When I give a 5-minute talk at my college reunion on September 21, I’m going to stress how different I am, with this beginning:
Everybody our age remembers where they were and what they were doing on November 22, 1963. I’m different from the rest of you. I have no memories of that day, because I was having heart surgery to receive my first cardiac pacemaker.
Every time I rewrite that opening, it’s different, but the meaning remains the same.
This post is different because it has only three photos.
Today is going to be different because
I’ll be facilitating a different version of my Coping and Healing groups for staff at the Primary Care Practice of the major Boston hospital where I work and
each day is different from what we expect.
Last night, I asked my boyfriend Michael — who is different from everybody else — if he thought that staff group would go okay today. He said (in different words), “Why should this be different from every other time you’ve done this before?”
Welcome to the one thousand, four hundred and thirtieth daily blog post here at The Year(s) of Living Non-Judgmentally.
Yesterday, when I returned to work after a two-month medical leave, I saw welcome.
Today, I’m looking forward to welcomes at the hospital where I work and also at the hospital where I get my medical care, as we try to adjust my cardiac pacemaker to make climbing stairs and other exercise a more welcoming experience.
I try to welcome every new day with hope. So tomorrow, I’ll do my best to welcome December. I hope there will be more to welcome in that month than there was in November.
Now it’s time to welcome all my other photos from yesterday!
I believe it helps to welcome every moment and all your feelings, no matter where you’re going.
Here are some photos I took yesterday in the office of my Primary Care Physician, Dr. Laura Snydman:
Do you agree with that? The more you know, the better you feel?
My answer to that?
Here’s more for you to know. “Whatever” would NOT be my answer. That’s just a cup I saw yesterday evening. My answer would be:
Whether I feel better would depend on the knowledge.
I DID feel better after I met with Dr. Snydman yesterday and I DID know more, including this:
At least one doctor in my crowd of cardiologists is recommending the treatment plan I prefer (and which I recommended — in an email, months ago — to another cardiologist).
Knowing that helped me feel much better, because:
That plan — replacing my pacemaker with a pacemaker/defibrillator combo to reduce my risk of sudden cardiac death and to try to restore my heart’s ability to speed up in response to exertion and exercise — is a much less invasive plan than valve replacement surgery (which I know other knowledgeable cardiologists have been recommending) and
I love feeling smart.*
What more would you like to know now, to feel better?
Here are some other photos I took yesterday, for more knowledge and/or better feelings:
That last image reminds me of some more better-feeling knowledge: There’s an “ice cream social” today at work.
Do you know any feel-better songs that would fit today’s blog post?
… because I’m hoping my heart will keep beating until I’m 70 (and more).
You might know this: the more you comment, the better I feel.
Many thanks to Dr. Snydman, to the Pat Metheny Group, to medical teams everywhere, to people I know who felt better or who helped me feel better yesterday, to crowds of cardiologists and pacemakers, to ice cream, and — of course! — to you, no matter what you know or how you’re feeling today.
* I was going to write “I love feeling like a know-it-all” instead, but know-it-all’s don’t usually help me feel better.
You will relate to my (or anybody else’s) experience in some ways, but not in others, because my experience (like yours) has been unique.
But I’m going to let go of the past (that 200-day-old blog post) and be more in the moment, right now.
It’s the first day of November. I have lots of reactions to the month of November.
And they all make sense, on some level.
You may relate to some of my reactions but not to others, because of where you are.
Some of my reactions to November:
It’s autumn in New England, and I’m a wuss about the coming cold, so I’m still not happy about that.
At this point, though, I’ve let go of denial and am working on acceptance. That includes embracing the beauty of what is. For example, this past week, all the mindfulness exercises I did in therapy groups focused on leaves I gathered outside of work. (None of those leaf photos are mine, but those images remind me of the leaves we used, in mindfulness.)
November, to me, means November 22nd. November 22nd, 1963, was the day President John F. Kennedy was shot. For people who were conscious and aware on that day, that was a life-changing experience.
I was unconscious, on that day, because I was having my first heart surgery, at age 10, to get my first cardiac pacemaker.
That’s the punchline, for me, people.
This year, I am planning on experiencing November differently.
How? I’m making one conscious change.
I am taking November 22nd off from work, and spending that day in a way that’s helpful for me.
I haven’t figured out how I’ll be spending that day. I’ll be working on that, this November.
Here are some random thoughts about what’s been happening:
Over the “Breaking Bad” Marathon Weekend (see here, here, and here), I noticed I was getting short of breath. There were LOTS of reasons for those feelings, so I noted them, but I didn’t worry about them.
However, after the weekend was over, I still noticed the shortness of breath. I no longer had good explanations for those feelings, so I started getting concerned.
Monday night, when I was taking a nice long walk with my bf, Michael, I talked to him about my worries. I said to him, “I can’t figure out, these days, whether these feelings are in my head or in my heart.”
