I want to warn any reader that the meat of this journal entry (Blog) is near the end of this long story. It would be difficult to explain what I’m trying to get across without a little history first. So, I promise, if you get through the first part, I’ll try to articulate the reason for the title. Okay? here we go…
I think just the name “Cardiologist” is scary. It’s difficult to describe the conversation my wife and I had as we traveled from our home to the Cardiologist office. I do recall words being spoken but exactly what was being said that day has fainted away. Long pauses and bouts of spoken optimism and few silent prayers are merely all I remember. I recall as we sat in the parking lot before entering the office, my beautiful wife held my hands and we prayed.
Just a week earlier, I had been called to this same office. My family doctor had submitted a prescription for a heart monitor just to rule a few things out. For the past few years I had been complaining to my doctor that I get exhausted while doing simple things. Just walking up stairs or mowing the lawn had become difficult tasks. I would muscle my way through any physical activity though thinking that if I just pushed myself i could get anything accomplished. Nearly two decades ago, I went through the Police Academy and had been taught in PT training the theory of “mind over body“. There is wisdom in mind over body but not when your body is broken and you just don’t know it. I had a few obvious symptoms and they were becoming more relevant. During even the slightest tasks I would become light-headed, immediately start sweating on my forehead, have shortness of breath, and dizziness.
My doctor instructed me to go to a Cardiologist and wear a heart monitor for a month. This monitor would send a reading to some office somewhere and it would record what exactly my heart was doing twenty four hours a day. So off we went to the Cardiologist. We never met the Cardiologist though. He had an assistant meet with me and she demonstrated how to hook up this monitor by attaching three wires to various locations on my chest. She gave simple instructions on how to recharge the battery and explained that this monitor would be monitored 24/7. She explained to me that I would need to wear this for four weeks and then I was to mail it back in the pre-addressed packaging that was in the monitor box. Well, that seemed pretty simple. Bummer that I had to wear this thing for an entire month though.
On the fifth day of wearing this heart monitor, I received a phone call from the Cardiologist. It turns out, that I don’t have to wear this monitor for the entire month after all. The Cardiologist asked me if I was married. I explained that indeed I was. He then told me that my wife and I needed to come see him in the morning. He stated that they had discovered a few disturbing issues from my heart monitor and made an emergency appointment for me the following day.
Now, concerning what do people talk about on the way to an emergency Cardiologist appointment. I’m still not sure I can recall much of anything. I recall attempted optimism of guesses that the doctor would tell me to lay of the Twinkies and walk around the block a few times. We assumed that this would all come down to diet and exercise. But then again, I remember wondering if this was it. Even the best attempts of being optimistic in these moments seemed to fail. Somewhere, in the back of our minds lingered the pit of despair. The mortal crutch that we all bear knowing that one day we will all die. What had the Cardiologist found that was so immanent that we have been rushed in to see him? Also, I kept thinking to myself that it must be serious, simply because he wanted my wife there for something.
Out in the parking lot of the Cardiologist office, my beautiful wife said an amazing prayer. A prayer requesting comfort and understanding. A prayer for acceptance of whatever we were about to hear.
We were led into a private examination room and a nurse did the normal routine of checking blood pressure and my temperature. She asked a few questions and then left. A few minutes later, the Cardiologist entered and with him was a secretary who sat and recorded everything that was discussed. The cardiologist began the conversation by asking how I felt? What were my symptoms? So I responded by quickly explaining my exhaustion and dizziness, etc… The Cardiologist then agreed with my response and said it matched with his findings from the monitor which I had worn. He grabbed some papers in a file and showed them to my wife and I. They were copies of heart monitor graphs.
He explained that I had a heart condition which was called a Third Degree AV Block. This condition was extremely serious and needed immediate correction. He proceeded to describe the condition and gave us details of what exactly a Third Degree AV Block was. Apparently, it is a birth defect but not something I inherited. A Third degree AV Block is a condition that the top two chambers of your heart and the bottom two ventricles have absolutely no electrical communication at all. The heart needs this electrical communication to keep a steady pace rhythm pumping top to bottom in sync.
My wife and I were stunned. This isn’t the optimistic news we had hoped for. So I asked him what I thought to be an intelligent question. “Is there any chance that this is a mistake? Possibly, we should seek a second opinion”. The cardiologist seemed a little annoyed by my question. He shot back a question to me. “Well, did you have someone else wear the monitor for you?” Of course, I hadn’t. Then the Cardiologist laid it all out in plain English. He said that I needed emergency surgery where a pacemaker would be inserted with two wires connecting the top of my heart to the bottom. I would be scheduled the following day at the hospital across the street. He also explained that it was absolutely crucial and that if I didn’t get a pacemaker that I would die this year.
The cardiologist went into detail on how my heart wasn’t working properly. My heart had a resting heart beat of 34 beats per minute. It also would stop beating for six seconds at a time with only one heartbeat splitting up a group of multiple six second intervals. He explained that at six seconds without a heartbeat that I would blackout and at eight seconds that I would arrest and die. My wife and I were stunned. We inquired some more trying to grasp what we had just learned. Where did this come from? It is difficult to articulate the shock that one goes through when a doctor informs you that if you don’t receive immediate surgery you’ll die soon.
