I need to put somewhere, to be found, by someone at just their right time in life what is stirring in my heart today. I’m not a good writer but that doesn’t matter. What matters is I have a simple story to tell that I pray reaches someone, someday, when they most need it. It would have no impact on anyone I know today but I can tell you that it has impacted me tremendously today. I haven’t written anything in WordPress in a very long time. Today I feel compelled to write.
I have a pacemaker. I’ve had a pacemaker since June 27, 2013. Most people who have them have a fairly uneventful road with them. That has not been my story. Yet, woven through all the hardships with it was unseen touches of God. Oh, if only I can do this story justice with words…
From the day my first pacemaker was put in there were problems. They are generally designed to last for 10 years or more. That was not to be for me. You don’t have to understand what it means that a pacer has to “capture”. All you need to know is that mine wouldn’t unless the power from it was cranked to the max. Through a very rough and rocky road, I only got 3 years out of my first pacer before it was time to change it.
During that time there was never really a day I felt well. I had a bloating issue I wish I could put into words. The doctors would ask me was it “this”? or “that”? No…they were baffled and so was I. But more than baffled I was physically miserable. Almost every day I was unable to walk more than 10-20 steps without having to stop for a few seconds before I could go on. There were no symptoms that would have set off alarms for any of my doctors—no chest pains or the like. They just assumed that my long time panic disorder was to blame.
There were other problems too. I made many visits back to the cardiologist because I just didn’t feel well. My heart rhythms did odd things. The exam would show that was true but the rhythms were not dangerous. Once again, chalked up to my panic disorder.
On my all too frequent visits to the cardiologists to have my pacemaker checked I’d experience what I knew really was severe panic before each visit because, for me, the process was so physically miserable. Not to get too technical but a pacemaker records every heart beat you have. From my limited understanding if the doctor wants to know what my heart was doing on a specific date and at a specific time he can see that information. Generally they don’t look for that. Instead the “programmer” (the device that “interrogates” your pacemaker) spits out a report that tells the doctor any abnormal events that have happened with the heart during whatever time period he requests the information for. This process of interrogation is not painful but it is very unpleasant; at least it was for me. I know some people do not experience any problems at all. They are the blessed exceptions and not the rule.
During the interrogation the doctor drops your heart rate down very low. Many people actually pass out. I’m thankful to God I’ve never actually passed out but I’ve come very close many times. One unique thing for me is that not only do I feel quite miserable while the device is being interrogated but I continue to feel quite miserable for the next six to eight hours afterwards. All that to say, this is not a visit I look forward to—ever.
After three years it was time to change my device because the battery had reached the point where it needed to be changed. This should be a 45 minute, uneventful procedure. That was not the case for me. My pacer change took 3 hours to do the open procedure and I had no anesthesia during this time. When the procedure was over I asked my doctor, who I’ve neglected to mention is a true genius, what his biggest concern was. In his very monotone way he said, “Infection. Your chest was open too long.”
Unfortunately, he was right. A few short weeks after implant I was once again back on the operating table to have the infected pacer removed. I had a temporary pacer placed through my neck for a few days before I went back a third time, once more fully awake, to have the next pacemaker implanted on the other side of my chest. It was a very long and very painful 90 minutes for me and an exhausting 90 minutes for my very able bodied 75 year old + doctor. That was August 12, 2016.
Today I went in for my normal every six month interrogation. Life was very different today. By now you are probably bored and wondering “So where is the God part in all of this?”
Throughout this nearly 5 year process I have been able to recognize glimpses of God in all of this. Somehow—for some reason—today it all fell into place. I am still processing it as I write. Maybe that’s the only reason this is being written–so I can really process it all.
On June 27, 2013 I was at work and I felt fine. I was standing in another room talking with some people when I began to feel “funny”. When you have panic disorder you are used to feeling “funny” without notice. Without saying a word I returned to my office and sat down. I found that I was starting to pass out. Right before I actually would pass out, I’d feel ok and this repeated several more times. Normally the people in the next room that I had been talking with would have remained in there for a very long time to come. Not today. That was a God moment. Within a minute or less they came out and I said, “I don’t feel well.” Off to the hospital I went.
