Heart failure and other things blog 14, September 2017

It’s pouring with rain here and my flat conservatory roof sounds like a snare drum being beaten by a hundred mad drummers. The cat hurtled into the house through the cat flap, complaining loudly about the rain, but she’s made her own entertainment by leaping all over the chairs and biting the cushions. An antiques programme is on the TV and I’m lounging on a sofa watching people being happily surprised by the unexpected value of their items – or not, as some find out.


Last week I had another pacemaker check. I thought I would be seeing a cardiologist following up on the op but it was a technician instead. I don’t know if it’s standard practice but I haven’t seen a doctor or cardiologist about the op since it was done in June, and I don’t have an appointment to see anybody, either. Maybe they only see people if there’s a problem.


The technician was very thorough. I told her I felt a lot better since having the pacemaker implanted and I asked if it was normal to experience itching at the scar site, three months after the procedure. She said it was – but it would have been good to check that with a consultant. She also said it was normal to get episodes of stinging pains as I move my upper body because the pacemaker moves slightly and ‘it’s early days yet.’ I was under the impression that three months is a long time following surgery. I’m also getting soreness and pain from the left shoulder joint and area, and the top of the left arm, which followed on as a direct result of the surgeon pushing hard against the shoulder joint during the op. That was unavoidable, I think, but I’m wondering why it hasn’t worn off yet. Perhaps I’m just impatient.


A couple of days after the pacemaker check I saw one of the heart nurses, the one who’s keen on exercise. She wants me to get up to thirty minutes’ walking per day and my limit at the moment is ten. Some days I can manage that, other days I have ‘jelly legs’ (jello for any American friends) and can barely get around the house. The ten minutes includes standing, most of the time. I can, and do, push it beyond that but if I go too far the jelly legs persist all day and on days like that I feel my mortality. The line between life and death feels more like a knife edge – so I’m always happy and surprised to wake up the next day, often better. On jelly leg days I think of all the things I haven’t done yet, like finishing my fourth book, and there are moments of panic that time is running out. Then the next day, if I feel better, it doesn’t seem so urgent to spend all day writing instead of doing things like clearing the house ready for moving.


Yep, I’m moving – downsizing to a granny annexe next door to my son and daughter-in-law, who have found a rental place in Somerset. Exciting stuff. I just hope I can manage it all, because I have to sell my house first. It’s been on the market for three weeks and I’ve had one offer but the cheeky buggers wanted me to drop the price by £12.5k so I said no. Politely, of course. First-time buyers, probably inexperienced, and my house is priced competitively for the area. I haven’t heard anything back so my guess is they’ve given up and looked elsewhere. I can wait for a better offer.


On the whole I would say the pacemaker has made a great deal of difference by now even though the technician said my heart rhythm is still slightly out of synch, and if this is still considered early days I might see more improvement yet. I have no idea what my EF is and if it has changed since my last echocardiogram in May when I wasn’t told the result – I think because the surgeon didn’t want to scare me! I can only go by how I feel and by seeing how much I can do. I can move around the house more easily.


The heart nurse dismissed that as exercise (I thought I could get away with that) and said it was only ‘being active.’ It feels like exercise to me – up and down stairs sorting, clearing and chucking out – and not much different to doing step Pilates, not that I’ve ever done Pilates so I’m likely to be wrong. She said that walking is sustained exercise, in other words it gives the heart more to do than the stop-start movements around the house. I concede that she’s right about the nature of it but a little confused because people are always saying that gardening and cleaning are forms of exercise and just as valuable. Not the right kind of heart exercise, it seems.


Before my energy ran out I used to do lots of walking, including up hills when I had the opportunity to trail along after my son, who bounded along paths like a mountain goat and could eat up the miles as if wading through a tasty breakfast. Before that I used to go swimming regularly, and get up in the early hours at 5am to dash off to meditation classes, so I’m no stranger to effort. I think some of the medical people I see now assume I’ve always been a couch potato and extremely unfit. Well, having a dicky ticker will do that to you. I’d love to be able to get back to long walks and birdwatching outings, but ten minutes will have to suffice for the moment.

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