Native Writes: Tale of the ticker


For nearly 75 years, my heart has ticked along. Though I had a pacemaker installed about 10 years ago, the old faithful pumping muscle has done its job.

I’m not sure when it decided to blow a valve.

I joke that I had to go in for a valve job, but it’s really not funny.

Research tells me many women, like myself, don’t notice the changes. I must admit, I ignore a lot of things my body does.

Signs include uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest. It lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.

I have had digestive problems most of my adult life. I’m not running to the doctor every time I burp.

There is also pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach. No big deal. Aches and pain come with aging, right?

Women can feel shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort. It once was common, I think.

When I was a kid, many homes had “fainting couches.” Women commonly broke out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness. Lacy hankies provided ventilation.

Each day for a while, I had awakened with swollen feet and ankles. It has been happening a lot as I have aged. Prop ‘em up and rub ‘em down, old girl.

The morning came, however, when my feet were like two footballs with toes attached and my legs were swollen up to the knees. Charlie Chaplin on balloons.

I felt like crap. The flu again?  Memo to self: Be sure the flu and pneumonia shots are up to date. They can do that at the hospital. It was probably the darned pacemaker battery.

I told my friend to get me the big flip-flops. I would put them on and drive to the ER.

He uttered some words in sailor talk.

I stood up and fell on my face. I don’t know if I passed out; I just couldn’t walk. I don’t remember which one of us dialed 9-1-1.

Swollen and miserable, I told the ambulance crew about my allergies and breathed the oxygen they insisted I have.

At the emergency room, I was made comfortable while tests were run and a decision was made to admit me into the ICU. That room was freezing.

I failed my EKG (electrocardiogram). A nice fellow came in and did an ultrasound of my heart. He let me watch. Little did I know I was watching my heart struggle to pump blood.

A heart specialist came in on his day off and “queried” my pacemaker. It has four more years to go, but my heart didn’t

I pulled out my trusty cell and texted the people I thought needed to know that I was in ICU. I didn’t know why, but I felt worse.

Asked if I had any heart-related illness, I recalled the summer I spent a month in bed with rheumatic fever. The doctor said that’s when the problem actually began.

I could be flown to Colorado Springs for a valve replacement. The other choice was living on the edge of sudden death.

It wouldn’t be open heart, but could be done through a catheter. My failing aortic valve would be replaced in a couple of hours of surgery.

I asked the heart doctors at Penrose Hospital if I could have predicted this. I told them I had few symptoms until relatively recently and they said it just happens sometimes, more often to women.

Now, I’m not saying every woman should rush out and have her heart checked, but it doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

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