Heart monitor

December 7, 2009 | My Jottings

Last May we went to the Wisconsin Dells for a little mini-vacation with the three gals we care for. We went at a perfect time — in the middle of the week right after the Memorial Day holiday — so the water park at our hotel was not in the least bit crowded, and on some days it seemed we almost had the place to ourselves. No lines, not much noise, just mile after mile of slippery slides and meandering “rivers” on which to tube. Our gals had a blast and so did we.

On the last evening there, we were all tucked away in our spacious adjoining suites; some were watching TV and I was reading. As I read propped up in bed, my heart did a funny flip-flop in my chest. It didn’t hurt but it was a strange sensation and it made me put the book down for a few seconds. I felt fine and kept on reading, but within minutes it happened again. And again. I stopped reading and counted — my heart would do a little unexpected two-second dance every couple of minutes. I told Michael about it and he did the first thing he always does: comforts me and then prays out loud in a way that makes me cry and feel so thankful for him.

Since I felt well and had no pain or lightheadedness I just decided to do nothing about this until I got home. Who wants to go to an unfamiliar emergency room in a city hours from home while your loved ones are forced to sit and wait for three to four hours while you finally find out your heart is okay except for an occasional cartwheel it performs? Not I.

When we returned home I made a doctor’s appointment and got in fairly fast. Our family doctor is a wonderful, compassionate man who takes time with his patients and is so swamped it’s hard to get in to see him. Funny how mentioning the words “irregular heart rhythm” causes the person who makes the appointments to put you right at the top of the list. Next time I have a sore knee I think I’ll just sort of mention as an aside that when my knee hurts my heart goes into an irregular rhythm. Then I won’t have to wait three months to see my doctor.

I’d been having these little flip-flops many times a day by the time I saw Dr. M. But of course when I saw him, he couldn’t hear anything unusual. He listened to my heart a long time. And then he patiently listened a lot longer, but the acrobat in my ventricles was napping at the time. Nothing. So Dr. M. ordered a Holter heart monitor for me, and I was sent down the hall to have one fitted right away. CFDigital-Holter-MDG-L

A nice nurse hooked up many wires and electrodes to my body (it seemed like more than the five shown here) and she showed me how to punch a little button on the top of the device every single time I felt my heart act weirdly. The Holter heart monitor was a bit larger than a deck of cards, and was clipped to the waistband of my jeans. It would take a continuous EKG of my heart’s activity for at least twenty-four hours, and a cardiologist at a special heart clinic in Minneapolis would then assess things, paying special attention to the times I had hit the button to point out when my heart was misbehaving.

So now I had to constantly be in tune to what my heart was doing, and quickly push the button each time I felt it do its odd jump and a brief but sharp thud against my ribcage. It’s strange how when one has to focus on something, what was once barely noticeable in the background now steps to the front of the line and screams, “Ten-HUT!”  I was so intent on making sure that I hit the button whenever my heart flipped around, I got to the point where I could feel the odd rhythm coming on before it actually jumped. It was a strange pause in my heartbeat, always followed by the disconcerting thud. It never hurt, never caused any other alarming symptoms, but it sometimes gave me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I felt the thud. I’m pretty sure that was mental rather than physical.

I left Dr. M.’s office and as I walked to the van my heart flipped. I quickly reached down and fumbled under the hem of my shirt so I could hit the button. It took longer than I expected and I wondered if the person at the heart center in Minneapolis who would eventually read this strip of paper would be able to tell when the incident had happened since the button was pressed a full ten seconds after the heart misfired. This anxiety probably caused another misfiring and by the time I reached my vehicle I had hit the button three or four times already. This is interesting, I thought. Oh, and did I mention I was supposed to be keeping a nice little journal along with all the button punching I was going to be doing for the next day or so? Each time I felt something amiss with my heart I was to hit the button and then record in my little diary what I was doing at the time. You see where this is going. They wanted to see if the malfunction was related to anything in particular, such as extreme physical activity (ha), or after eating a certain food or drinking a caffeinated beverage, or talking with a certain “irregular” person on the phone, or while concentrating on a stressful subject. This way, diagnosis would be simpler and the recommendations obvious: “Ma’am, your heart misfires when you have your morning Cappuccino Cooler – please stop drinking your morning Cappuccino Cooler.” Or, “your heart misfires when you are talking to the Foster care licensor at the state capital – please tell her you are no longer allowed to speak with her per order of your cardiologist.” Or, “your heartbeat was erratic when you were cooking dinner, we strongly recommend that you retire from cooking and begin dining out seven nights a week.” And so on.

But with me it was not to be so simple. My previously normal heart did its flip-flops like a fish on the dock, so many times in that one twenty-four hour period it was astounding. I pushed that button at least 20-30 times each waking hour. I just did my normal tasks all throughout the day with one hand at the ready, hooked near the waist of my jeans. I looked like a female John Wayne. I even started talking with a slow drawl and walking slightly sideways.

After over a day of pushing a little button on a little device clipped to my clothes, I went back to the doctor’s office to have it removed. I was told that it would take at least ten days to two weeks for the results to come back. From what Dr. M. had told me, they would be looking especially for signs that the misfires were one right after another with no rest in between, because those kinds of beats could cause blood clots to form, and most everyone knows blood clots have never been highly regarded by the medical community.

