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 Category:  Commentary and Philosophy Non-Fiction
  Posted: September 5, 2020      Views: 69

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BethShelby is retired from the printing and commercial art field. She is married and has four children and three grandchildren. She and her husband presently live in Tennessee.

Painting, photography, and writing are her passion. She has ha - more...

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The heart reacts to emotional crisis.
"Tell-Tale Heart" by BethShelby

When my youngest daughter, Connie, was seventeen. she got the urge to spend her summer working at a summer camp. She thought it would be fun to work as a life guard. In order to qualify one of the requirements was to have a physical.

She had always been healthy, and she didn’t anticipate any problems, but when the physician checked her heart, he noticed an abnormal rhythm-pattern. He diagnosed her with AV Block: 2nd degree, Mobitz I (Wenckebach Phenomenon) She was asymptomatic, so the doctor said is was possible she wouldn’t need treatment, but she would need to come in once a year to have it checked. He warned her that eventually, she might need a pacemaker.

While she was still in her twenties, she began experiencing moments of light-headiness. One day, she actually passed out. Her diagnosis confirmed that the time had arrived to install a pacemaker. Since she was still so young, the pacemaker was placed underneath the muscle. It is deep enough in her chest that it can’t be felt from outside. Other than regular check-ups, she tends to forget it is there, and her life continues as it always has. In older patients, pacemakers are often placed just below the skin rather than under the muscle, and they can be felt by touching the area.

Pacemakers aren’t designed to last indefinitely, so after several years pass, they are removed and a new one is put in its place. The surgery is a little more complicated if the instrument is below the muscle. After nine years, Connie had her pacemaker replaced, and she has continued to go on with life as normal, without having further problems.

This past April on Easter Sunday, a series of severe tornadoes devastated parts of Chattanooga. Connie’s house lay in the path of the storm. She and her husband had just gone into their bedroom when the sirens sounded, and almost immediately, their world was turned upside-down. The EF3 tornado struck with a fury, and  half of the roof of their house was ripped away. Their three dogs and two cats were freaking out, and of course, she and husband were terrified as well. One of the cats had just given birth to a litter of kittens, which were trapped beneath rubble in what had been their laundry room.

Most of the houses up and down their street were either gone or severely damaged, and hundreds of trees had been uprooted. Possessions from the front of their house were scattered for blocks. There was no way to leave their driveway to get help, so they were forced to spend the remainder of the night, along with all the animals, including the nine kittens which they managed to rescue, in one of their damaged vehicles.

To make a long story short, things have gone well for the family. After many months, they are in a beautiful new house in a different area of town, and things are getting back to normal in their lives.

In spite of the fact that I could be writing about the odd rhythm pattern of Connie’s heart, or the devastation of the tornado, or the aftermath of the storm, my purpose for writing this is to talk about the pacemaker, which in my opinion, is one fantastic little instrument.

Last week, Connie went back in for her routine heart checkup and pacemaker test, which had been delayed for several months, due to the coronavirus outbreak. I was amazed to learn that during the interval between visits, this little device keeps an accurate account of every time the heart does anything irregular. The doctor can see a recorded record of the exact time the incident occurred and how long it lasted.

After the heart check, Connie was told that she had only one incident of irregularity during all these months since her last visit. “It is a bit concerning because this lasted for a whole hour,” the doctor said. “We need you to think back as to what might have caused this. Is there any way you might remember anything that happened at10.20 at night on April 13?

“Oh yes. I remember well,” Connie said. “That’s when the tornado destroyed my house.”

At the time, she hadn’t been aware that anything was going on with her heart. There was too much else to think about, but her pacemaker knew the truth.

“In that case, there is no reason to be concerned,” the doctor told her. “It would be abnormal if any heart didn’t react to something like that.”

When Connie related this story to me, I was reminded of Edgar Allen Poe’s classic, The Tell-Tale Heart.” She remarked to me, as we finished lunch, “I’ll bet someone with a pacemaker wouldn’t be able to get away with murder. All the prosecution would have to do is have their pacemaker checked.  Committing an act as violent as that would show, to the minute, when the crime was committed.” I think she is probably right. The heart would tell.


Non-Fiction Writing Contest contest entry

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