Today’s non-fiction writing contest entry was written by Big Bear
Prizes for this round (ends October 20th 2014 ) in our non fiction writing contest include…
What if you were facing a life altering decision that would affect not only your life, but that of your family and your prepping plans? A decision which, once made, could not be easily reversed and carried with it an unguaranteed outcome. I recently faced this type of decision.
Last Monday (8/25/2014) started out as just another day: Coffee, go get the paper, more coffee! Our mail and newspaper boxes are at the head of our 1.5 mile driveway (private road) so I took the truck. When I got back home my wife told me the Doctors office had just called to see if I could come in this morning at 11:30. She had told them yes so it looked like my schedule would have to be reorganized. At this point some background will be helpful.
I’m in my late 60’s and have always been strong and active. In 2009 I was diagnosed with severe congestive heart failure. Although I feel pretty good most of the time, I do have extreme shortness of breath from the slightest exertion. I went from being a very active 6’5”, 1/8th of a ton, bear of a man (aka Big Bear) to a 6’5” old Wheezer ………. I’ve never had a heart attack but my heart was barely pumping enough blood to keep me going. I have been on a bevy of drugs since the initial diagnosis and, although they help some, they were just a bandage on the real problem. In the early stages of my illness I had consulted with an Electro Physiologist whose specialty is internal pacemakers & defibrillators. At that time I was not ready to tie myself to a battery operated implanted device; plus, my cardiologist wanted to give the meds a chance to heal my heart. I must admit that there were other reasons I didn’t want to become “battery operated”.
Fast forward to July of this year. I awoke one morning and just didn’t feel good. Nothing I could put my finger on but I just felt blah. My wife is an avid hiker and this was one of the days when she had left early to begin a three day hike. The blah feeling lasted all day and I have to say it was the first time I got a little frightened ……. enough so that I called a neighbor couple to let them know what was going on. They are a part of our prepping group and aware of my medical issues. With a forced smile, and not a little bit of worry, I asked them to check in on me by phone several times as each day progressed. No answer from my end would mean something was wrong.
Three days later it was early evening when my wife got home and I told her of my problems. She got out the blood pressure cuff and took a reading. My pressure appeared to be normal but my pulse rate was 34! This reading was way too low. I had been dieting to lose some weight (did I tell you that a side effect of my regular drugs is weight gain?) and had been eating very little for a number of days. We figured that I might have an electrolyte imbalance due to the dieting so I took several of the generic electrolyte pills she uses when she’s hiking. I felt better immediately.
After an uneventful night we decided to monitor my stats closely to see if this was an isolated incident or something needing a doctor’s touch. I was feeling better but after watching my pulse rate vary widely I contacted my cardiologist for an appointment. An echocardiogram was done and showed that I had a significant number of PVC’s (Premature Ventricular Contractions). I should mention here that at no time did I have any chest pain, dizziness, or other symptoms commonly associated with a heart attack. My cardiologist referred me to a local Electro Physiologist. Of course the first appointment they had was for a month away. They told me to go to the ER if my conditions worsened ……….. Ya think?!
I continued to be active (at my normal level) with no more reoccurrences of the blahs or low heart rates. Then last week we got a call from the EP Doc’s office moving the appointment up by 15 days. I figured that someone had cancelled an appointment, died, or I was worse off than I realized! Pleased with the new schedule, I promptly rewrote the new date and time on my desk calendar. Then the call came this past Monday morning to move the appointment to 11:30. A smidgeon of worry began to creep into my mind.
Right on time at 11:30 I was ushered into the Docs presence. He was very personable and has an excellent reputation in our community ……….. I liked him right off the bat. He explained my situation and said that my heart ventricles were not beating in a synchronous pattern. This was what was causing my low Ejection Fraction (the amount of blood being moved by the heart).
This measurement is very important as a diagnostic tool: 45 – 50% is normal, below 35% is considered heart failure ……….. mine has held steady at 32% for 4 years! He told me I should double the reading and it would make more sense to a non-medical person. Wonder why they don’t just double it and use that number in the first place? A pacemaker would synchronize the pumping action of my hearts ventricles (lower chambers). He believed that I would feel better and probably regain my stamina (couldn’t pin’em down to a firm statement!). To be able to live a fuller life would be a huge improvement!
The Doc then explained why my appointments had been moved up. Yep, it was the third reason ………. I was worse off than I knew! That, plus the fact that a very new type of 4 lead combo pacemaker/defibrillator was available. This device had not yet been released to the medical community but he could get one shipped in very quickly. He had connections! It had all of the regular bells and whistles plus very advanced technology designed to correct the asynchronous pumping. He had been looking for a good candidate and I fit the bill! Thinking I had some time to decide what I wanted to do I asked him when the surgery could be scheduled?
He smiled and said “Tomorrow afternoon”. Shock and Awe! This all took place on Monday at midday. On Tuesday I had the surgery, spent the night in the hospital, had the device programmed on Wednesday morning, and was then discharged. I won’t get into the details of the device itself (the manufacturer (industry leader), model, etc.) but I have been told that I have the first device of this type put into service anywhere in the western US.
I’m going to be closely monitored and, quite frankly, I like the increased monitoring. Oh yeah, the device also has a battery life of 7 years, its own wireless transceiver and will download/upload data, is reprogrammable, and can send alarms directly to the company’s support team via a data transceiver connected to our phone line. Thus begins my life as a lab rat!