When my results finally came in from the heart center in Minneapolis, my doctor called me. He told me I’d been having PVCs. Pre-Ventricular Contractions, and apparently this condition is not “malignant,” meaning life-threatening. The flip-flops didn’t occur one immediately right after the other, so they aren’t too concerned about clots. He said it’s fairly common, especially as people age. He said I could take a medication if I wanted, if I felt the acrobatics my heart was doing were bothersome enough to me. The medication would be a beta-blocker, a high blood pressure med (which I don’t need) that would slow things down and force a more stable heart rhythm. Never an avid pill-taker, I opted to forgo the medication for now.

In the meantime, I’m learning to live with my Pre-Ventricular Contractions. I notice them often enough, but not as much as when I had to focus on them and punch a button and journal about them all the livelong day. I’ve only noticed one thing that seems to significantly increase the jumping and bumping of my now-errant heart. It jumps and bumps frequently still, but if I drink a Pepsi, the rhumba turns into a tango. I’m not much of a soda pop drinker, but sometimes at SAGs when we’re at a restaurant I’ve been known to have a Pepsi with dinner. I don’t imbibe as often now. Interestingly, other caffeinated drinks don’t have the same effect on my heart as a Pepsi does. Any ideas about that?

This whole ordeal has raised many questions for me. What brought this on? Why did my heart just start misfiring in May? While we were on a fun vacation? There are obviously more questions than answers, but being so attentive to my physical heart has caused me to ponder the state of my spiritual heart. The analogies are many, and hopefully not lost on me.

What would happen in my life if I paid as much attention to the malfunctions of my spiritual heart as I have my physical heart these past months? What if each time my spiritual heart misfired, I could feel an instant, definite flip-flop and then press a button and write in my journal what I was doing at the time? What insight would I gain? I think I would learn that I was not taking the following verses seriously enough.

Proverbs 4:23 — Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

Philippians 4:6-8 — Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Psalm 73:26 — My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

When I guard my spiritual heart, life is so much better on every level. When I pray and take the things that so deeply concern me to the feet of my Savior and give them to Him, peace is so much more tangible. And when I remember that truly God is my strength and hope in all situations, that He is my best portion, then rest comes.

The problem is, I don’t always pray right away when needs and fears arise. I don’t always focus on Him in the midst of the clamoring worries that surround us. Sometimes I forget that He is my portion and that nothing satisfies like Jesus.

But now that I have a heart condition, it’s reminding me more and more of my other heart condition. It’s helping me pay attention to what I allow into my life and how I can guard my heart and my mind more consistently.

It’s not like I have to turn into a vigilante and get all militant now. It’s more like a relaxed way of making choices that contribute to the peace and joy God intends for me. Fretting and prayerlessness do not contribute to peace and joy. Have you found that to be true? I’ll bet more than a few of you reading understand this very well.

So, I had to wear a heart monitor for a little over a day, and it helped diagnose a problem with the function of my physical heart. I also have another heart monitor, and if I listen to Him, He diagnoses problems with the functions of my spiritual heart. I can’t see or touch this latter monitor, but if I’m paying attention, I can most definitely sense when He’s telling me something isn’t right. This spiritual heart monitor is the Holy Spirit, and the longer I walk with God the more clearly I sense His loving direction.

He nudges me when I’m quick to judge someone I don’t understand, and because He loves them so tenderly, He asks me to pray for them.

He lets me know that fudging the truth is not the way to live in His light and freedom.

He asks me to go the extra mile for people, even when I would prefer others to go the extra mile for me. He’s had a lot of experience in that Himself.

He whispers to me to restrain my urge to sigh impatiently or to press my point because I want to be right.

He prods me to pray and to trust Him in the dark instead of fretting and crying so much.

He bids me to come up higher in areas where I’ve been quite content to live in the ditches.

He lifts my chin to show me the way of hope rather than the path of despair.

He lets me know in a myriad of ways when my heart is not working just as it should. And He graciously provides the remedy each time I seek Him for it.

I’ve had two heart monitors in my life. One was about three inches by five inches, was powered by a battery and I wore it on my jeans for a little over a day. The Other has dwelled inside me since I was about twelve years old. He is bigger than the universe (Ephesians 4:10), is the source of all power (Colossians 1:17), and (perhaps most remarkable because of the two previously listed attributes), He loves me (Romans 8:39, John 3:16, Ephesians 2:4-5).

And, in case you didn’t know, He also loves you.

For His patience, for His love, and for His faithful monitoring of my heart, I’m thanking Jesus today.


  1. Lucille M. says:

    Every day is a gift. I am a cerebral aneurysm/stroke survivor. When I was diagnosed I was told I had a 20% chance of survival through surgery. I was still raising a family with much responsibilities left to take care of. I asked The Lord to spare me and let me live long enough to finish my caretaking and He answered my prayers. The doctors said it would be two years before I would return to work but through The Grace of God I returned in six months and three weeks full-time. I became a Eucharistic Minister and visited the sick afterwards.

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