Sunday, September 13, 2009

Afraid of my own heart......



I do not know how this rock sculpture got where it is....it is below a cliff I was standing on. on Saturday, I cropped the photo to isolate the sculpture because that is how I feel, sort of isolated, in the ocean.

All the time I was growing up I just lived my life like I was a normal kid....you know, not one of the kids who was sick...because, by all accounts, I wasn't, I was repaired, therefore, not sick anymore. My folks were assured I would not have any more heart problems, therefore, they did not treat me as a sick kid, which I appreciate beyond measure. I was never self conscious about my scar, which runs from the center of my collarbone to 4 inches below the bottom of my sternum, even as a teenager wearing a string bikini. It just never occurred to me to be self conscious of it or view it as some kind of flaw. Those brave enough to ask were given the truth and then we moved on...no one, not even me, ever dwelled on it. It of course took a retrospective look at my situation to see all of this, but, I am grateful that my young life was not colored by the situation.

Now, as a middle-aged woman, I have some different feelings. From the time that the defibrillator was implanted, moving forward, I became afraid of my own heart. Not because I was truly afraid that my heart might rebel on me, but, because if it did, a device surgically implanted inside my body would shock the shit out of me. Now, seriously, that is no way to treat a person's heart, especially since all my little heart has been trying to do my whole life, is WORK! As a middle-aged woman, I have to take responsibility for allowing the device to be implanted, but, I did that out of fear, not out of prudence. All of that aside, I'd like to tell the story of the day the defibrillator did actually shock my poor little heart.

The defibrillator, which for the sake of brevity we will call the ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator), was implanted to protect me from sudden death due to ventricular tachycardia or a racing heart. Now without making this whole post about the technicalities of my heart issues, I'll just briefly explain that my normal heart rhythm does not look like your basic, ordinary heart rhythm, I have some extra beats every few beats or so. Because of this, I believe that my exerted heart rate looks like V-Tach, but, that it isn't true V-Tach. I feel strongly that this is what was discovered when they tested my heart for the necessity of the ICD, but, since I'm not an "Electrophysiology Cardiologist" or for short "the EP Guy", I cannot in all good sense (IE; fear and the look of total devastation on my parents' faces) skip his recommendation on the OFF chance he might have actually seen V-Tach, right? Right. So, assuming that I am not at risk for true V-Tach, the ICD is like having a shock button in my chest for entertainment purposes. Which is why I was able to find the humor in the attack the ICD made one day while I was mowing the lawn - a chore, NO ONE said I couldn't do anymore.......

So, Memorial Day weekend, 2006, mowing the lawn...in the backyard, alone....SLOWLY mowing the lawn, with a self propelled mower...I am not an athletic person and for me mowing the lawn was more a zen exercise than a chore, I could completely tune out, and plod along behind the mower accomplishing one of my favorite things, a cut lawn, in my own backyard where I planned to spend the weekend enjoying the beauty of what would be my cut lawn.....as I'm mowing along, (excuse me a moment while I count the beeps from my ICD - it's the 6:30 beeping time) suddenly there is the feeling of something hitting me in the chest...I look down, expecting to see perhaps a muddy spot on the front of me, as I assume the lawn mower has kicked something up into me...nothing there....and then I realize I am hearing a low, slow, whining noise, like the amping up of BAM!!!!!!! a shock from a cardiac defibrillator, just like you hear on those hospital t.v. shows.......I freak out, panic and realize, I am home alone and if my heart is in distress, I will probably pass out in the backyard and no one will know where I am and I won't get the medical help I need in time to save my life, so, I run into the house, grab the portable phone and dial 911 and BAM!!!!! I'm hit again....the phone goes dead, so, again, my mind begins racing, oh, no, now I'm in the house alone and if my heart is in distress, I will probably pass out and no one will find me in time to get me the medical help I need, so, I run out of the front of the house and start screaming "help, someone, please help me, I'm having a cardiac event, help me, call 911".....and then BAM!!!!!!! it hits me again, HARDER this time, knocking the wind out of me....the neighbor comes running out of his house with his cell phone, dials 911 and while he's trying to tell them where we are, his phone dies.......so, I try to redial my portable phone, and right about the time I decide I should probably just lie down, BAM!!!!!! I get hit again, hard enough to put me on my knees, so, I just lie down and wait for the EMTs.

