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Tattoo of a Flat Line

by Christian Johnson 2 years ago in humanity
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A story that will make your heart beat


Every tattoo has a story. Whether it's the meaning behind the tattoo or the experience of getting it. I've gotten a tattoo in the back of a bar, I've gotten poked with a needle and a chopstick by my best friend, I got a tattoo on a trip in Israel. I love the aesthetic and the memories associated with each one. And although there is a story for every tattoo I have, here's the story about the first I ever got.

Hospital visit with EKG leads

I flatlined on March 22, 2006.

I was a sophomore in high school. It was just a regular school day, until gym class when suddenly my vision turned black, my hearing faded to a ring and I fell to the floor. When I came to, my heart was beating out of my chest. It’s hard to explain exactly how it felt, but imagine your heart beating as hard as it can while you're just sitting there doing absolutely nothing.

I ran to the nurse across the hall; she was stunned and immedietly called my Mom. She'd been a nurse for years before and knew the second she saw me something was wrong. She grabbed me, helped me to the car, and sped off to the nearest hospital with one hand on the steering wheel and the other checking my carotid and radial pulse. My Dad was called on the way and he immediately left work in NYC.

Once admitted, the desk nurse blankly checked the pulse and told me to take a seat. My mom immediately went back up to her explaining that this was no “take a seat” matter. With a bit of reluctance, she stood up and called me into a side room where she took my vitals and stuck on an EKG.

The EKG machine spat out its language, the needle scribbling frantically up and down the paper. The nurse snapped her chewing gum and tore off the paper; she took one look and ran out of the room. Within seconds about 6 people rushed in, ripped off EKG leads, and took the bed I was laying on running down the hall. To say the least, the situation went for 0-100 real quick. The doctor diagnosed the problem as SVT. Super ventricular tachycardia. A heart arrhythmia. My heart was beating 275 beats per minute when a normal resting heart rate is between 60-100 bpm.

Adenosine flatline and arrhythmia

Step one was to try to break the arrhythmia naturally. This can be done by splashing cold water on your face, holding your breath or coughing. None of that worked. So the next step was to stop my heart, which had been beating in the wrong cycle for close to 5 hours at this point. When the doctor mentioned the drug adenosine my mom turned pale. Adenosine can be described lightly as rebooting a computer if it’s not running as smoothly. At the time I didn't really notice or feel any fear. I was just uncomfortable and wanted to feel normal again.

We made the decision to give it a shot. Everyone in the room prepped for the worst outcome. At this point, there were probably around 10 people in the room. The nurses prepped the medicine in a syringe. The crash cart was powered on and hovering over my chest. All hands were on deck.


The previous two hours of complete commotion came to a halting silence and everyone stood still. The nurse holding the needle asked if everyone was ready; the room replied “yes.” She looked me in the eyed and asked if I was ready; "yes." She inserted the needle into the IV and pumped the adenosine into my bloodstream. I felt the cold liquid rush up my arm. At first, I was a bit high and lightheaded, then as if a large person was sitting on my chest crushing me. The pain was getting more and more intense, my vision black, my ears ringing and I felt as if I couldn't breathe.

Suddenly, it felt like I was opening my eyes for the first time. Everything was back to normal. My hearing was muffled at first but looking over at all the gazing eyes everyone seemed relieved. Within a few minutes, all of the madness was over, mostly everyone had left the room beside my mom and a nurse or two. My heart had successfully stopped and restarted without having to be shocked or receive CPR. My Dad arrived just in time to hear the good news everyone was relieved. At the time my parents were newly separated and to me seeing them being civil together warmed my heart.

I was discharged that night and went to see a cardiologist the next day. We went through all of the data, performed a few more tests and scans, and decided on surgery. Within a few weeks, I had a cardiac ablation surgery to fix the hole in my lower right ventricular.

This was a moment that I will never forget, and while it absolutely sucked at the time looking back this was a positive experience. I decided to get a tattoo of the exact moment the adenosine was injected. It's a replica of the EKG through the end of the flatline, followed by the addition of a perfect PQRST heartbeat to symbolize a healthy life ahead.

By Christian Johnson


About the author

Christian Johnson

My name is Christian Johnson and I am Brooklyn-based freelance photographer, cinematographer and camera collector intrigued by film.

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