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September 21, 2013

As Time Goes By: A shocking story about defibrillator replacement

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The Daily Star

---- — I can’t recall if I told you I have a pacemaker and a defibrillator installed in my chest. I mention this because without the defibrillator I would not be writing this. It saved my life three times so far, so I was concerned when, in one of my semi-annual checkups, I was told that the battery was starting to die out.

Previously I had been told that I could be reasonably sure that the wiring that I had was “the good kind” and not some of that imported “junk” that flooded the market at the time. This was reassuring to me because I had become slightly leery of things labeled “Made in China.”

So when I was told that my batteries were getting old, I was curious and asked if there was any warning before the electricity was turned off. I was told that I would get a vibrating sensation in my heart. That left me with one more question: “How long after the vibrations start do I have before I croak?”

The day of my operation arrived and away I went to get the latest life-saving model.

I was very reassured to see the same gang in the operating room that was there five years ago when my first combo pacemaker/defibrillator was installed. I didn’t bother to go through my repertoire of jokes, as they told me they had heard them all before.

Everything went well. I am fully wired and ready to go for another 30,000 miles. The best part of this story was post-operative.

I lay around for a while in my recovery booth while they searched for an empty bed. Apparently this hospital was a popular place for “weekenders.”

I was told that a room was available but that I would have a roommate and to remember that it was just for overnight.

I got to my room which overlooked a courtyard. I was told that my roommate had dementia and was prone to verbal outbursts. No problem. I figured I could handle this since my Uncle Herman had dementia.

I had specific instructions not to move my left arm in any weird contortions, lest I rip out by stitches or whatever they do to wounds today.

I had just dozed off after saying goodbye to Diane until the next day, when my roommate started to shout that he couldn’t breathe. I waited to hear a nurse running in but there was no nurse.

There was another shout for help and I fully expected to hear a death rattle, but no, the shouts for help continued.

Finally a nurse arrived and, after listening to my roommate’s plea for help because he couldn’t breathe (apparently this had been an ongoing complaint), she told him that once again his cannula for the oxygen had slipped into his mouth and all he was doing was blowing up his cheeks.

My roommate had over the years lost his manners. I was shocked at his foul mouth when it came to the nursing staff.

I know that each of us thinks he is king or she is queen. I think it is easy to forget that we are dealing with people who have feelings that can be hurt.

Nurses are over-worked. All you have to do is watch them scurrying from one room to another, taking care of patient comfort. Too many times these are just “hand-holding events” — where we ask to have our pillows fluffed or to pour us a glass of iced water. It is easy to feel forgotten or lonely in a hospital bed.

A real smile and a “thank-you” or a “please” said to a nurse can go a long way when you are in a service industry. So, mind your manners. SMILE!

I have to say something about the bed. It was exactly like one I had operated before. It was the “BIG BOY” model and could do everything but wash dishes.

This thing was so fancy, it even had fenders over the wheels. I was in for a good time.

I think all hospital mattresses are made by the same factory. They feel great for the first hour and after that it is an agonizing trip into learning anatomy as you sink into positions that are unknown in your bed back home. Suddenly you discover new aches and pains you never experienced before.

My bed had an answer for this — since it was designed for patients with long stay expectations, it would constantly change positions as you were in it.

You set up your desired bed shape and then just go to sleep. As I slept, the bed would slowly change shape, taking pressure off one part of your body and putting it on another. This way you were not supposed to get bed sores.

The only thing is that the bed groaned and moaned as it changed shape. It did this very slowly so it was difficult to sense any movement. It could take you to flat-out to a U shape and you wouldn’t know it happened until you found yourself talking to your navel.

Around this time my roommate shouted “WATCH OUT FOR THE PROPELLOR!” I almost had a heart attack. Thank heavens for the defibrillator.

As time goes by, I can hardly wait for my next adventure in living.

Henry Geerken is a three-time NYSUT award-winner writing humorous articles addressing retiree and senior citizen concerns. Geerken also writes for Sail-World, World Cruising Newsletter, regarding his many humorous sailing episodes through the years. He can be reached by email at hgeerken@stny.rr.com. ‘Senior Scene’ columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/seniorscene.