I jumped at the chance of writing this article, not just because I was familiar with the subject content. But because I have gone through it twice and consider myself an expert. My story takes us back to the summer of 2001. I was having heart issues and was told I needed to have surgery. My doctor explained that there was a small chance if there were issues during surgery, I might need to have a pacemaker device put in. I was a pretty young guy at around 27 years old but decided that it was worth the risk. After my decision to go ahead with the surgery was made, the doctor described what a pacemaker does and showed me the various devices available. He decided to go with a Boston Scientific pacemaker. Now to be clear there are two types of pacemakers. The one which I got first is a straight pacemaker that helps regulate the heart. The second, which I have since replaced the first one with has what they call a built in defibrillator. This device is a lot bigger and has the ability to shock your heart back into a normal rhythm should it need it. We will get more into the second one later.
Preparation for pacemaker surgery is just like most surgeries you could have. I could not drink or eat after midnight before the day of surgery. My cardiologist adjusted some of my medications. I was given the hospital information, where to go and what time etc…
Surgery Number 1
So I have my surgery and of course I am one of the small percentage of patients that ended up with an issue that required me to have a pacemaker. I was in what they called twilight sleep. I remember my doctor telling me that he was going to have to put in a pacemaker but at the time I don’t really remember caring. When surgeon implants a pacemaker device they make an incision above your left breast area kind of like what I think of reminds me of a kangaroo pouch. They place the device in this pouch and attach the wire leads from the pacemaker to you heart. The pacemaker has a computer chip in it that actually records what you heart does and can then be downloaded for your cardiologist to see. Anyway, I woke up in the recovery room and had a big bandage on my chest. My arm was in a sling as they do not want you raising your arm so the leads have time to fuse to the heart muscle. I was in some pain but received medication that kept it at bay. Now normally if everything goes well they will keep you one day for observation which was my case. I was released the following day and made a follow up appointment to see the cardiologist a week later.
Surgery Number 2
My second surgery was to replace my first pacemaker which depending on use has a battery lifetime of about seven years. Unfortunately they can not just take out the battery, they have to replace the whole thing. So I met with my cardiologist and it was determined that this time I needed what is called an “ICD Pacemaker”. This is like a regular pacemaker but has the ability to send a shock to your heart if you need it to get back into a normal rhythm. I was surprised at how big the device was compared to a standard pacemaker. The same procedure took place only they removed the old one. It was uneventful and I slept through the whole thing.
The biggest challenges for me after surgery would be getting used to having an object in my chest. I have always been pretty thin so the device sticks out more and it took a lot of getting used to. The ICD pacemaker (the one with a built in defibrillator) is a lot bigger at almost twice the size. I had what they call “pocket pain”. That was pain in the chest around the device which was muscle irritation. It got really annoying but eventually I learned to live with it. After having two different pacemakers put in I honestly don’t even pay attention to it anymore. People have different reasons for getting pacemakers implanted so it is important to remember that there is an underlying reason we have them. You need to follow up with your cardiologist and keep up on your medications.
I was nervous getting the pacemakers because of my line of work. I worked in law enforcement and was afraid of getting punched or kicked in that area. I called the pacemaker company who explained that pacemakers are made to withhold blunt force trauma. They said if I were to get into a car accident that my chest would cave in before any damage to my pacemaker to place. I must say that I have been a pacemaker patient for years and have never had issues. The cardiologist will adjust your pacemaker settings to try and give you the best quality of life. You can still be very active and as long as you follow up with your cardiologist, can lead a normal life.