My pacemaker battery wears down pretty quick. Not because I am that active (What do you mean, you don’t chop down a dozen trees with a steak knife every morning?!?) but because of a combination of things. I am “100% paced” – meaning my pacemaker is on the job all of the time.
Also, my pacemaker is not in my shoulder. Usually the controller unit is in your shoulder with the leads traveling down the Superior Vena Cava into the heart. (CLICK HERE for a diagram of the standard pacemaker placement.) So my pacemaker is in my abdomen with the leads leading up through the Inferior Vena Cava.
As you look at that pacemaker diagram, you see that the pacemaker leads extend down into the Right Ventricle. That’s not happening in my heart – remember, with Tricuspid Atresia you don’t have an opening where the Tricuspid Valve normally is. So my pacemaker leads end in the Right Atrium, and the pacer needs a bit more of a “Jolt” to push my heart along. So I usually have to get my battery replaced every three to four years.
The initial surgery is hard, they do have to cut you open. The replacement is easier – they make a two-inch incision above your control unit, disconnect the leads, and remove it. Then they attach the new unit, test it, and if all is well they sew you up. Long time readers will remember that my doctors are worried about what might happen if I am put to sleep, so they give me a sedative. I call the sedative Happy Juice for a reason: I’m awake and can talk (and make pretty good sense!) but I am flyin’. Let me tell ya, Happy Juice is some good stuff, and next time I’m going to ask for the recipe!
Of course, the Happy Juice will wear off in a few hours, and then I won’t be quite as happy. So before I was discharged the Outpatient OR gave me a prescription for some painkillers, and that is when the trouble started.
Sometimes ordinary things cause the strangest reactions in people. I have a friend who will not drink Orange Juice – it makes him hyper! A small glass of OJ hits him like a sugar rush, and you almost have to sit on him to get him to be still! Now usually, meds work the way they are supposed to when I take them, but this painkiller never killed any pain… all it did was make me sleepy.
Ugh. Sleepiness wasn’t helping, because I was hurting so bad that I couldn’t lie down or sit up without help. And because the incision was in my abdomen, I couldn’t even roll over. I was trying to sleep sitting up in a straight-backed wooden chair, and a local ER doctor wouldn’t help me. Apparently he thought I was trying to work the system, since his advice was to “grow up.” I had to go back to my Cardiologist in Atlanta to solve this problem.
Thankfully he’s seem me enough over the years to realize that I wasn’t kidding around or trying to scoop some free drugs. He changed the prescription and for the first time in a week, I could lie in bed and sleep.
At one of my worse moments I declared (loudly) that if getting the pacemaker changed was going to hurt like this, then the next time I would just let the battery go dead and take my chances. Thankfully that was just the pain talking, I haven’t lost my sanity. But maybe I can get lucky and get one of those new pacemakers that generates its own power!
Researchers at Princeton University are working on a flexible rubber sheet that can power a small electronic device. The rubber sheet is coated with ceramic nanoribbons and generate energy by movement. In theory, a pacemaker control unit could be placed near a lung (the two current pacemaker placement locations – shoulder or abdomen – should do the trick) and as you breathe, the motion of your lungs would generate the power needed to operate the device.
Meanwhile, they are taking a slightly different approach at the University of Michigan. Tiny generators can “capture” motion and use them to generate power – more than enough to power a pacemaker. This really isn’t new: There are already “Self-winding” watches that create their own power from the back and forth motion of our arms as we walk. This generator can use vibrations from smaller, less rhythmic motions to create their power. The problem right now is energy storage – the research team needs to find a way to store the power generated for the times when motion is low. I know that I would hate for my pacemaker to run dry just because I was sleeping!
All joking aside, I would love to have one of these pacemakers. Even though it is a simple operation and (usually) there isn’t much pain involved, a pacemaker replacement is still a surgical procedure. And as a wise man once said, “Minor surgery is any surgery that they do to someone else!”