And I told him about a technique for people having panic attacks. This technique was inspired by this book (which I recommend highly):
The technique is this: If you feel panicky and believe that might be heart-related, try this:
Exert yourself physically and see what happens.
So I said to Michael, “Wanna sprint?” Because I also remembered, many years ago, challenging my old business partner, Jonathan, in a similar way, and discovering — much to my surprise — that I was a damn good sprinter (over very short distances).
So Michael and I sprinted, to the nearest tree. And it was fun, again, to run like the wind.
After our sprint, I took my pulse. And, much to my surprise, I found that my pulse ….
… was not speeding up. At all.
It reminded me of my life, from ages 10 to 35, when I lived with a fixed-rate cardiac pacemaker. During that time, even though I managed to dance a lot of disco, becoming a
(which was lots of fun), my heart rate never, ever speeded up, no matter how much I exercised.
In 1987, when I was 35 years old, I got my first DDD cardiac pacemaker, which essentially repaired my heart to act like yours — like a “normal” heart. That is, every time I exercised, my heart speeded up.
I remember, after I got that pacemaker in 1987, going to an indoor track and jogging.
To me, that felt like one of my childhood dreams.
Flying like Peter Pan.
Monday night, my heart was not speeding up at all, after I had sprinted like the wind.
So I knew something was very wrong, but I didn’t know what. When Michael and I got back home, I called the on-call cardiology resident at the hospital where I get my treatment. And together, we decided I should come into the Emergency Room.
So, at 9 o’clock on Monday night, Michael and I went to the Emergency Room.
Now, as usual, I have some time limitations on writing this blog post, so I need to make a “long story, short.” Here are some of the highlights of the next 24 hours:
A very cool doctor, whom I had never met before, listening to my heart, and telling me that I had a “beautiful” heart murmur, which “sounded like the wind.”
Two very cool doctors, whom I had met before, telling me that I was in atrial fibrillation, probably for the rest of my life, but not to worry, because this was extremely manageable, and with my very cool pacemaker, they would fix it so that I might actually feel better than I had been feeling lately.
These same two very cool doctors, seriously and respectfully discussing with me the pros and cons of various responses to my current situation, one of which would include being on medication for the rest of my life.
My believing that the decision we came to, together, was a good one, and feeling hopeful about the future.
Spending a couple of hours, having an echocardiogram performed on me, with one of the kindest, most beautiful people I have ever met in my life, which included the tears involved with any new, unexpected, and potentially scary development in one’s life.
Having nothing but good results, in all ways.
Which is where I am writing this blog post, now.
Gotta end this blog post, so I can get some more sleep and go to work.
Thanks to doctors old and new, runners who fly like the wind, kind people everywhere, and to you — especially — for reading today.
When I entered junior high school (from a really small, religion-based elementary school), I knew very few of the over 200 people in my new class.
I started junior high school the year after my whole world turned around — when I had my first cardiac pacemaker implanted (on the same day that John F. Kennedy was shot, which turned everybody else’s world around, too).
I didn’t know many people in my 7th grade class. Nevertheless, I remember being happy to be entering that big world of more diverse, interesting people. I remember observing people, with fascination and with gratitude to be there among them.
It felt like an adventure and a relief, in a way.
Some people were kinder than others back then. 13-year-old kids aren’t very far along in the process of developing empathy to others. (Developing empathy is a growth process in human beings, which sometimes gets short circuited by unfortunate circumstances.)
But for the most part, I remember a lot of people who showed kindness to me. And I could have been a prime target for bullying — (1) I was unfamiliar to lots of people and (2) I had a medical condition that a lot of people knew about. (Because cardiac pacemakers were so new, and because the one I had implanted was so big and stuck so far out, the doctors thought I needed to wear a brace and leave early from class, with somebody carrying my books for me.)
But I only got bullied by one person and it was pretty mild (even though I did witness, at times, other people getting bullied worse, which was awful).
I had a lot of great experiences, learning to know the people in the class, as we grew from ages 13 through 18.
One thing I remember feeling bad about for most of those years of junior high and high school?
Not sure why I felt so bad, in retrospect. Actually, I can guess:
I didn’t look like the models of good looks I saw everywhere in the media.
The guys in junior high and high school didn’t seem interested in me, that way.
I had this weird pacemaker sticking out of my body, which affected how I felt about myself.
Last night, at the reunion, some of the guys told me that they were interested in me, back then.
Why didn’t they let me know when we were in school together?
Because they thought I wouldn’t go out with them. They had lots of reasons why they thought I might reject THEM. I was very surprised to hear that.
I think a lot of people hear stories like that — and other surprising stories — when they go to a reunion.
That’s the end of the blog post for today, ladies and gentlemen.
Thanks to people from my high school, everybody who ever felt insecure in school, and — if that doesn’t cover everybody reading today — the rest of you, too.
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.