In yesterday’s post about technology and e-mail, there was a “shadow” — something on my mind, which I didn’t write about.
Here’s what it is: I’ve not only been having a complicated “relationship” with e-mail lately, but also with a different piece of technology.
My current cardiac pacemaker.
It’s time for a story …
Ann and Her Pacemakers
I got my first pacemaker when I was 10 years old, and I’ve had a LOT of them.
For the first 20 years or so, all the pacemakers I had were fixed-rate pacemakers. No matter what I did, how much I exerted myself, or what I was feeling, the pacemaker (and my heart) were beating the same amount of beats every minute: 80 beats per minute when I was a little kid and 70 when I got older. That meant I didn’t get the boost of extra beats for exercise.
That didn’t stop me from becoming a Disco Queen in the 1970’s, though.
I (not pictured) took lots of disco lessons, danced in lots of places with lots of people, and had a blast. The way I dealt with fixed rate of my heart? I rested after a dance or two. Nobody knew the difference.
In the 1980’s, when I was in my 30’s, I got my first variable rate pacemaker. With this advance in technology, the pacemaker allowed my heart to speed up exactly when it needed to.
I remember, after I got my first variable rate pacemaker, going to an indoor athletic track, and jogging for the first time.
I felt like I was flying. It felt like a miracle.
Another part of the story is this: I have always been quite sensitive to how my heart is beating. In other words, if my heart skips or speeds up suddenly, I am very aware of it. I guess I’ve had to be, in order to survive. (Also, as somebody said to me when I was in my 20’s, “Ann, some people are just born sensitive.”)
Until I was in my 30’s and got the variable rate pacemaker, any variability in my heart beating (like missed beats, slowing down, or speeding up) meant that Something Was Wrong With The Pacemaker. And by being tuned in very acutely to my heartbeat, I pretty much always anticipated when my pacemaker was starting to fail.
You may have read, on this blog, my bragging about this: I am The Longest Surviving Person In The World With a Pacemaker.*
I’ve broken other records, too. Another one (I believe) is the Longest Lasting Single Pacemaker. That would have been the last pacemaker I had, before my current one. That Champ of a Pacemaker lasted just shy of 25 years. (This could be framed as “pay back” for all the pacemakers I had, early on, that broke and otherwise failed way too soon.)
I loved my last pacemaker, if I may use that emotional word about a piece of technology, because it not only kept me going, but it kept going for such a long time. And I felt physically great with it.
The current one, which I received about 17 months ago (but who’s counting?) does not seem to be quite as spectacular a match. With this pacemaker, my heart is skipping a lot of beats, speeding up suddenly, and … it just doesn’t feel as good. My doctors tried to adjust this latest pacemaker (the new ones have LOTS of fancy programming), but, at this point, we just can’t get it to stop those kinds of behaviors. It’s not that there is something wrong with it, it’s just picking up more than my other pacemakers. My doctors tell me that it is giving a more “accurate” representation of how my heart might naturally beat.
Perhaps this pacemaker is “too sensitive.”
(I wrote about the “too” word in a post, when I first started blogging, here. Also, “too sensitive” is something I hear people say about themselves, in a judgmental way. I sometimes think that’s a characterization that’s not particularly helpful.)
At this point, I’m not sure if anything further can be done, with this pacemaker, to make it a better fit for me and my needs. What I’ve done, for myself, to feel better, is to try to “disconnect” from my sensitivity to my own heartbeat. I’ve tried to “shut off” my immediate, familiar, and learned response of “There’s Something Wrong!” whenever my heart skips a lot.
But, my heartbeat has an effect on me. That effect may include anxiety, at times.
It’s so complicated, how all the different factors — internal and external — interact with each other.
How do I figure this out? And what to do?
Here’s what I thought of this morning.
The Serenity Prayer.
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
As usual, Part 3 — “the wisdom to know the difference” — is the challenging part.
What are the things I can and cannot change right now?
At this point, I don’t think I have more options to change this pacemaker, to make it a better fit, although I’m not sure about that. I could find out, perhaps. And, maybe I can find out more about my options for my next pacemaker.
In any case, it helps to name the situation, rather than avoiding it and trying to block it out. And, also, to identify an achievable next step or two.
Thanks, from the bottom of my heart (which skips sometimes), for visiting today.
- I found out, in 2014, that this brag was not true. See here for more about that.
On a personal note, knowing you so well in college helped prepare me for living, as I happily do, with someone who had rheumatic heart disease and now has an artificial heart valve. It is far from the same thing as your remarkable story, but heart rhythm is a major theme in our lives. When we are close and things are quiet, I can hear the clicking of the valve, and I think, “Wow, I have a bionic woman for a wife.” But her heart doesn’t always stay in rhythm. She even had to leave the theater when we went with a group to see “Pacific Rim,” because the loud, low frequency sound track was, as she says, confusing her heart. On reflection, it is amazing how mildly we both responded to this.