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Am I old now? Or: Getting a pacemaker at 28

open heart surgery

When I was 28 I needed another open heart surgery to maintain my heart. As it was very difficult to get a clear picture of my heart via MRI scans and echos, the exact procedure of the surgery was somewhat open, and different scenarios were discussed. One of them involved getting a new valve another one involved a pacemaker implant. Doctors could only make a final decision once the heart was laid bare and was freed from previous scar tissue. If this uncertainty wasn’t terrifying enough, the thought of having a pacemaker implanted terrified me. It made me feel old and helpless.

After a 16 hour open heart surgery an external tunnel made of Gore-Tex had been created to deal with the overflow of additional blood and a pacemaker had been implanted to support my heart. The surgeon had decided for the pacemaker as it was very likely that I would need one in the near future and it made sense to implant it now already.

recovering from open heart surgery

I didn’t know anyone else apart from my grandpa who had a pacemaker. Let alone someone my age. In my mind, pacemakers were for old people. People who are physically weak and required help. Not a young, sporty 28 year old. Dealing with these emotions was quite tough, as they were being piled on me during a lengthy and difficult recovery time. Every inch in my body was aching already. I felt helpless and quite frankly sometimes also useless already. There was no need to make me feel old on top of it.

However, luckily this feeling passed pretty quickly as you couldn’t see the pacemaker from the outside anyway. Only nurses and doctors could tell where the pacemaker was in my body. Opposed to many other people, my pacemaker is on the left side below my ribcage, and the leads are going up to the heart. When I am lying flat on my back, there is a slight bump where the pacemaker is located, but only trained people will be able to spot this. Moreover, the implant did not leave an additional scar, as it was implanted during open heart surgery. It did take some time to get used to it though, as I could feel the device in my body at certain movements. After all, it is a 4cm x 3cm little piece of metal in your body that has not been there before. Of course your body has to adjust. I actually prefer this position of the pacemaker over its typical place near the collar bone as it is a lot less visible. However, the leads going to the heart do irritate my midriff occasionally and cause me to uncontrollably twitch for 1-3 seconds.

When the pacemaker is being checked it still feels strange that it can be controlled from the outside. Via bluetooth a small computer mouse like device connects to the pacemaker and can change the settings. When it is being turned up and down, I can feel my heart to start racing and slow down again, without me doing anything, which feels very strange.

life with a pacemaker

Of course, now I can’t go through metal detectors anymore and have to carry my pacemaker registration card where ever I go. Somehow it makes me feel very special, but this time in a good way. My pacemaker is not MRI safe, which means no MRI scans for me anymore. Of course I know the medical benefit of these scans, but am quite happy not to do them anymore as they made me feel claustrophobic and were a bit painful.

My X-Rays now look almost super human and I am thinking about getting one printed on a t-shirt as a halloween costume. The pacemaker, a Medtronic SENSIA®L SEDRL1, is supporting my heart quite frequently and the feeling of being old has passed. I am fitter than ever and often wonder were I am taking all the energy from. Maybe it is the little battery powered device in me that keeps me on my toes, I’m just hoping that the batteries last longer than the predicted 11-13 years. But by then, there probably already are a ton of new solution to keep my heart beating.

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