Pacemaker “procedure”

After getting the news that I did, in fact, need a pacer, I tried to wrap my brain around the idea.  My vasovagal syncope episodes had gotten so severe, that I no longer felt I could travel without someone who knew my history. I had turned down an international trip at my institution because I was concerned I would freak out with anxiety on the plane to a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language.  I’m usually a risk taker and enjoy going to new places and experiencing new things.  So this anxiety concerned me.  Anyway, I digress.  The point being, I was convinced for some time that I did need a pacer because I could feel my heart rate lower and beat with strong palpitations right before I would wake up dazed and confused on a floor somewhere (my bathroom, office, etc.). 

While in the hospital I did not allow myself to search the internet on “pacemakers”.  I still haven’t decided if this was the right move or not.  I was so happy to have a possible solution to my episodes, that I didn’t want to read more about how a pacer might negatively impact my life.  Plus, I didn’t think I was in a good frame of mind to determine science from pseudoscience from personal accounts of living with a pacer. 

By nightfall my husband had returned home and I was hanging out in my hospital room.  I thought I was fine with everything until the nurse told me “you are not cleared to shower”.  At first I thought this was funny, and then my whole world seemed to crash over this odd statement. Then I tried to sleep and was awoken every 25 minutes for various and crazy reasons.  The last straw was when a nurse came in to introduce herself at 2:30 am.  I completely lost it and starting crying uncontrollably.  I hadn’t cried like this since cashew was born and had escalating bilirubins and I couldn’t hold him 24/7 when he was a day old.  Anyway, I left my room and began pacing (no pun intended) the halls.  Every nurse asked how I was doing and I bawled about how I woke up healthy and now I was in a hospital and couldn’t sleep or shower and I was sure I would catch some horrible virus (one trainee nurse had coughed on me earlier in the day).  I ended each blurb with “I know I seem crazy”.  Then, I noticed 3 nurses and realized I taught them.  Wonderful. Amazingly, that didn’t seem to stop my ugly crying.  I was completely distraught and I couldn’t stop myself.  Here I was, finally getting the medical care I needed.  So why was I crying uncontrollably?  Finally, I went back to my nurse, told her I was awoken every 25 min and that I really, really, really wanted a shower.  I didn’t understand the medical reason why I couldn’t shower and I knew that after the pacer I couldn’t shower for 3 days (this seemed completely reasonable to me).  She agreed to check with the Dr. in the morning to see if I could shower.  He came in the morning and shrugged it off “of course she can shower”.  Every nurse seemed amazed to hear these words.  I still don’t know why this part of my stay put me over the edge, but it did.  And frankly, I think I needed to break down.  Before that time, I was trying to assure everyone I knew that everything would be okay. I was so concerned about everyone else and their feelings that I had completely blocked my own. 

So I showered. It did not wash away all my fears, but at least I had clean hair.  Then, a nurse came in and hooked up my i.v. to give me fluids.  I had to do everything in my power to not pass out, and it wasn’t pretty.  Doing crazy legs lifts to push blood back to my heart.  Before I knew it, I was getting wheeled down to the OR.  Then, I got to sign lots of paperwork and my Dr. had to reel off all the potential problems “punctured lung, heart, etc. overall, a safe procedure”.  This really didn’t bother me, and I’m not sure why.  He said it so quickly and in an oddly irritated and nervous way.  Usually, he spoke slowly and clearly, so this part was odd.  I then asked to please give me the sedative sooner than later and next thing I was waking up in recovery.  My chest really hurt where the incision was located, although it was only ~2.5 inches.  My Dr. suggested I take narcotics for the pain, but I was hugely opposed and tried to deal with the pain on Tylenol.  Which I did. 

On my way back to my room I told every nurse, NP and PA I saw that the pacer was pacing inappropriately.  I was told, “No, its not. This is part of living with a pacer now.”.  Finally, the next day my Dr. came to see me and said “your pacer is pacing and you don’t need it pacing this much”.  Great.  How about you fix it.  Which he did and I felt much better.  Overall, the recovery was okay. I was sent home the next day with no Rx and everyone told me they hoped I didn’t return because I was so young. 

BTW: the pacer “procedure” is called a procedure because you are not under general anesthesia and it is relatively non-invasive.  Or so I’ve been told.



Father Field Trip

I’m taking a break from telling my pacer story because something has come up that I cannot let go unwritten.  Plus, my pacer story happened a while ago and I’m am trying to muster the courage to put in writing parts of the ordeal. 

