“No one here gets out alive.”
-Jim Morrison – the Doors
I first heard the term in a strip-club. I tell my wife it was before we were married.
They referred to themselves as ‘danceuses’ and one was dancing at a nearby table. I would never pay for one myself, of course.
It was the mid-1980s and we were a bunch of guys at a hockey tournament in Niagara Falls. One of the twenty-somethings at the table joked that his buddy’s heart wouldn’t be able to stand the excitement. He shouted out his warning. “Terry, your pacemaker !”
I wasn’t sure what that particular gadget was but we all guffawed loudly and pounded the table in appreciation of such an insightful observation, nearly upending our precious beers in the process. None of us were over thirty three years of age and I presumed a pacemaker must have been something used by the geriatric set, those who took out their teeth at bedtime and dropped them in a glass after a long day of snoozing in their rocking chairs, accompanied only by a blanket and a hot waterbottle.
And now I’m left wondering to myself… what’s to become of me ?
“Go to the doctor,” my wife said to me about a year ago. “Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately?”
“What for?” I countered cleverly. “If you take a ’56 Chevy into the mechanic he’s going to find something wrong when he looks under the hood. Even if it’s running smoothly.”
I have been to a doctor…twice in the past forty years, actually four times if you count the two occasions I received shots for overseas trips to South America and Asia. But it’s true I would be sixty years of age on my next birthday and I did experience some slight dizziness for a few seconds when I started running or skating hard.
“It’s only a slight salt deficiency,” I told my kids. I self-medicated by stepping up my consumption of potato chips.
The doctor asked me some routine questions after my examination, which had seemed to have gone well. I congratulated myself, thinking, “I’ll see you in another twenty years !”
When I mentioned my symptoms he picked up a pen and started writing what turned out to be a referral. “Cut back your activities for the next two weeks, until you can get into this cardio specialist,” he advised. I looked him in the eye and nodded gravely, lying through my teeth. “Okay.”
He may as well have told me he was prescribing a lobotomy.
My second visit to the cardiologist involved the dreaded treadmill test. They steadily raised the incline and upped the speed before taking me off after twelve minutes. “How’d I do?” I asked the technologist, panting and sweating as she ripped the tape and devices off my chest.
“Better than average, ” she answered noncommittally. I allowed my self a smug nod. “I’m outta here,” I reckoned.
Not so fast, bud. My follow-up visit entailed examining a read-out of my above-mentioned test. “See these electrical impulses.” The physician pointed to some squiggly lines on the printout. I nodded sagely, just as I had learned to back in Grade Eleven physics when the teacher put some sort of equation on the board and then looked directly at me. “These electrical impulses are not firing properly, which means that the blood is not being pumped sufficiently from the ventricle to the auricle. That’s why your heart rate is only forty beats a minute.” Just in case I got the mistaken impression that I would be grasping my heart and falling face first into my mashed potatoes at suppertime that evening he put my now-anxious mind at ease.
“I’m going on vacation for the next while and we’ll call you back in after Christmas vacation.”
My heart was strong enough to take the next shock, which came about two days later, however. I was out walking my pet dog Jasper when my wife almost drove me over in our Toyota Corolla, and then jumped out of the vehicle in a panic. “You can’t walk any further.” She was quite agitated. “They just phoned from the Civic Hospital. You’ve got third degree heartblock and you have to go in and get a pacemaker installed tomorrow.”
The next morning I was met by a nurse who grabbed my arm and led me to a gurney before she prepped me with the preliminaries. “Did you come in here with a walker?” she asked sincerely. “Where are your canes?”
They’ve got the wrong guy, I concluded. “I just played two hockey games yesterday.”
Undaunted, , the agenda, like the pre-planned Allies’ attack on the beaches of Dieppe, pushed forward. My ticker was installed in the next hour and a half. Barely sedated, I was mostly conscious for the operation. Looking at me sternly, the nurse read me the riot act. I would be allowed to walk but not play any hockey or go the ‘Y’ for the next six weeks. Hell, I was told that I couldn’t even drive for the first week. I presumed that I would be a menace to all the drunken and texting drivers out there over the Christmas season.
So I’m not quite an invalid, but I’m getting there. Good thing I had my eye operation done three years ago or you’d be seeing me in Centre Town with my white cane and tin cup. As it is now I’ll be checking myself into the Home for the Aged and Infirm.
I’ll be the bald, toothless guy sitting in the wheelchair with Pablum dribbling down my chin.