Change is good!

When I was an infant, taking an Electrocardiogram (EKG) reading was quite an adventure!

In the mid 1960’s, the patient had to be perfectly still for the EKG machine to get a good reading… try that with an infant! And to make it even more interesting, the patient couldn’t touch anyone else, since that would probably make the test unreadable. So what to do?

My parents finally figured out that the best thing was to NOT feed me before the test. Once they had me on the table with all the EKG electrodes hooked up, my dad would stand behind me and hold my bottle over my head. He’d lower it to my mouth when the EKG tech was ready, and I would be still while I sucked my bottle – or at least, still enough for the test!

I don’t remember that, but I do remember when the electrodes were little metal plates, held in place by straps. One strap around each wrist, and another around each ankle. And one large strap right around the center of your chest! There are still a few machines that use Velcro straps, but I remember straps that had buckles!

Then there was a phase when the straps were replaced by suction cups connected to the electrode. (THIS PHOTO shows the suction cups in place on the patient’s chest.) The operator would squeeze the suction cup bulb as he/she placed it against your skin, causing it to seal in place. At least, that was the theory… the suction cups kept falling off. If one fell off during the EKG, we had to start over. When they finally finished and removed the suction cups, they made a little “pop!” noise as they pulled away from your skin. I don’t think that the suction cup idea ever caught on; they never really replaced the straps.

No matter what the electrodes looked like, the EKG machine always spat out a long strip of adding machine tape with the EKG trace on it. By the time the test concluded, there would be a floor full of tape – it took a lot of tape to get a good test, and often a test would be invalidated for one reason or another!

Today, it’s called an ECG – it still stands for Electrocardiogram, the K in EKG is taken from the German word Kardio, while “ECG” uses the English Cardio spelling) – and it is a lot simpler. The electrodes are self contained on a sticky pad, the wires snap on easily, and the only thing printed is an 8×10 inch piece of paper. It literally takes longer to prepare the patient for the test than to actually conduct the test!

And it makes me wonder, if an EKG machine can change that much in 40 years, what’s coming next?

Congenital heart defects (CHDs) may never disappear: as long as women have children, there is always a chance something could go wrong. But medical advances mean that care and management of a CHD will constantly improve. No longer is a Congenital Heart Defect an automatic death sentence, we’re living to adulthood and even have a few Senior Citizens in our ranks!

General Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the sound barrier, has often been quoted as saying that technology seems to take a “great leap forward” roughly every thirty years. Yeager concedes that all the technology that is needed for the “leap” is usually already in place; the right person with the right idea has to spark it.

All cardiology needs now is a firestarter!


One Response to “Change is good!”

  1. RITA Says:

    I remember the suction cups! That is what they used when my daughter was a baby/young child. Last time she had an EKG, we remarked how much they have changed over the years.

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