In retrospect, I should have seen it coming. However, like the proverbial frog in the pot I didn’t realize the water was boiling until it required a drastic intervention. In the past nearly seven weeks, I’ve had the time to reflect on what was happening to me and realize the peak of the problem came up somewhat suddenly, but the signs and symptoms were there for quite some time. The farthest I can consciously go back as of now is to July of 2022.
I believe some of my symptoms were masked by the fact I’d been lifting weights for several years and I was working at a job that was physically demanding, which kept my heart rate up and lulled me into thinking what was happening was normal for someone my age. Every morning when I got ready for work I would pull on my zip-up boots. They were snug and it was a bit of a struggle to slip into them. I usually had to pause for a couple seconds to catch my breath before finishing my preparations for work. I also had to walk between two warehouses at times and was always a bit winded and tired when I got to my destination, which was only about 1,000 yards. Same with climbing one flight of stairs. Some of my problem I also attributed to the fact I was born with club feet, which required major surgery to correct and made walking more difficult than it ought to be.
I lived with these issues for about six months before I experienced what felt like a sudden, drastic change. I was sitting in the lounge of our local Planet Fitness, waiting for my youngest daughter to finish working out. I hadn’t worked out myself and was just biding my time while she was getting in her exercise. When she finished, she came in to let me know and I stood up to leave. I was hit with an overwhelming wave of exhaustion and my knees nearly gave out on me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was likely experiencing syncope (fainting). I was able to make it to the car, but it wasn’t a walk in the park.
We made it home (I have lots of experience driving under, shall we say, impaired conditions, during my well-spent youth) and, checking my heart rate with my Fitbit Charge 5, I noticed it was wildly erratic. The next day I contacted my doctor at Kaiser here in Simi and, although he was not available, I was able to get an appointment with another physician. As a result of that exam, I began a series of tests, including wearing a Holter monitor for seven days. I was also scheduled for a cardio stress test a couple of weeks later.
When I finally (it took longer than I thought it should, but that’s another story) got the results from the monitor I’d worn, they were published for me to read on the Kaiser website and their mobile app, which I have on my phone. Reading the results was sobering and alarming. My heart rate had, at one point, dropped down to 27 beats per minute and I had experienced numerous instances of tachycardia. I also had experienced numerous incidents of AV (atrial ventricular) Block. There was enough jargon in the results that I was able to look up and get enough of an understanding to be quite concerned about my heart. This was exacerbated by the overwhelming exhaustion I was beginning to experience when walking from the bedroom to the kitchen or from the house to my vehicle.
The results were published on February 8, but I wasn’t scheduled to consult with a cardiologist until the end of the third week of March. As I read more about my results and experienced longer and more difficult periods of exhaustion, I became increasingly concerned that I might not make it to the consult. I started agitating for things to speed up. After an phone conversation with a cardiologist, I decided to purchase a KardiaMobile personal EKG device. It turned out to be difficult to get good readings because I have essential tremors in my hands and the shaking is accompanied by electrical activity in the muscles of my forearm, which confused the EKG device. When I could get a good reading, it wavered from normal sinus rhythm to bradycardia to possible atrial fibrillation. This somewhat paralleled my experience, as there were times when I felt quite normal and did not tire easily from a short walk.
I sent some of the results to who was now my cardiologist and, after several phone conversations, we determined there was a good chance I needed a pacemaker. My condition continued to deteriorate and we finally decided an implant procedure was indicated. On Friday, March 3 my cardiologist informed me he had a time slot open the following Wednesday, March 8 in which to perform the procedure. I agreed immediately.
On the 8th my wife drove me to the Kaiser hospital in Woodland Hills, CA and I was admitted for surgery that afternoon. All went well, I stayed overnight for observation, and was discharged in the afternoon of the 9th. My wife and youngest daughter picked me up and we stopped for some Chinese food on the way home. I felt great and continue to heal and recover. I was told not to raise my left arm above shoulder height for six weeks and did not do so. My next goal comes on June 8, when I will be able to swing a golf club again. A week and a half after the surgery I attended an air show at Pt. Mugu NAS and walked over two miles without experiencing any shortness of breath. A week later, I want to Arizona to attend to spring training games and walked over two miles on each of the two days I was there, again with no discomfort or deleterious effects.
It’s difficult to say how long I’ll live with this device and, of course, my aging heart. I’ve already outlived my father—who I was told I was “exactly like”—by 16 years. I have numerous comorbidities as well. The battery in my pacemaker, according to the Nurse Practitioner who runs the pacemaker clinic at Kaiser, has over 12 years of life remaining and it can be replaced if necessary. A review of the available information on the remaining lifespan for men like me range from 5 to 15 years or more, depending on numerous factors, including lifestyle. I have to balance my desire to enjoy the life I have left in a fashion that suits me, or live longer by changing my habits and desires. I’m working on that now. My outlook and philosophy are undergoing a transition and I’m not quite sure where I’ll end up, but I’m still here for now and I intend on living each day to the fullest.