This is a new project. It doesn’t have a number and has only taken two days to complete. But time has little to do with emotional investment in work. One project can take months and another a day and both be invested with a similar amount of emotional intensity.
Last Friday, April 29th I had a pacemaker fitted because doctors found that I had complete hearth block. This project documents that experience.
5am – I begin getting up and ready for hospital transport. I was told not to drive myself and had asked Karen to not come with me as I knew the day would be long and arduous for me and did not want to put K in the position of having to sit around for 10 hours twiddling her thumbs.
7.05 – Hospital transport arrives.
7.35 – Arrive at Kings and admitted to the Cardiology Unit. The hospital has signs everywhere prohibiting photography.
At 8am a group of four of us were welcomed and shown our places. There appeared to be three types of procedure going on: angiograms, angioplasty and the fitting of pacemakers.
I was helped onto the trolley and changed into a gown. Then various monitoring procedures were carried out and the waiting began.
I didn’t have to wait long before a nurse came, took some details and blood, inserted a cannula and carried out some more monitoring.
Then the Registrar came, outlined the procedure and checked my understanding, resulting in my signing a consent form and being taken through to the cardiology catheter room and transferred onto their operating table.
The room was dominated by a large bank of eight monitors, bright overhead lights and a team of people. My upper chest was shaved, dressed in disinfectant, and then a local anaesthetic given. I had expected the procedure to be painless; will I never learn?! The cutting and placing of the pacemaker was very uncomfortable the pressing, pulling and pressure exerted on me was great. The Registrar explained that he didn’t want to give me anything that would impede my breathing and so I was to bear it.
The whole procedure took about an hour and I left the room with the pacemaker in place. Below is a photo of it after insertion.
It is sitting just below my left hand side collar bone. I can’t see anything as I write as the area is covered with a dressing. This next photo shows the other various foreign bodies in my chest.
I have listed these in this copy of the photo below. As you will see I have the two pacemaker leads: one in the upper chamber and one in the lower. But the photo shows some older metalwork that resulted from a series of heart attacks in 2003. These take the form of a titanium aortic valve and the sternum ties used to hold my chest together after that operation.
By about 11.30 I was back in the Unit with my wound stitched up and dressed. However my heart was beating too fast and my blood pressure too high.
The heart rate soon settled but the blood pressure didn’t change much.
Before being released I had some X-rays, an ECG and a PV assessment. I’d not heard of this last test and soon found out why: it concerns the efficiency of the pacemaker. A heavy pad is placed over the site of the pacemaker and then the machine can read it.
My pacemaker details are shown below. You will see about midway down on the left hand side the words “remaining longevity” … “8 years…minimum 6.5 years” – so I know how long I have until I will need a new battery (and more surgery).
Once all the checks were over I was given some food (most welcome as I had not eaten or drank since Thursday evening).
Then at 3.20pm I was taken down to the transport waiting area. This was the antithesis of the cardiology area with lots of noise and people coming and going. Still at 5.20pm a driver called my name and I was home by 6.30 being only the second person to be dropped off.
I went to bed early and found transfers and movement difficult. The staff recognised that I can’t limit using my arm without limiting moving altogether and so we all know there is a risk of my dislodging the pacemaker leads, but there is little I can do about that.
The seriousness of the operation has little relationship with the level of discomfort felt. I was more un-comfy after my operation to stop bleeding than with this operation.
I face even more health maintenance tasks now. For example, I have to carry a pacemaker card at all times that details the type I have, I have to tell the driving licence agency and go for regular check ups to make sure it’s working. My hope is that the administration becomes routine and that this procedure marks an end to these last few years of problems so that I can get on with other aspects of life. But we will have to wait and see….
I owe much to the NHS and my fellow citizens for funding it. For all of its bureaucracy, the simple fact is I owe it, and them, a debt I will never be able to pay. Just in terms of money I think I have cost, and continue to cost, a great deal to keep alive; much more than I have ever paid in tax. So I’m sorry for getting low sometimes as this is disingenuous. I will try to exploit the life chances afforded me in future.
I thought quite a bit about how I would re-present the experience and my first thoughts were to offer a more stylised version like this below.
I think this approach imbues the images with the sort of cool sickly/clinical values I experienced, (rather like the ones I used in 2011 here) but in the end decided to offer a straight documentary approach in this blog so that the images were more a window to the world than an expression of my feelings. However I think the cooler, washed out images, will be the ones to represent my experience on the website as they are more expressive (and I still feel a little washed out).
Did I make the right choices from where you are sitting?
Thank goodness it’s over. A unique view of the procedure Pete. As you know, my husband has a pacemaker to I was able to identify with your experience to some extent. Those scans on the screen are fascinatingly abstract.
Thanks Catherine. The recovery from this operation has been much better than the last one….so far at least! Has your husband ever had the battery replaced?
No – it’s a few years yet.
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