The receptionist had already scheduled me for surgery the next day. Unfortunately, the hospital she had scheduled was out of our insurance network. We had to reschedule with a different hospital that was covered in our insurance and that was difficult due to squeezing me in as an emergency surgery when the hospital was already fully booked. They decided the best way to do this was to schedule me in at 4:30 am so I would be first before regular scheduled surgeries. However, even this was going to put my surgery two weeks away.
The Cardiologist gave me strict restrictions for the next two weeks. He told me that driving was out of the question. Due to the likelihood of blacking out, driving was now deemed unsafe. I was not to lift anything heavier than five pounds. That included groceries and basically anything. I was to limit climbing stars and any kind of labor. I was also supposed to stay stress free and maintain a calm state of mind. Easier said then done.
We left the Cardiologist office and drove to my place of employment. Wow, How do I explain this to my employer? This Pacemaker surgery was scheduled two weeks from now and then I will need an additional month to recover. I manage around 63 drivers and it’s a difficult job. To top this off, I don’t have the luxury to even give any notice. The drive from the Cardiologist office to work was kind of eerie. What do my wife and I say to each other? I remember there was a lot of, “It’s going to be okay”, and “at least we found this before you um..you know”. We recognized the miracle that God had given us. Yes, indeed, a miracle that this Third Degree AV block was found.
My employer took it well and everyone wished me well. Certainly everyone of my employees and acquaintances were shocked when they heard the news. I put in my leave of absence from work and for the next six weeks I didn’t work.
The surgery took place on it’s scheduled time. The surgery went well. I was put in the cardiac ICU for a two days to recover. It was odd to watch the heart monitor as I was laying in the hospital bed. My heart beat had a steady pattern that was consistent but there now was an additional “spike” line on the monitor. I watched that monitor for hours. A little white line then heart beat. white line…heart beat. Amazing.
Upon being released from the hospital I was given specific instructions on how to keep the wound clean and then the biggie. “Don’t raise your left arm above the shoulder!!!”. The danger with two wired pacemakers after post-surgery is lifting your arm to high. There’s a good possibility of pulling one of the wires out of place. Literally, by fully extending the arm the wire will detach from the heart. They say 1 out of 2000 pacemaker patients do this. It takes your pacemaker wires about six weeks to grow into your body and basically anchor inside the vein where the wire was placed. After the six weeks is over you can again raise your arm as normal.
Well, about one week after being home I did it. I raised my arm and I became part of the 2000 club. Lucky me, I got to have my pacemaker surgery twice. Another six weeks off work and recovering from home. The second surgery went well and during my recovery I was better disciplined and made sure to keep my arm down.
Finally, if you read to this point congratulations. It would have been difficult for me to have started here and made any sense to what the point of this entry is about.
After my back to back pacemaker surgeries and even an ankle surgery while recovering from my second pacemaker surgery I finally returned to work. I was so excited to be back to my normal routine. I was warmly welcomed back from all my employees as well as upper management. It was good to just be back where I belonged. Most of you probably know that when you’ve been gone from work for a while, there is a back log of necessary work that has piled up during your leave. Well, that was certainly the case for me.
As I stated earlier, I manage an arm full of truck drivers which includes multiple tasks. A few of the tasks would be dispatching, finding jobs, hiring, annual reviews, time cards, heavy over-size permits, piloting heavy equipment, hiring and terminating employment, safety meeting, compliance training and reporting, etc…. Not to mention that each of these employees has their individual needs and personalities. The first week or so upon my returning to work was great. However, during the weeks following I notice a change in me. I found that I wasn’t sleeping at night and I was just plan angry all the time. I was angry about everything. I was miserable to be around. I was constantly irritable with all my co-workers and I felt that I was falling into a deep depression.
Throughout my first month back to work, I found that simple tasks were unbearable. The job that I’ve been doing for years now seemed impossible. I must admit though that during our summer months work typically is difficult. But work being difficult was not new to me. I can take a few punches and maintain my character but this was different. The change was not work it was me. I knew that something was wrong. My behavior at work had now come to a crossroads. In fact, I even went to the VP and told him that he could take my job and….(I’ll keeping it clean). I sent emails to my area manager and told him to place an ad and find my replacement. I seemed to be out of control and out of my mind. I have worked for this same company now for twenty three years. I started from the bottom and worked my way up. Why was I doing this to my career and how can I make this monster in me stop?
One night my wife mentioned that I have become completely withdrawn for her and our children. She didn’t recognize the man that I used to be. Now to be clear, I’ve always been a little rough around the edges but this was something completely different. I discussed my behaviors at work and read some of the emails that I had sent to my supervisor regarding me quitting. This upset my wife and she became nervous about what I was doing. If I lost my job we would really be in trouble. How would we pay or bills, our mortgage, and all of our expenses?
After a long discussion with my wife and with my employment in question we decided that we should do some research. The only thing we could think of that may be a problem would be this pacemaker. At first we thought that was ridiculous to think a pacemaker would change someones behavior. How could a pacemaker cause a person to become angry, irrational, or even crazy?
Our research was pretty easy. We just Googled “pacemaker and depression”. That was it. We learned in just a few minutes that this has been a huge issue and researchers and doctors have been actively studying this behavior for a long time. It turns out that for many men who receive an internal pacemaker that within a few months after suffer from clinical depression and anxiety.
We found dozens of articles and were literally surprised about all this research concerning what I was going through. The odd thing about this depression and anxiety that I was feeling happens so gradually that you don’t notice the change until the monster is already there. I’m almost fifty years old and have always been in control of my behavior and demeanor. I’ve never had any experiences where my brain took over my being.