Neil Clarke

The Award-Winning Editor of Clarkesworld Magazine, Forever Magazine, The Best Science Fiction of the Year, and More

Month: January 2020

Defibrillator Saga: Hopefully the End

 
I went in for surgery yesterday to have my defibrillator and leads removed and replaced. While most of the procedure was outlined in a previous post, there were a few “new to me” details that I didn’t find out about until I got there. To start off, during prep, I was informed that they would have to shave neck to toes due to some of the contingency procedures that could happen if there were any problems. That and hair is an vector for transmitting bacteria or other surprises. Next was that there would be an emergency line on my groin, just in case they needed to send a balloon up through a vein/artery (I’m not entirely remembering this part as it involves needles and my brain skitters a bit when that comes up) just in case they need to stop some internal bleeding. The legs were shaved just in case they needed to borrow some part from my leg to fix something else. Oh and there was another line placed in my arm, again with the needle, and something put down my throat so they could keep an eye on my heart during the procedure. (Fortunately that would be put in after I was unconscious.)

Later, they wheeled me into the operating room. There was at least six people in there and they put me under before the rest of the team arrived. In the past, I’ve been asked to count as they put me under. This time, I was just out before I knew what was going on.

The procedure went perfectly, so none of the contingencies they prepared for were necessary. They started waking me in the OR and it’s pretty much a blur. I know I was coming out (fighting my way out) of a very odd dream, nauseous, and unable to keep my eyes open. The kept me in recovery for perhaps an hour and then wheeled me to my room where my family was waiting for me. I really needed to see them, but I was struggling to stay awake and they hadn’t eaten.

Hospitals are not places to sleep. I slept in one or two hour slices throughout the night, interrupted by blood tests, blood pressure checks, stealing my water away (so I wouldn’t drink after midnight) and shift changes. It was enough to give me back my appetite and the strength to sit in a chair.

In the morning, a tech came to test the device–the same one that I saw during my first hospital visit in December–and we chatted about the new device and what had happened since he last saw me. This one might last 10-13 years before the battery needs to be replaced and it’s a lot louder. I could actually feel the vibrations, but that just might be the sensitivity of the incision area. It’s not big, but it hurts. Dull and regularly pain. For the next 4-6 weeks, I have limitations on my left arm designed to keep me from yanking the new lead out of my heart. The good news is the pain pretty much prevents me from accidentally doing any of the things I’m not supposed to. No lifting things, raising my arm, etc.

Everyone that needed to see me came through before noon, so I was able to get out on time, or early in hospital time. Lisa and Eamonn came to bring me home and I felt every turn. Driving is off the table for a while and left-side seatbelts would be a big mistake. Still, I’m home now and that’s a big improvement.

Thanks to everyone that supported me over the last few weeks, but particularly my family and the amazing team at Morristown Medical Center. Everyone over in Gagnon wing is a pro and so kind.

Surgery on Thursday

 
Tomorrow I will head to Morristown Medical Center to have my defibrillator and the accompanying wiring removed and replaced. (Why is outlined in previous posts.) The procedure involves removing the device and then placing a straw-shaped tool around the wires and snaking it into my heart, where the wire is screwed in. Over the last seven years, scar tissue has formed over the screw (this is a feature, not a bug–it holds it more securely in place). The scar tissue will be zapped away by a laser at the end of the tool so they can remove  the lead. Then they’ll remove the tool and wire.

At this point, there is a possibility of some bleeding. Should that happen, the surgeon performing the procedure will have to go in and stop it. Statistically, this shouldn’t happen, but I’m reassured by the fact that the surgeon performing the procedure came highly recommended and should be more than capable of dealing with the situation.

After everything is removed, they will need to run a new wire into my heart, screw it in, and install the new defibrillator in my chest. They’ll glue me shut and that should be it for the day. I’ll be under for the entire procedure and if the past is any indicator, I’ll be barely functional for the rest of the evening.

If everything goes as planned, I will be released sometime on Friday. If there was bleeding, it’s likely they’d keep me a few more days. Either way, I’ll have some restrictions while everything heals and new scar tissue secures the screw more firmly. For example, I won’t be able to hold anything over ten pounds or raise my left arm higher than my elbow. (The risk here is pressure on the wire pulling the screw out of my heart. Great mental image, isn’t it?) The nice thing is that any inclination to do the wrong thing is deterred by the pain. That was the one thing that caught me off-guard after the initial procedure. No one said how much movement would hurt.

No one likes surgery. I’d be a fool to say that I wasn’t worried or concerned even though I know I have an excellent team on my side. I could just leave the wire in there, but given my age, it would almost certainly cause a complication down the line and every year it stays in there, the harder it will be to take out. (At seven, I’m already at an extra level of difficulty.) It’s time to get this over with.

Being a cyborg isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

A last thank you to everyone that has been so supportive through all this, particularly the few that have reached out to share their own experiences. It’s meant a lot to me.

Talk to you soon.

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