as a 'checkpoint', turning back heart-beat signals that are too close together. When a patient has the syndrome, the signal sneaks past the checkpoint by a back-door. (Kind of like the old East German's hopping through Czechoslovakia to get to West Germany, instead of popping through the 'Czech'point. They had to wait until the 'shock' of the wall actually coming down before they finally used the normal path.) During normal activity, the signals are just sauntering on by, and it matters not what path they travel. But when the heart starts getting stressed, (like during vigorous physical exercise) renegade signals start creeping up. Some of them manage to run on past the border patrol, and cause turbo-oscillation of the heart.

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is usually diagnosed by viewing an electrocardiogram. A normal electrocardiogram has narrow peaks, followed by long, flat areas. Many severe heart problems (particularly arrhythmias) are identified by irregularities in the electrocardiogram. For example, a crazy repetition of odd-shaped peaks, normally signifies ventricular fibrillation. The Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is identified by a small curve wave at the start of the beat, known as a delta wave. This harmless-looking wave causes serious problems for the person.

A super-accelerated heart rate results in a decrease of blood volume being pumped by the heart. This occurs because the shortened period of relaxation between the beats is not long enough for the heart to completely fill with blood. This condition can result in light-headedness, death, or even fainting. Often these heart rates fall into the horrendous condition known as ventricular fibrillation. In this condition, the heart is haphazardly twitching in a super-quick manner. The common way to restore the heart to its normal beating pattern is by way of electric shockers. The shockers cause the heart to stop for a second, and (hopefully) the heart will then resume its normal beating pattern.

This article included no crucial graphs or tables, however, it did include an excellent graphic. The graphic showed a heart in the foreground. Behind the heart, a quasar-like presence is shown. This helps to emphasize the methods 'shocking' needed to restore a 'rabid' heart down to its normal pace. Inferior to the heart, the persons body is shown. The prominence of the heart instead of the man shows man's dependance of his heart for every-day life, and his reliance on medicine to carry out the proper function of his heart. Finally, the man is shown on the background of a red clock. This clock serves many symbolic purposes. It symbolizes the essence of time in treating heart conditions, and the fact that a small amount of time lost in treating the condition can result in death. Also, the red color of the clock can be symbolic of blood, and the cruciality of a continuous life-giving blood supply.

After being admitted to the hospital, and being diagnosed as having the heart-signal-checkpoint-bypass syndrome, or any other major cardiac problem, a patient is sent to the EFS lab. EFS stands for electrophysiological study, and attempts to provide a detailed diagnosis of the problem by recreating the original situation. During this testing, the patient is 'all-wired-up' with electrodes, and emergency equipment is standing by, just in case. To recreate the problem, charges are fired to stimulate the heart-rate. Often, after accelerating the heart rate to identify the problem, the heart enters ventricular fibrillation, and is quickly calmed down with another shock.

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is surprisingly easy to cure. A quick fix can be had with the heart-sedative, Pronestyl, which slows abnormally fast heart rates. The road to a permanent fix sounds quite simple, but takes some work. It simply involves the removal of the removal of the bypass-path. Once this small bit of tissue is removed, the patient is permanently free from the syndrome.

This article was very well written. The simple-English style made it easy to comprehend on the first read-through. Also, the use of consistent terminology keeps the reader from scrambling backwards in confusion. Instead of reporting on laboratory research, this article focused on now common techniques being used in the hospital situation. It also managed to through a large amount of information in a relatively entertaining format. On a scale of one to ten, it gets an eight.