Keeping Pace!

My cell phone battery is dead. Thankfully I have a spare, but it looks like I’m in the market for a new cell a little earlier than planned. And I certainly don’t want this one to go dead and lose all the information I have stored! I have one of those combination telephone/PDA units, so it has a little more information that the average phone.

The battery in my pacemaker, however, is doing good! According to the last test that was done, it is still good for two more years, at least! That’s reassuring, because I am “100% paced in my ventricles” – which is doctor speak for if it quits, BAD THINGS could happen!

My pacemaker lasts an average of three years – but I’ve already had this one for almost two years, and the estimate is two more years left, so I am pleased! As I’ve mentioned before, my pacemaker is located in my abdomen rather than my shoulder. Normally, a pacemaker is placed in the right shoulder and the wires go down the Superior Vena Cava (SVC) into the Right Atrium. The Classic Glenn Shunt I had in 1967 reroutes the SVC, so that pathway leads only to the right lung. So my pacemaker is in my left abdomen with the wires going up to the heart. It’s not as efficient as the standard shoulder/SVC route, and since the pacer does its job all the time (100% paced) the battery goes dry faster.

When ever the pacemaker is checked – “interrogated” in the language of the Pacemaker Clinic, which always makes me think of an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street – it gives a reading of the power level along with activity readings. Usually it reports power as “OK!” but whenever the pacer reads that it has three months of battery power left, it starts sending the “Battery Low!” signal.

The Pacer Clinic doesn’t let grass grow under their feet, either. Once I was in the Clinic and the technician said “Your battery is low. I think there is still a surgical slot open today, do you want to go ahead and have it replaced? Tomorrow’s open, too.”

Whoa! Wait a minute! Surgery? TODAY???? Hold on a second, can’t we stop to think about it?!?! Going from having a routine appointment to needing to have your pacemaker replaced, and being given the chance to have it done right now can be a bit disconcerting! I was in Atlanta with only one change of clothes, nothing had been done back home to arrange for a prolonged stay, and most importantly, I wasn’t ready to deal with it this quickly! Let’s just slow down for a moment, can’t we? I wound up scheduling it for about three weeks later.

Pacemaker replacement surgery is pretty simple. You have it done as an outpatient; sitting in the waiting room until you are called to Same Day Surgery. There they give you the infamous backless gown and a pair of booties; give you fluids and O2 if you need them, and you patiently (?) wait your turn. When it is time, you are taken to the OR.

You are put to sleep and a small incision is made above the pacemaker. The leads are disconnected, and the old pacemaker is removed. If you ask nicely, they just might clean it up and save it for you, if you are into such things. The new pacemaker is inserted and the leads connected. Next, the pacemaker is tested – both to make sure that it functions properly and to make sure that the leads are connected correctly. If everything is good, you are sewn up and returned to Same Day Surgery. Usually, a replacement takes about 30 to 45 minutes. Afterward – and this is true for abdominal pacemakers, I am not sure of the traditional shoulder kind – you have to stay in recovery a certain amount of time and the Pacer Clinic has to send a technician to “fine tune” the pacemaker. After you are able to eat a meal and walk a certain distance, you can be released for your trip home! You will, of course, have to take it easy for a few days, and no lifting or stretching until the incision is healed!

That’s the run of the mill pacemaker replacement. Because I have low blood oxygen, the medical team would rather I stay awake rather than be put under. That’s not really a problem – they provided me with plenty of “Happy Juice” so that I wouldn’t be in pain! I sure hope I didn’t say anything embarrassing!

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2 Responses to “Keeping Pace!”

  1. Awesome Mom Says:

    That would have been shocking to go into surgery that day. I have all of the pacemakers that they have taken out of Evan. I am saving them for him for when he gets older. He also has his battery in his stomach, I just assumed that they would change it when he gets older but after reading why you have your in the stomach I guess he will be having his in his stomach too. We are lucky and he does have an underlying beat even if it is super slow.

  2. Rachel Says:

    Thanks for this post. I’m looking at a likely ablation and/or pace maker in early 2009. I’ve been meaning to find a tutorial about the whole pace maker insertion process, and this opened my eyes. I’m sure the initial surgery where they guide the leads in might take longer – but I like how you summed everything up. Thanks for giving me some peace of mind today, with might lay ahead. It’s been a rough day.

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