I can not decide if this is a feminism post or an involved father post, or both.  My husband took Cashew on his field trip to the zoo last week.  He started by telling the story with “there was only one other adult male at the zoo”.  I responded with “only one other dad was there with Cashew’s school?”.  Him “no, I was the only other male chaperone at the ENTIRE zoo, and it was crowded”.  Okay, so this is how it starts.  Next, a women (either parent or grandparent) asks my husband “how did you get work off for the trip”.  I’m unsure here if the point is to find out if he has a job, or what.  Anyway, he goes on to say yes.  My first issue with this is that I cannot imagine a female being asked this question, although I could be wrong.  But it doesn’t end there.  Next she asked “how did you do that”?  Huh? “I was able to arrange my schedule so that I could make it, and my schedule allowed for it.  I do have some flexibility since I don’t teach on “x” day”.  Her “Oh, you work at University down the street?”.  Him “yes”.  Her “so do you take the classes or teach the classes?”. WTF?  Him “I teach the classes and I do research”.  Her “And you were able to do this today?”.  Okay, so seriously what happened?  He was questioned for being with his child on a beautiful spring day.  I think if we want to be in equal partnerships, then this type of inquisition must stop!  He should not have to defend why he took off work to take his child on a field trip.  Why is the response so different when a father is involved with a kids life than a mothers?  The only way we can have dual careers and still make the house and family thrive is if we are in this together.  And really, I don’t think this is specific to dual careers, but family balance in general.  How would this had played out if I had gone on the field trip?  “Hi Cashew’s mom, nice to see you”.  It doesn’t matter that my husband and I have essentially the same job doing the same thing, he got a different response.  Although I can’t be sure since I wasn’t there as a control…but I can assure you I have never been questioned how/why I attended an event with either one of my children.

Go to the ER

After passing out, the phone rang and my husband answered.  “You need to take her to the ER”.  I declined and crawled into bed as I usually did after a typical episode.  I had 3 hours before I had to teach, so I figured I would rest and then go into work.  The phone rang again, this time the cardiologist office.  “your heart stopped for over 10 sec, you must go to the ER now”.  Well, that sounded a lot more serious! I always new my heart rate was dropping crazy low, but I could never convince doctors!!!  Part of me felt vindicated.  But reality quickly set in everywhere.  My husband put the kids in their car seats and he dropped me off at the ER.  I have lived with vasovagal syncope my entire life and let me tell you: being left at the ER with vasovagal is almost a worst nightmare.  I just reminded myself that it was much better for the kids to be at home with their Daddy that at an ER.  That is something I never expected from motherhood: an increased courage for facing everyday obstacles and making it through.  Not always with grace or beauty, but making it.

Once at the ER I had to get an i.v., a scenario that always made me pass out and seize.  I had an amazing nurse and I was able to make it through conscious.  Two hours later a cardiologist came by, introduced himself and then told me I was getting a pacemaker later that afternoon.  Holy crap, this day just changed my life forever!  I tried to remain calm and remind myself that I always thought a pacer would solve my seizure problems.  Then I had memories of a childhood friend who had a pacer and all the issues she went through.  Of course, that was a long time ago (I told myself).  I wasn’t sure when to call my husband because I couldn’t even imagine the crazy day he was having with the kids and wondering if I was okay.  I finally called and he came by 2 hours later when he was able to get a sitter.  That was a long two hours.  I had left my computer and other electronics at home, so I was able to sit and think, a lot.  And a lot more.  Then he arrived, as always, to save the day.  Or at least it felt that way to me.

You need a pacemaker…

A brief history:

Overall I have always been quite healthy, visiting few specialists and getting rave reviews at yearly checkups.  However, I’ve lived essentially my entire life with syncope episodes.  As a child, I visited a few neurologists who told me to put my head between my knees or lay down when an episode triggered, and I’ve done so ever since.  Often times I would lay down, but still had syncope, usually accompanied by seizures.  It is these seizures that threw a monkey wrench in finding a diagnosis.  I was always referred to neurologist, never a cardiologist. After having children, I had more personal impetus to find a possible solution to this problem.  Once I was home alone with the kids (this part occurs often) and almost had an episode (not often and very scary to my kids and me).  I was able to remain conscious, but it was a wake up call.  So I began listening to my body more.  I noticed that my heart rate would drop to a point I could feel it beating strongly in my chest.  No matter what I did (crossed leg exercises to bring blood back to my heart, laying down, cool cloth on my head), I would still pass out.  In rare instances it could be diverted, but often times not.  I went to a cardiologist and told him I needed a pacemaker. He thought I was nuts and told me there was no reason to put metal into a young (nice, I’m young!) person until absolutely needed.  So I felt better.  He did a stress echo and everything was normal.  I thought I would continue to live with this, because I was completely healthy!  Then a year later I had a seizure and the doctor that responded told me I shouldn’t drive until I was on anti-seizure medication.  WHAT????  Not drive?  But I always know when an episode is coming, I can’t hurt anyone!  “It doesn’t matter, you could hurt a lot of people if this happens on the road”.  Holy crap.  So I went back to the cardiologist and mentioned a pacemaker again.  He thought I was fine, but put me on a month long EKG monitor to be sure.  While on the monitor I had an episode and my heart stopped…for over 10 seconds.