Living with a Pacemaker
The second Article from Dr Liza Morton. Previously published in The Psychologist, Liza is also a pacemaker recipient with a complex Cardiac history. I am delighted to introduce her second in a series of posts on living with a pacemaker.
‘Tips for living with a pacemaker’
Carl invited me to write some “Tips for Living with a Pacemaker”. I’ve been kept alive by one from just a few days old so I assumed this would be easy. Faced with a blank page I realised it is not. Mostly, I have just “got on with it”. So, what follows are my reflections on how I think I have dealt with this. Obviously, we all have different ways of dealing with things and I would guess having one fitted as an adult would take some time to get your head around. But hopefully, some of this might be of interest.
For the most part, most days, I forget I have a pacemaker. It does not define me. When it is working away, doing its thing, I go about my life, doing my thing. I do not think about it any more than any other part of my body which is how I have come to think about it, as part of my body, an extra organ of sorts. My heart needs help to function and the pacemaker does this and generally very well.
As a child, at times, I felt different from other children. I was not able to take part in many of the physical activities other children did because my early pacemakers were not physiologically responsive. Besides, I needed to do things other children didn’t such as attend hospital appointments and have surgery. As an adult, I understand that I am normal (well as abnormal as everyone else). I just happen to have been born with a heart condition which requires a pacemaker.
Of course, this is challenged when it plays up. I have learnt to always listen to my body, which I know better than anyone else. When I know something is wrong I won’t be told otherwise until everything is checked out. Unfortunately, on too many occasions I have been correct.
So I have always tried to build a good relationship with my care providers who are such an important part of my life. But like me are only human and some are just more competent than others. I always try to be respectful. However, I have also learnt to be assertive, never afraid to ask questions (several times if need be) and to learn about my own condition and be informed.
There are some things you may not be able to do, like contact sports, and if this has been important to you then I guess it is normal to feel a bit angry or upset about that. I have never been sporty, perhaps because I was not able to take part in sports as a child or maybe I am just naturally lazy. However, there are so many things in life that I can do that I focus on them. This approach has always worked well for me.
Its literally a heart sink moment for me when I find out I need a new device. I have been through so many complications and devices over the years and it simply has not been easy. I think it is okay to feel sorry for myself sometimes, to stomp my feet and acknowledge that life can be very unfair and I will never “get used” to hospitals, injections and surgery. My instinct is always to run for the hills (even if this is utterly impossible without a functioning pacemaker). However, I know this isn’t anyone’s fault, there is no other option and no choice but to get on with it.
It is important to have a good “team” around you, people who will support you time and time again though any such difficulties. Surround yourself with people who care about you, who get it, have a strong stomach, a dark sense of humour and endless loyalty. Adversity will help you filter out the rare but good ones.
A lot of people won’t get it. Consequently, they will say silly things and even though you may feel like punching them when they suggest you must be “used to all this” or start comparing heart surgery to the time they had their tonsils removed I have found the best approach is to take a deep breath then nicely and calmly educate them about the reality.
Besides, it is not all bad. Living like this means I am acutely aware of just how fragile life is, I appreciate every day when I feel well and every normal thing I can do. Plus, I never had to play hockey at school.
Dr Liza Morton, has a PhD by research and works as a Clinical Associate of Applied Psychology whilst training in Counselling Psychology. In her spare time she works voluntarily as Scottish Campaign Manager for The Somerville Foundation.
A complete explanation of these topics and more is available in the book Pacemakers Made Easy by Carl Robinson.
Image courtesy of samuiblue / FreeDigitalPhotos.net