The emergency medical people were awesome, they had to contend with my dog chasing them around the yard, or rather, chasing my dog around the yard to catch him to put him back in the house, before they hauled me off to the hospital, they kept asking me why I was sweating, which was really funny to me, because it was almost 100 degrees outside and I was mowing the lawn, but, regardless, they kept asking me....

At the hospital, they ascertained that I did NOT have a cardiac event and they called in an ICD tech who used a fancy computer to interrogate the ICD (they place a computerized wand on my chest over the ICD and can download all kinds of information about what my heart is up to) and he determined that I did NOT have a cardiac event. So, what really happened? Guess........

On Tuesday, following the weekend, I go in to see the "EP Guy" to discuss what happened over the weekend and you'll love this...........it was determined that the heart rhythm setting on the ICD was set too low. Yep, because my heart rate LOOKS like V-Tach when it is exerted, the setting on the ICD was too low.

I'm sure the whole incident for a fly on the wall must have been like watching the stooges get medical attention for a possessed scarecrow, but, it was not a true cardiac event. The thing is, the whole time it was happening to me, I KNEW I was not in trouble, I was clear minded, I was worried about passing out alone, cognizant of my surroundings, making sure to relocate myself where I'd be found if I did in fact lose consciousness or die, I was able to make outgoing calls, even if they didn't make it out, I was aware enough to finally decide I should just lie down and alert enough to know that the neighbor's phone died while the 911 call was trying to go through....I knew I was not really in trouble, but, the ICD scared me soooo much that I completely freaked out.

Ultimately, it is the device that has made me afraid, but, at the base of that is the fear that my own special heart rhythm can look so WRONG that it would trigger the device to go off and shock the shit out of me. This has kept me from doing things I used to do and has also made me question what my limits REALLY are and kept me from doing things I've never done before, from experiencing new things that might just be fun and exciting, in a normal rhythm way....you know?

I have been really thinking about how the attack affected me, now that I am to have the ICD replaced and I realized how much I limit myself based on that incident and how afraid I allow myself to be. You know, I have not ridden Blue Girl since the first ride the weekend I brought her home, because after I got all geared up to ride her I wondered, 'what if my heart rate gets up to it's exerted rate and the ICD goes off while I"m riding around the neighborhood....' and more stuff like that....the mind can really take you places if you let it, but, that's another post.

This is why I find myself afraid of my own heart.....physically and metaphorically, because who wants to go through the shock of it all ever again, eh?

Peace

8 comments:

Brian Miller said...

i hope that all goes smooth and before you know it this will be all behind you...

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Phew, quite an experience. No wonder you don't want to go through it again!

"afraid of my own heart . . . physically and metaphorically" . . . It could be helpful to explore the "metaphorically" part.

Take care.

An Open Heart said...

Bonnie,
Metaphorically is about being betrayed by the people I trusted when agreeing to have the ICD implanted, the "EP Guy" didn't really think it was a big deal that the device went off when my heart wasn't in real distress, he thought it was kind of funny....so, I got "burned" and my little kid heart hurts because I was supposed to be able to trust the doctors.

marinik said...

oh man... what a story.. i can feel how frustrating it can get... not knowing "how much" you can or can't do... i feel for you darlin, what sucks is even the doctors can't really give you a straight answer either right.... ughhh
i guess you just gotta do the best you can and be always prepared but not let the fear keep you from... well..." living a life not lived"
hugs
m

Sara said...

Shame on the doctor for treating it as funny.

But really, kudos to you for recognizing being afraid. And for trying overcome it. You are such a beautiful person.

Pastor Sharon said...

Wow, I can't imagine that physical feeling and/or the emotional one. . . that certainly takes a different journey!

MW said...

Hmmm...your post has given me food for thought. First, thank you for sharing your story with us. Although I do not have an ICD, I have experienced some things in life that gave me such a snap to the heart that I have remained gun-shy. These events are all things that I would have, could have, should have done but didn't for fear of feeling a broken heart.

Pat said...

Wow. I can't imagine living with a strange object in my chest to keep me alive. And then when it goes off when it's not supposed to? My friend has an ICD and has to go in for a procedure to turn it up all the way. Frightening.