On Choosing Your Own Birthday Gift……

I recently had a birthday, which some of you who know me better kindly acknowledged. Thank you again for that. After so many years together it is sometimes difficult for spouses to think of original gifts for each other’s birthdays. This year I told Patty, my wife, “leave it to me, I’ll pick my own gift and take the stress off you.” Famous last words.

I’ve never been very good at picking out the so-called “perfect gift” for people. Just not my strong suit. But you would think it would take little enough effort to pick out a winner for myself. Not so. It just so happens that a few weeks before my birthday I had my annual appointment with my cardiologist.

I really like him. He is highly intelligent, thorough and takes time to talk heart history versus what is going on now. For the past ten years I have had a few irritating heart issues. None of them ultra serious on their own, but together presenting some concern. One of the symptoms of these issues, though thankfully not frequent, is syncope, the medical term for passing out. Since it only happens when I am standing, far more often than not I feel it coming on and sit down until the feeling passes. Therefore, it is not a problem with driving. On a couple of those occasions though, I went down for the count.

One morning I was at the veterinary with my dogs. When they called us in, I stood up, started walking toward the technician and the next thing I knew I was picking myself up off the floor. The room hushed but I was unhurt and to everyone’s relief very quickly recovered my composure. When I finally saw the vet he promptly revealed a heretofore unseen sense of humor, saying “if you need me to treat you, you will have to bark.” OK, no harm, no foul.

Later that day, I was sitting in an office at a non-profit business where I volunteer when I started feeling a bit weird. Rather than staying seated (the smart move) I decided I just needed a little fresh air (the dumb move). I made it as far as the foyer before blacking out. I awoke to find myself on the floor with blood coming from the back of my head. I had hit it against a rough stucco wall on the way down. I let human resources know and they drove me to the emergency room for examination and stitches. Again, I was very fortunate to escape serious injury. Extensive neurological testing was done in the weeks following, revealing no discernible causes.

Long story short (I know, too late), those episodes always troubled the cardiologist, who had nonetheless gone along with my reluctance to take any drastic measures. I am otherwise pretty healthy and walk four miles every morning. This year he insisted on a out-patient heart catheter procedure, otherwise known by those more medically literate as an electrophysiology exam. Basically, it’s an up close and personal check of my cardio electrical system by going through an artery. It finally occurred to me that going to a qualified and experienced professional every year and then ignoring his admonitions was foolhardy so I agreed. He first proposed the day of my birthday for the surgery to which I replied, “might not be the best choice, let’s not tempt fate.” We settled on five days before it. During the catheter procedure the findings kept indicating a strong need for a pacemaker. Since I had spent hours getting to this point it made sense to just get it done! Poor Patty waited at the hospital for 7 hours. So much for taking the stress off her. But that’s not the worst of it.

(Illustration thanks to Google images)

In these days of high technology, they monitor the pacemaker from your home. They present you with a modem resembling a small smartphone to keep on your bedside table. It picks up the pacemaker’s electrical readings and through some kind of star-link satellite connection sends them directly to the doctor’s office while you sleep. Apparently, now even NASA is privy to my sleep habits. The day after the implant procedure I received a call from one of the technicians at their office asking if he could come to my home. He wanted to verify a reading in person. He arrived, opened his odd-looking computer, waved a magic wand over my new pacemaker, reviewed the readings and gave me the news. While the lead wire to the right ventricle was doing fine, the lead to the right atrium had come loose and fallen down into the ventricle. Data shows this happens in only 1-2% of pacemaker cases. Lucky me. He turned that lead off and two weeks later I was back in the hospital to reposition the lead into the atrium. Another long, stressful day for Patty.

The next day, every time the phone rang I got very anxious. Fortunately, none were from my cardiologist. Yesterday was my follow-up appointment, which I am happy to say was filled with encouraging news. Both leads are firmly secured and working as advertised. I think it is safe to say we were both relieved. As I walked out, the doctor gave me a fist bump and said, “no more passing out for you!” I am already back to my morning power walk and feeling great. As for my next year’s birthday gift, Patty tells me she’s already working on it herself. Go figure.

Of course, Patty will forever have my complete love and devotion, but for the foreseeable future, I’m afraid my heart belongs to Edora.

(Photo thanks to my phone)