By Brian LeBlanc
Life is complicated enough. Of course, my Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia adds to the chaos and uncertainty. And as much as I openly discuss living with dementia for the sake of helping others, the opportunity to talk other health issues doesn’t come up as much.
So here it is: I’m having a pacemaker put in Tuesday. I’m scared. I’m nervous. I’m stressed. I’m anxious. And although I trust being in good hands – for a routine procedure under skilled doctors and with my life partner/care partner Maureen close by – the uncertainties would keep anyone up at night.
In a nutshell, my heart isn’t functioning properly … again. My cardiologist has been studying me for some time now. While sleeping in recent weeks, the heart rate has dropped as low as 24 beats per minute. I have to admit, the cell phone app was pretty cool that Maureen used to measure as I slept with my finger over her camera. But a normal sleeping heart rate is between 40 and 60. Maureen and I joke that my paltry pace is “basically dead,” but it’s no laughing matter.
It’s scary, frightening even.
Blood flow to my brain suffers. I feel it, especially in the mornings. I’m already increasingly prone to brain fog. Now I must wake up and kick my mind into gear while it starves for blood and oxygen. Some days I can emerge from the fog. Other days I sit in a trapped mind indefinitely, wondering if this is the day the fog stays for good.
The pacemaker will help. We know this. It’ll strengthen my ticker and improve blood flow to the brain. Will it fix my dementia? Of course not. Will it clear the cold, damp fog? Maybe 8 years ago when I first received my Alzheimer’s diagnosis. We’re too far along the path now. The reality is it may only slow the progression – maybe, only maybe.
It’s not just about dementia now, though. That only scratches the surface because my medical problems say so. (Don’t ask me why, but I’m vaguely remembering “Because Stone Cold Said So!” from pro wrestling.) Unfortunately, this heart issue is genetic, too, on my father’s side.
Counting the days, so many other problems fill my mind. I can’t shake them. I’m already an anxious person. My Alzheimer’s makes that worse. That said, they are legit concerns. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t have some fear of something going wrong. But if I do pass, as you know, we’re more than prepared for a death with dignity.
Now, I’ve been under the knife before. (Seems like too many times to count.) I’ve had three heart stents and then a triple bypass in 2019 – because, why not? Moving on to lucky number 5, I guess! As we all know, even the best heart has so many beats in it. Can mine take any more probing and prodding?
Maureen’s so good at calming the negative thoughts. She helps me backtrack and reminds me I’ve emerged fine from each of the previous surgeries. She reminds me a pacemaker thing these days is minimally invasive – essentially making a little pouch in my chest for the device and connecting some electrodes.
But she’s honest. That’s what makes her such a great care partner. Anesthesia can cause delirium in even healthy older patients. Those with advancing stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia like mine? We may regress even harder. Thankfully, I’ll be under “twilight sedation” – a lighter form they just so happen to use for those wonderful colonoscopies. (Note to self: ask Maureen if I have one of those bad boys sometime soon.)
At least I probably won’t wake up all groggy and nauseous. I digress.
Maureen says she wishes they would’ve announced the surgery on Monday, the day before. I understand why – less time worrying and brooding for me. I told her, “Sure, drop it on me the day before and send me into shock overload!” Imagine that conversation: “Oh, by the way, you’re going to have a surgical procedure on your heart tomorrow.” Ugh!
Back on a serious note, though, I’m so glad they’re letting Maureen stay with me that night. They’ll be observing me for a day or so. It’ll make me feel so much better to have her by my side, even if I don’t actually need her for anything. (I’m sure I will! And she says it’s the least she could do to help the staff deal with me!)
Tuesday is going to be a very long day. I know I’m going to want to go home. I’ll be OK. If not? I guess you’ll have to hear that from Maureen. Either way, I want you all to celebrate and be happy. And always remember: #WeAreDementiaStrong.