Thursday, February 4, 2010


Today I went to the hospital for a pacemaker checkup. Everything’s fine. I received it in 2005. Earlier I had begun to have an occasional dizzy spell. After routine checks my doctor decided he was over-medicating me for my blood pressure so he lowered the dosage. But the spells continued. He gave me new medication and made arrangements for me to have a cardiology check-up. I was sent an appointment, it seemed centuries ahead. After a particularly bad turn, I went to the doctor again – his surgery was just around the corner – and very quickly I found myself on a stretcher in the emergency ward. But even as I lay there I felt the spell passing. By the time they’d wheeled me through to see the doctor all systems were back to normal. So I was sent home.

But the good news was that by being admitted temporarily I was now on the conveyor belt. Soon, I reported to the cardiac unit where they strapped a 24 hours monitor on to my chest. It revealed a problem that had not been picked up before - my heart was having slow-down periods and for that I needed a pacemaker. The operation would not fix the dizzy spells, electrical circuitry in origin but the medication I needed could not be prescribed until a pacemaker was in place.

While I waited for the operation I had increasingly more and more dizzy spells. The hospital advised me not to drive. I felt grounded and frustrated and my productive life seemed to be grinding to a halt. At least I’ve got my garden memoir book 'This Piece of Earth' away being printed. I smiled wryly at an email from Roger in New York with an attached cutting about a gorilla in an American zoo, being given a pacemaker.

To my surprise I enjoyed the experience of the operation. I never dreamt I’d ever say that but it proved interesting. Up early, feeling hungry, we were at the hospital by 7 30 but I had a wait for I was the second up that morning. A nurse prepared me, blood pressure check, ECG, a rapid shave of the left side of my chest - (“you’re not very hairy are you?” Was that criticism or merely factual? The mind is an amazing thing. To consider being affronted not long before the surgeon takes a knife to you.) - and then the insertion of a needle in the left arm.

It was comforting to have Anne sitting beside me reading the paper. I developed cramp in my right foot so I had to hobble around the corridor to restore circulation. I was wheeled to the theatre at 10. Anne went home. Careful explanations and information were given from all concerned. I was very clear that I didn’t want to watch on closed circuit TV. The first injection was a mild sedative. Then antibiotic. Then local anasthetic. Then theatre - soothing music, banter of the team, further explanation (“you’ll feel me pushing”), a further sedative, (“you’re too chirpy”).

While we waited for that to kick in we discussed Labour Day holiday arrangements. Most of the team were going away. Obviously I wouldn’t be. I liked the way the surgeon explained every step as he did it. When the two wires were inserted through the veins into the heart he put the battery in. I was back at the ward at 12 20. After a while they brought me lunch, two sandwiches and a cup of tea. My room-mate hadn’t liked the surgeon telling him what was happening. “Rather not know”, he muttered. I didn’t argue but I felt pleased – at least I knew what was happening and why.

I rang Anne to her surprise at 1 30. They wheeled me down to have an. X-ray. Anne arrived to pick me up at 4 30. I got home in time to watch the TV news. The day before we’d discussed what I wanted to eat on such a night. I asked for simple, comfort food, tarakahi, asparagus and mashed potato, followed by raspberry jelly and ice-cream. No wine. Nothing like hunger to sharpen the taste buds.

As anticipated the dizzy turns continued even though I was delighted how quickly my body bounced back from surgery. When the pacemaker was checked it was working well, indeed even recording the time when I had my dizzy spells. In consultation with the surgeon they decided I should go on to betablocker tablets straight away. When I complained to the young doctor prescribing them that I felt I was a walking pharmacy he said if he got to my age and only taking five tablets a day as I was he would count himself lucky. The medication worked. The dizzy spells stopped. Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine I was able to renew my productive life. Other problems lay ahead. But this one had been dealt with.

In Victorian times those dizzy spells would have meant confinement to home and probably eventually to bed. Like education, health will always be a political whipping boy. No matter how much you spend more can be spent. I’m grateful for the service I received, and the professional efficiency and skill of all involved. For that I give much thanks.

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