Hearing just the name of the device had me overly frightened. I was wondering how anything could regulate my heartbeats; the doubt filled me completely. Once I shared my fears with my physician, I became a bit more comfortable. Not exactly comfortable with the overall procedure, but comfortable enough with the knowledge of what a pacemaker really does… and, it’s not bad at all.
My consultation was enlightening, as my physician explained to me the procedure for implanting a pacemaker; the procedure is considered as a minor surgery; It can be done using local anesthesia . My doctor stated a small incision would be made in my chest wall just below my collarbone.
Then, the pacemaker wires, which are called “leads”, are thread through the incision into a large blood vessel in my upper chest and into my heart. My doctor said he uses X-rays to place the leads in the heart. Using the same incision, my doctor creates a small pocket under the skin to hold the pacemaker. Then attaches the leads to the pacemaker. The procedure takes about an hour.
It didn’t sound like the procedure would be as scary as I had envisioned it, and the time frame was short… so, I was in! My doctor also gave me the option to either have the procedure done as an outpatient, or stay over night at the hospital; I am one who likes to be spoiled, so of course I chose to have the procedure done as an inpatient.
The day of the surgery, I was still a ball of nerves, even though I had been informed of the procedure; but, I wasn’t nearly ready to know what I thought would only take an hour, turned out to be nearly four hours of surgery. It wasn’t any complications, that was just the real-life time for the entire procedure.
Even though I was staying overnight at the hospital, my doctor instructed me to arrange for a ride to and from the hospital because it wasn’t safe, and he did not want me to drive myself.
For a few days to weeks after surgery, it was normal to have pain, swelling, or tenderness in the area where the pacemaker was placed. The pain was usually mild, and over-the-counter medicines often relieved it. But, please talk to your doctor before taking any pain medicines.
My doctor asked me to avoid vigorous activities and heavy lifting for about a month after the pacemaker surgery, even though most people return to their normal activities within a few days of having the surgery. It was better to be safe.
Most people return to normal activities after a few weeks. But my doctor advised me, “for several weeks after having a pacemaker implanted, you should avoid driving or participating in vigorous physical activity that involves the upper body.” I was definitely going to be an obedient patient, because I didn’t want anything horrible to happen.
Some activities and situations can interrupt the signals sent by the pacemaker to the heart. If you are deciding whether or not to have the procedure done, or you are scheduled for one, you may need to adapt some of your activities following the surgery. Always follow your doctor’s specific instructions about care and precautions if you have a pacemaker.
The real scariness came to life once I left the hospital, and was left to fend for myself – without the 24-hr hospital staff. I had to know how to take care of the pacemaker, and the wound.
I had to keep the area where the pacemaker was inserted clean and dry.
Then, after about five days, I was able take a shower; I looked at my wound daily, to make sure it was healing.
But my physician made me promise to call if I noticed: increased drainage or bleeding from the insertion site; increased opening of the incision; redness around the incision site; warmth along the incision; and/or increased body temperature (fever or chills).
I’m happy to say I followed all the rules, maintained a healty heart rate, and have been living normally for five years.
But it is still a continuous process, having to keep the pacemaker, and the maintenance of it. My pacemaker follow-up schedule was an easy one to follow, but you will definitely need a calendar to keep up with the scheduled dates for checking the pacemaker.
Here are the checks performed on my pacemaker, five years ago. I’m sure it still fits today, in helping keep your pacemaker functioning properly: check before you are discharged from the hospital, the day after implantation; telephone call 2 weeks after implantation to make sure the wound is healing and to ensure the transmitter is working; 6 week check; telephone checks every 3-6 months starting 3 months after your 6 week check; pacemaker analysis every 6 months (in between telephone checks).
If you follow your instructions from your physician, or surgeon and keep your scheduled checks, you should be fine! Your heart has a second wind, and you have been given a helping hand in the heart department.