Living with a Little Assassin

Anyone who has a pacemaker/defibrillator can explain the feeling. That flush, rush of temperature and cold sweat. That sinking, rising feeling in your upper chest. That sudden dread that the device in your chest (which I call my hockey puck) is going to fire and shock your irregularly beating heart back into a normal rhythm.

Sometimes, it is nothing and you quickly return to your life. Other times, you sense that the pacemaker did its job and corrected the fault. Then, there are those wonderful moments – that second right before it happens – when you know the defibrillator is about to slam that baseball bat at your rib cage.

I had my second shock last Friday. I had enough warning to grab the side of the building and tell my daughter to wait before my device sent a 25 joule shock to my misbehaving ventricle. Of course, I should be happy. My hockey puck did exactly what it was supposed to do. And, I am still alive because of it, for which I am immensely grateful.

I suppose that if this is the worst that life has to throw at me, I should live every day to its fullest and be happy for each sunrise. There are clearly people worse off than me in our world. Were I not fortunate enough to have medical insurance and access to quality health care, I would have left this plane a year ago.

But, there is a special challenge to suffering from ventricular tachycardia. I have been told that I will never know the cause, and finding the right pharmaceutical concoction to control it is going to be a trial and error process for some time to come. And, every day, I am reminded that a small bit of hard wiring in my heart rests posed to flare up and rob me of my future. There is no cure but containment, sort of like having a caged Black Widow strapped inside my chest. I simply must trust the bars of that cage and somehow go on living without the constant fear that it can break out at any time.

My condition makes life an interesting contrast of gratitude and terror, of caution and carefree. I am more committed than ever to making the most of my ministry, of telling people important to me exactly how I feel about them, and truly letting unimportant things go.

So, on this Mother’s Day, the lessons are familiar ones. Never wait one minute to tell someone that you love them. Never wait one more hour to set aside pointless worry, shame, and guilt. Never wait one more day to start doing what you love with your life. And, don’t wait for your body to get this message through to you.

One thought on “Living with a Little Assassin

  1. Jeff, that lesson is a good one– a real one. And we all live with it. We — most of us — just don't know it. We don't realize it.

    At any moment, all this… life… can be snatched from us.

    Carpe diem.

    Or as Mary Oliver puts it,
    Tell me, what else should I have done?
    Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
    Tell me, what is it you plan to do
    with your one wild and precious life?

    I'm glad you have yours caged.


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