Getting a pacemaker - Dorothy's story

getting a pacemaker

Years and years ago I remember going to the doctor for a checkup and he said to me, “You’re going to be a candidate for a pacemaker someday.” I dismissed it – maybe someday – but I didn’t think for a minute that getting a pacemaker was just a few years down the road.

A couple of years later, in the spring when I was 63, I started to have some shortness of breath. One entry in my diary read “Feel rotten. Everything is an effort. Hard to breathe.” My husband and I were in the process of restoring a 150 year-old stone farmhouse in the country and we were pretty busy.

A few days later, I wrote, “Still fighting weird condition. Tried raking lawn – no breath – exhausted.” And still a few days after that I wrote, “Still gasping for breath. I’m scared. “I really didn’t feel well and I was sleeping a lot. My husband had a bug at the same time so I rationalized that maybe I just had the same virus.

After about two weeks of this I called my doctor and made an appointment for the next day. I was feeling rotten. I arrived at the doctor’s office in a bundle of nerves. I had an EKG, an x-ray, blood tests, a urine test, plus I was scheduled for general medical evaluation two weeks later. The appointment took ages. So long that I had to dash out and put money in the parking meter!

Over the next few days I tried to resume my normal life but I just didn’t have any energy. I couldn’t climb the stairs without gasping for air. I recorded in my diary “something is terribly wrong.”

I remember going to see a friend’s new waterfront property and I got terribly short of breath. Again I thought “something’s wrong with me.”

Crisis Day

This one day, we went into town to attend a large art exhibit, then to a pub to meet some of my husband’s friends. I felt miserable. We stopped at a number of places on the way home to pick up odds and ends, and on arriving at home, tucked ourselves into bed. Soon after, the phone rang and it was my doctor. He wanted me to come to the hospital - right away. His brother (another doctor) had just read my EKG and spotted some trouble. We got up, dressed, and off we went. As we drove down the laneway, leaving behind the old stone farmhouse that was my home, I recall looking back and wondering if I would ever see it again. When I arrived at the hospital my pulse was only 30 and my blood pressure was very low.

It was a Friday night, so although I was admitted to the hospital, no tests could be scheduled until Monday. I was told it was either my thyroid OR I that needed a pacemaker. I also learned that my potassium was way down.

On the Monday I was put on an antibiotic and told that my heart had re-established its rhythm so it probably wasn’t a pacemaker that I needed. However, despite being told that, I was sent two days later to the heart institute for a scan. The initial results of the scan looked okay.

By the Thursday I was still in my local hospital and was feeling quite discouraged. There were no answers. On Friday I got the news that I had to go back to the heart institute for further evaluation. I was really scared by this news. I knew I was in trouble but I had hoped that medication, and getting my weight down, would do the trick.

On Saturday, a week after entering hospital, I learned that my thyroid was okay.

Sunday was mother’s day and the doctors allowed me to go home for dinner. We left the hospital about 3:30 in the afternoon. My husband, bless his heart, did the dinner for all the family. Steak, salad, potatoes, asparagus, and ice cream with strawberries. I was exhausted and glad to come back to bed at the hospital. All the talking and activity wore me out.

Monday I was supposed to be transferred to the heart institute but nothing happened. My blood pressure and my heart rate were all over the place.

By Wednesday I was getting worse. My doctor told me I was now third on the waiting list for the heart institute.

Thursday morning it was raining. I was still waiting. My pulse and blood pressure were very low. A dietician visited me. On top of everything I had contracted a cold, my throat was sore, my nose was running, and I had a hacking cough.

Friday. Dreary with more rain. At noon we got word that I would be off at 1 PM for the heart institute. An ambulance ride, then I was admitted and hooked up to a monitor. At this point I had been warned that I was possibly going to be getting a pacemaker.

The weekend meant more waiting. Nothing much happened, other than a stream of well wishing friends and relatives. My husband was feeling the strain of commuting back and forth from the hospital.

On Tuesday two doctors and an intern visited and told me I would definitely be receiving a pacemaker later that week.

My husband came to the hospital faithfully and kept bringing me flowers. He hated the hospital and he’d get so fidgety that finally I’ve have to tell him to go home.

By Friday, nothing had happened. I’d been waiting in hospital for three weeks. I was feeling abandoned. Then on Saturday, the sun came out after a long period of rainy days and that helped. I found out surgery was set for Monday.

Pacemaker Day

Got weighed, put my jewelry away. I was only allowed to have liquids so I had orange juice and coffee for breakfast. My husband left to get lunch and I was on the gurney on my way to surgery when he got back just in time to see me momentarily. The operation was done with a local anesthetic and some valium. I couldn’t see what they were doing but I could feel and hear everything. The nurses showed me my new EKG - and how different it was from my previous EKG. After the surgery I was on a bit of a high and despite having Tylenol I couldn’t sleep. I just dozed on and off. It was a bad night. The next day the resident doctor visited and said everything looked good and that I could go home by the weekend. My heart rate was now a steady 60 beats per minute.

Thursday I got to go home. I had so many questions.

  • What medications would I need to take?
  • Who would take my stitches out?
  • Would I have to come back for further programming of the pacemaker?
  • How long before I could shower?
  • Would I have to keep taking potassium?
  • Would I need to get a medic alert bracelet?
  • How long would the battery last?

    Before I left the hospital, a lady from the pacemaker unit came to give me information booklets and my future appointments. Then off I went.

    It had been almost a full month since the call from my doctor late on a Friday night.

    Over the next few months I made a gradual recovery. I found I still tired easily in the first weeks. I also had some discomfort where my bra strap went over the pacemaker so I designed and made a slip-on pad for my bra strap. It took about an hour to make but worked very well.

    I found that my dependence on the pacemaker was sporadic. Sometimes my natural electrical system was working and other times I relied on the pacemaker. It gave me a lift to know my heart was working - I just had a bad electrical connection that cut in and out! But I had a back up system.

    One of the hardest things I found was not being able to put my arms up over my head for fear of pulling the lead out of the heart.

    After that, I got on with my life and the pacemaker was just something I had but didn’t really think a lot about.

    My first battery lasted over 8 years and I’m on my second battery which has lasted over 13 years. I’m expecting to have it replaced before too long. I go for checks every three months now.

    I have had my pacemaker for 22 years now and I’m still here! If I hadn’t had a pacemaker, I wouldn’t be around today – that’s for sure!

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