I've always had a slow heart. All my life I've been concerned about my mitral valve prolapse, a kind of heart murmur. In a group of cyclists, I'm always the last bike up the hill.
But lately I've noticed that I pant like a dog after climbing the subway stairs, even though I go to aquafit classes every day. I put it down to my weak heart.
Then my family doctor asked me to go to a pacemaker clinic. A heavy black monitor with wires was attached to my body. A cute Hallmark heart flashed every time my heart beat. A week later, I got a call from the GP covering for my family doctor.
"Do you lead an active life?" the doctor asked. Alarm bells sounded in my head. I bike and swim at the Y every day. I knew bad news lay ahead. Instead of phoning the cardiologist, I went on vacation. Two weeks of walking the beaches at Tofino would cheer me up.
But I couldn't avoid my fate forever. It turns out that two electrical node sites in my atrium are failing, at different times of day and night, first one and then the other. If both stop at the same time I will black out. They say I need a pacemaker.
Up to now, I've self-medicated. My Y friends and I are taking one baby aspirin a day and quaffing a glass of red wine or two at dinner. Now I have to worry about electrical failure.
"Do I have to have it done?" I ask.
"If you're riding your bicycle and you're in front of a truck and you black out...." I fill in the blanks: I'd be a hamburger. What a sales clincher.
Six weeks later I check into the hospital on an empty stomach. I'm wheeled down to the waiting ward, which is crammed with bodies. It reminds me of pictures from the second world war, stretchers lined up one after another, red-eyed patients lying in cots as relatives stand on either side trying to be brave.
Two wires are going to be implanted in my heart, and a pacemaker the size of two quarters will be planted under the skin near my breastbone. I'll be awake the whole time.
A wire could puncture my lung on the way down. There could be internal bleeding. But there isn't.
I don't feel a bit of pain - until my nurse comes in later that afternoon. Somehow, a wire has been pulled out. How did it happen? A coughing spell? In general, even being in a car going over a bump in the road and all kinds of other things can dislodge it.
I'm scheduled for 10 am another day with another doctor. This time, I feel like she's using a hammer on my chest, banging the thing into place. But at least the wires will stay put. That afternoon I'm discharged. Maybe I didn't get preferential treatment, like the Governor General, who got her pacemaker in a day. I had to wait five months and have it installed twice. But nothing cheers one up faster than having a male nurse.
Best of all, I can climb stairs without having to catch my breath.