You might wonder why I went into all of the details above. My wife says it’s all too personal but I wanted to give you the background so you’d understand the title of this article “Pacemaker – A Preppers Dilemma”. I had to make a very personal major decision that would affect my life as well as that of my wife and the future of our small Prepper group.
We have discussed my health often and how it would/could affect our future. Five years ago I was very leery of getting a pacemaker or pacemaker/defibrillator due to the fact that 1. I’m a Prepper and 2. I believe there is a high possibility that a manmade EMP may occur in the near future. Since that time five years ago when I first faced the pacemaker decision the world has become a much more dangerous place. Now, I was being forced to reevaluate my options and make a decision ……… and to do so immediately!
Yep, I’m a serious enough Prepper that thoughts about the incompatibility of a pacemaker and an EMP put me into a bit of a quandary. I needed to have this device installed if I was to stay alive (my failing heart was ripe for a deadly attack). But ……….. what if I had the pacemaker implanted and then the SHTF? What were my survival odds? I figured they were very good as long as the event was something other than an EMP.
If that was the case I would have as much a chance of surviving as anyone else. If however, the event was electro-magnetic in nature ………… well, sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you! I had visions of myself seated in my favorite chair, content with having prepared to survive in a post-event world. Then, just as the SHTF, checking out as a small puff of smoke came from my chest!
I may be old and sickly but I’m not ready to go just yet. On the positive side, pacemaker technology has made tremendous advances over the last five years. Plus, my pacemaker is in an enclosed metal box ……….. a miniature ungrounded Faraday Cage. That might give it some protection from an EMP. However, the four leads running down to my heart would act like antennae just waiting for an EMP energy spike to produce something nasty! Wonder if a chain mail shirt would help? So, here I was in front of the pacemaker surgeon, forced to make a decision right then and there!
No time to go home and ruminate on the matter …….. evaluating the pros and cons in minute detail. For my wife (a nurse) the decision was easy: have the pacemaker/defibrillator implanted and pray that any future “event” is not an EMP or CME. I figured that without the device my time was short; it didn’t matter what the future would be. Without it I was on borrowed time. With the device ………. there was a high probably that I would be looking forward to a much better quality of life. I told the Doc “Let’s do it”. You know the rest.
Here it is Saturday morning and I am breathing better than I have in 5 years ………. It’s working already! I have no shortness of breath after climbing stairs, or walking a distance that used to make me breathless. I feel better all over ………. my color is better ………. my O2Sat reading is in the normal range for the first time in five years! It’s a miracle of technology that gives me renewed hope for a more normal life.
One of the things the Doc told me was that it was also possible that I wouldn’t need to continue with all of the meds I have been taking. That alone would have a significant positive financial impact. The availability of those drugs in a post-SHTF situation has always been another worry for us so his comment was warmly received. Of course my chest still hurts like hell where they inserted the hockey puck sized unit and then ran the 4 wires down to my heart (visualize taking a turkey that’s ready to be cooked, cutting a 2 “ slit in the skin, and then sticking your hand through the slit between the skin and meat ……….. move your hand around to make a pocket, insert your TV remote in the pocket, and then stitch the skin shut! OUCH! I’ve got bruises on my bruises!
I have faith and trust in all my doctors. I believe that they are competent in their professions or I wouldn’t be seeing them. I also like them as individuals. Having said that, I also know that when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail! Pulmonologists, Cardiologists, Electro Physiologists, and other specialties view their patients through glasses tinted by their own experience and training. They may refer a patient to another specialist but that doesn’t mean that the two (or more) specialists huddle together to compare notes.
Of course they can always read the entries in your medical records. If you happen to live where there is a medical community that is fully computerized you probably stand a better chance of the specialists consulting your complete records. If you don’t live in such an area, consider obtaining and maintaining a folder with copies of your records.
Carry the folder with you to each doctor visit. Update the folder after each visit. You night have to pay for the copies but the cost should be low and it’ll be worth it in the long run. MD’s recent article “Become Your Own Doctor” is superb advice. No one will be as proactive in your behalf as much as you will be. Be your own advocate!
Hopefully, none of you will need to have the type of medical procedure I just went through. But, if you do find yourself faced with a major medical decision, research the details until you thoroughly understand it all. Have a conversation with your doctor and ask questions ……….. don’t just sit there and let him or her do all the talking. Don’t hesitate to ask for a referral to get a second opinion. Know what your options are and weigh the aspects of everything. If this article helps in any way or gives hope to only one of you, then it has been worth the time to write it!
As to my decision ……….. I would do it over again in a heartbeat! (pun intended!)
Prizes for this round (ends October 20th 2014 ) in our non fiction writing contest include…
- First place winner will receive – A $500 gift certificate off of any product or products at MRE Depot!
- Second place winner will receive – a gift a gift certificate for $150 off of Winchester ammo fromLuckyGunner and a Wonder Junior Deluxe grain mill courtesy of Kitchen Neads.
- Third place winner will receive – a Survival Puck courtesy of Innovation Industries and 20 Live Fire Sport – Emergency Fire Starters from LPC Survival.
- Fourth Place winner will receive – a copy of my book ”31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness“ and “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat” courtesy of TheSurvivalistBlog.net and copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” courtesy of www.doomandbloom.net.