At that point I had not had a heart attack. My heart was just beating too slowly to maintain consciousness. Eventually I was admitted and when I was put in the bed they increased my nitroglycerin IV. Within less than a minute of that change I felt the elephant on my chest I’d been asked all day if I had been feeling. Within a minute there was a mad rush of people into my room with the “Crash Cart”. It seems my heart had stopped beating—AND!—I was still speaking. (God moment.) They were somewhat flabbergasted at that. They decreased the nitroglycerin drip and my chest pains went away. That night I was told I did have a heart attack and I was scheduled for a cardiac cath and a pacemaker—possibly stents—the next morning.
I’m a very obese woman and I have very small vessels that can be seen. I’ve always had problems having blood work done because of my tiny veins. In general, women have smaller vessels then men which is why when they do have heart issues they tend to be more serious. After the procedure and the placement of the pacemaker the doctor came to my room and he was pleased but perplexed. God moment coming… Not only did this obese 64 year old have clean vessels I had large, man-like vessels. That was good, good news for me.
I left the hospital on July 2nd. On the night of July 3rd I looked at my pacemaker site, which had been flat except for the stitches and it now looked like someone had placed half of a lemon under it. Of course with the next day being the 4th of July the best I could do was call the doctor on call who said, “Just watch it.”
A couple of days later as I was walking I looked down and noticed the front of my shirt had a saucer sized spot soaked and brown. Yes. I panicked. It wasn’t infected but there was definitely something very wrong. It took weeks but it did heal. After that all the problems I mentioned before–bloating, irregular rhythms etc—began. It was a very unpleasant 3 years.
When I was in the surgical suite for my supposed 45 minute procedure they discovered when they opened my chest that one of the leads from my pacemaker was not attached to my heart. How long had that been the case? No one could tell. They were all rather confused but never said much. Later on I did a lot of research and discovered (God moment) that pretty much my heart shouldn’t have been receiving any benefit from my pacemaker at all for the past three years with only one wire, and yet I was definitely alive.
They were now faced with a new dilemma. My chest was open. It was a room not set up for anesthesia and no anesthesiologists were available. Our only choice was I needed to buck up…and I did. I have always had a high pain tolerance but there were moments through this that I really can’t put into words other than….GOD.
Their second dilemma was greater. You see, for 3 years I had become 100% pacer dependent. That meant that I needed that pacemaker to make every beat of my heart—beat. How were they going to keep me alive while they changed it?
There were six, possibly seven, people in that room. I knew three of us believed in God and in Jesus (thankfully the doctor was one of them!) but I didn’t know about the rest. This seems like an odd point to bring up at this moment but it becomes important (at least to me) shortly.
The clock was ticking and my wonderful doctor knew that every second counted because the longer my chest was open the more I was at risk. They had devised a plan but it was a plan the doctor was not happy with but really didn’t have much of a choice about until the assistant watching my heartbeat informed the doctor that my heart was beating on it’s own. He told the man that could not be correct since my heart had not beat on unassisted in over two and a half years. The technician was quite certain of what he said. (God!) As the doctor progressed hoping (I’ll assume praying too) the tech was right he ran into a new problem. The tip of the wire connected to my heart wouldn’t come out. I don’t know anything about how they got it out but I knew how badly it hurt and I knew it took a lot of precious time. Finally three hours and a few minutes later the procedure was done.
The next several weeks were physical and emotional hell as it was apparent that my pacemaker site was not healing properly. I was put on various antibiotics. I eventually had to have a PICC line threaded through my veins and into my neck and carry around a heavy IV bottle in a bag 24 hrs a day. And, despite all of this, after showering one night I looked in the mirror and there in the wound I saw my pacemaker. That was a 100% guarantee it had to be removed…again. Problem. Where was it going to be placed?
The next day I was back in the hospital and the following morning I was back on the table. This time…anesthesia. It was a very wise decision on the doctor’s part because the procedure did not go as planned and I would not have done well being awake (God knew!). When it was time to implant the permanent one on the other side of my chest I asked the doctor what happened if this one became infected. Suffice to say there were “solutions” but—not really. It boiled down to, I would be in VERY big trouble.
As I mentioned the second implant was difficult for both the doctor (he implanted it deeper which was physically hard on him) and very painful for me. Before I left the hospital I had not only the new implant site on the right side but a very large and open hole on the left side where the infected one had been removed. The possibilities for infection for either site were not in my favor.
