What It’s Like to
Get a Pacemaker

by
in

In Short: A great relief!

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Read Time: 3 minutes
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My cardiologist had told me in April 2020 I was on her short list for getting a pacemaker — when Covid-19 restrictions were lifted. I had a friend drive me to the E.R. a few months later. My heart was beating wildly, which had happened before.

They sedated me and shocked my heart to get it back into a normal rhythm, but it didn’t “take.” They did it three more times before things settled down. The on-call cardiologist told me that I needed a pacemaker now because my heart was not only beating irregularly, but too slowly. IT would not let the rate drop below 50, he said, and I would feel normal again.

Xray showing an implanted pacemaker.
Xray showing an implanted pacemaker. (Photo: Nawoot on Yayimages, cropped)

I knew I had occasional arrythmia for more than 40 years, but chronic atrial fibrillation? Where did that come from? Often it can be controlled with medicine, and many people become so used to their “new” rhythm they have no symptoms, according to the doctor.

Hah! My heart was so bad I barely made it through the day. I did nothing but self care and very simple meal prep. Everything was exhausting, including standing up from a chair and walking more than a couple of steps. A shower took major preparations and then at least an hour of recovery. Going anywhere by myself was impossible.

I waited while doctors discussed implanting the pacemaker vs. killing the part of the heart that was making it beat irregularly. Both needed addressing, but which to address right now? My cardiologist was consulted, and I was scheduled for a pacemaker implant the next morning.

The hospital cardiologist explained that the pacemaker would lie outside my ribcage, in a little pocket they make in the muscles of my chest wall. They’d keep me overnight and run tests the next morning, and if all was well I’d go home.

No breakfast, of course. They wheeled me over to the operating room and I was offered pain killers for when I woke up. I decided to wait and see. I only needed the ice pack they use to control the swelling. They had me up and walking around in a couple of hours. It was amazing! I wasn’t exhausted just from standing up, let alone trying to walk more than 2 or 3 steps. I walked at least 200 feet without any fatigue.

The next day I passed the tests they ran. For six weeks I was restricted on how far I could move my left arm, and also wasn’t allowed to lift more than 10 pounds or sleep on my stomach.

I will be on blood thinners for the rest of my life. I wear a Medic Alert bracelet that lets ambulance and hospital staff know I have a pacemaker, and am taking Warfarin, a blood thinner.

It’s been 10 months since I got the pacemaker. I still have the arrhythmia, and the meds I used to take aren’t really working now. I needed to be cardioverted again in May.

On good days I feel normal. On bad days I can feel my heart changing from one rhythm to another, I get exhausted doing anything, and all I want to do is sit and reread my favorite books. I still can’t drive or go anywhere on my own. My friend through all of this told me she can’t understand why I’m not wallowing in self-pity. I told her I simply take it as it comes.

Debbie Goldstein is a 71-year-old retiree who’s had a heart arrhythmia for more than 40 years, normally without even noticing it. Last year it decided to stop being an interesting footnote in her medical chart.

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4 thoughts on “Get a Pacemaker”

  1. A friend got his first pacemaker in the mid 2000s and was given 3 years or so. 10 years later he got his second, and is now on this 3rd. He’s worked, retired, bought & runs a Motel and other ventures. Meds have to be juggled all the time, but he has done so much more than anyone originally expected.

    Hang in there Debbie. With your attitude, you’ll get it figured out.

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  2. My daughter got her first pacemaker at the age of three. She is now a mother of two, a hospital matron and runs marathons. Pacemakers do not restrict one at all.

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  3. A pacemaker gave my dad another decade with us and that was almost forty years ago, so Debbie, medical science is on your side!

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  4. My wife had her first blackout in May, 2012. Then one more each year until August, 2015 (more or less annually). 10-15 minute variety. So many tests were normal. Then they became shorter but more frequent. In early January, 2016, after another short duration blackout, we went to the ER. They kept her for observation overnight. The following morning (Sunday), she went to the washroom with the aid of the nurse (so all of the monitoring wires were disconnected), came back and dropped onto her bed. Heart Failure. So, up to ICU.

    I went to visit on Monday, she had had another episode, and was scheduled for a pacemaker on Wednesday. I went to visit on Tuesday, and she was on oxygen, having had an even longer episode that morning. On Wednesday, she received her pacemaker. And while I still have the timeline that was written out for me by a nurse, she returned from the clinic that does the pacemaker insertion, she was such a ‘good’ patient (she did not want to be in the hospital), that they tested the unit again, and sent her home.

    It stopped the blackouts. She died in March, 2020, from Vascular Dementia, which was the underlying cause of the blackouts. Without the pacemaker, she would have died in January, 2016. I am grateful for the extra time. Looking back, I can see the really early symptoms in 1995. She fought the disease for 25 years.

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