I thought, prayed and worried for seven weeks about the decision and action I was about to undertake. And then in 90 minutes, on a sunny October day, it was over.
I woke up in the University of Toledo Medical Center with a Biotronik Evia pacemaker in my 49-year-old body, 300 miles from my home in the Town of Boston.
My husband was with me, as was the pleasant nursing supervisor who had assured me the operation would go smoothly. I remember a little of it – moving my feet and being told to stay still, but not much else.
My surgeon is also the cardiologist who manages my dysautonomia – the deregulation of the autonomic nervous system. This system regulates parts of the body we do not give much thought to: breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and temperature control. My heart rate had been steadily slowing as a result of the faulty autonomic nervous system and it was deemed necessary to implant a pacemaker to increase its rate. While this would not correct the dysautonomia, it would hopefully improve my quality of life.
From the time my cardiologist suggested we do the surgery until the actual date, I prepared myself. I met with my parish priest at SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Hamburg, attended a healing Mass, spoke to a couple of close confidants, prayed, researched the pacemaker and talked to my primary care doctor. It was reassuring when my local doctor, who has known me for years, showed enthusiasm about the surgery. His confidence helped me decide to move forward.
The surgery was both a frightening and exciting proposition. Frightening to think that someone would be inserting two leads into the ventricles of my heart and that a silver-dollar-sized machine would help it beat. Turns out it assists my heart almost nonstop, because I can’t often get my resting rate to 60 beats per minute on its own.
It was exciting because this little technological wonder responds to both my heart rate and blood pressure, giving me an optimum chance for improved functioning.
And now, as we embrace the holiday season, I can’t help but pause and give thanks for the medical care I have received. I have a top-notch specialist – one who people travel from around the world to see. He is kind, smart, skilled and funny. He has given me back a huge amount of hope that my life can be a bit more fulfilling as I wake up each day with a steady pulse.
I have more energy and realize I am blessed to have had the opportunity for this medical care. I am literally excited to have a heart that beats steadily, that allows me to do a little more before I need to rest.
I am fortunate to have a loving family and dear friends. My chronic illness has allowed me the opportunity to savor the blessings in my life. I have met new friends and have had opportunities afforded me through my illness.
Three years ago, when my autonomic nervous system essentially failed, I would never have imagined the life I have today. Sure, there have been losses – my beloved school counseling career I had to retire early from is one of them – but there have been many joys. And this holiday season, and every day as I awake, I am reminded of these blessings. It starts each day with a beautiful, steady heartbeat and gets better as the day progresses.