I was supposed to be seen by infection control specialists but for reasons I won’t go into my cardiologist took on the overseeing of my wounds himself. This is something he NEVER does for many reasons. (Have you seen God yet?) That man and his staff saw me weekly—sometimes twice a week—and guarded both the wound sites like they were their own. I healed uneventfully. Believe what you will, I call that a miracle.
In the days, weeks, months that followed all the symptoms I had—the bloating etc—vanished. My heart was beating on its own most of the time. The battery still had 14 1/2 years left on it after nearly 2 years. So what made today’s visit different?
In the beginning I had to have my pacer interrogated every 3 months. That meant that I’d have that dread for days prior knowing how miserable I’d feeling during and for hours later. “I’d” do everything I could to keep my mind busy. The last thing I needed was lectures about my blood pressure to boot. I knew my blood pressure was actually fine all the other times but telling that to my cardiologist didn’t impress him much. He was a numbers guy and what he saw didn’t tell him my blood pressure was fine.
In preparation for today’s visit I ate all the right things and didn’t eat the wrong things that would affect blood pressure. I made sure I was in a rhythm of great sleep habits. My exercise program that I’d been involved in for 4 months was going great. Then came last night.
I woke up at 3 AM and that was the end of my sleep. Hmmm… I was supposed to take my meds promptly at 6:15 AM so they’d peak right as I was in the exam room. Work got busy and that didn’t happen for an hour later. HMMMM!!! There was a third issue but it would definitely be an “eeeewwwww” moment so suffice to say it was the trifecta of “not good signs for a good blood pressure day”.
Just as I was on the verge of starting my panic, from “no where” (if you still believe that) came the story of Elijah when he faced the prophets of Baal and challenged them. If you recall the story both sides prepared an animal sacrifice. The Baal’s went first. They called down fire from their god, Baal all day long. They worked themselves into a frenzy even cutting themselves to no avail. There was no fire from the heavens from Baal to consume the sacrifice. Finally it was Elijah’s turn. He prepared the altar in a way to honor the Lord. Then he dug a deep trench around it. He had them cover the sacrificial animal and the ground with not one, not two but three troughs of water. He called upon Jehovah, the Great I AM answered and not only consumed the sacrifice but the fire licked up all the water besides. And now you are asking…SO?????????????
That may not have spoken anything to you but it was a culmination for me of all the little things throughout this process. All the “just so happens…” moments that seemed insignificant—maybe a little “cool” at the time moment—but insignificant, came together as a much bigger picture.
Remember I mentioned earlier I didn’t know during my first procedure who was and who wasn’t a believer in the surgical suite? Well—as they were taking me back to my room that day, after that 3 hour procedure, the tech was confused and even a bit angry, I think. He kept saying, “That’s not possible. Your heart couldn’t have beat on its own for 3 hours when it hadn’t done so in nearly 3 years! ” I asked if he doubted the doctor. He said “No. Besides the recordings from your pacer prove the truth of that.” I asked then how he explained it. He said he couldn’t and no one could. I told him I could. I told him about the hand of God in my life through so many things and all the individual things from the first time I nearly passed out on my office desk. I think, in a way, he got even angrier. But I have to believe that, at the very least, for a long time to come, he thought about that. And, that seed is still planted in there to be watered again some day. God wastes nothing and He’s a multi-tasker. He used it for me and that gentleman.
As for me? No sleep. Wrong timing on medication. And third unmentionable and my blood pressure was 116/73! That has never happened. Do you know what else has never happened? I’ve felt totally fine all day long. No 6-8 hours of feeling absolutely miserable after the interrogation.
What is written here, despite being 3000+ words long, is just a glimpse, a very tiny glimpse, of all of the hand prints of God that have taken place in the past nearly 5 years in just this one situation in my life. I could fill a small book if I delved into all the other areas of my life. No one would read it. Maybe no one will read this and that is ok. I was told to write it. If I’ve learned nothing else…I’ve learned to be obedient even when I don’t understand.
The final thing He reminded me of today is that until my day and hour of leaving this world is up nothing and no one can take my life. It’s His. Likewise, when my time does come, nothing and no one can keep me alive one second longer. There’s tremendous peace in that for me today. I am expected to do my part to choose wisely in all areas to minimize my own suffering, but I never have to fear ever again that *I* am in control of my life or death. That may not be a big deal to anyone but it is for me.