Still Beating

A year ago this afternoon, I was at my desk in the office where I work. I had just taken a sip of a soda and started to feel a bit off. When I stood up I felt a bit dizzy and faint. I asked a co-worker if she could drive me to the emergency room as I wasn’t feeling well (if there’s ever a next time I’ll call an ambulance, but at least I didn’t try driving myself). When I got there, the staff was pretty nonchalant about it until I mentioned I had suffered a heart attack back in 2008. I had also been diagnosed with ischemic cardiomyopathy in late 2018 or early 2019 (which has been gotten under control over the last year due to a drug regimen). After explaining my history, they took me in to check my blood pressure and pulse. When the nurse listened to my heart I could tell by her look that something was definitely wrong.

It turned out that my heart was racing at 240 beats a minute, which is incredibly high (normal resting heart rate is considered to be 60-100 beats per minute; my usual resting heart rate is generally somewhere between 60-70). The fast heart beats had already lasted about 15 minutes by that time. What was happening is called ventricular tachycardia, which is essentially an electrical misfiring in the ventricles. If it continues for more than a few seconds, it can be fatal, so I was already lucky to still be alive at that point. I hadn’t overexerted myself (hard to do in an office setting) or had any recent stress, but tachycardia can be a result of previous heart damage. My heart was functioning on about 60% of its capacity due to damage from the heart attack a decade before.

Once the nurse discovered my heart rate, they immediately moved me up to the front of the line to get in to see a doctor. As I was stepping out of the nurse’s office my partner, Brian, showed up, so he was able to go in with me. They put me on an electrocardiogram immediately and within a short time had decided to give me medication to bring the beating back to normal. It didn’t work. They gave me a higher dose, but it had a minimal effect. They then set me up and shocked my heart after putting me under sedation so I wouldn’t feel it.

Later in the day they decided to do a heart catheterization and determined from that to replace one of my four stents and put in two new ones. It was a weird and long day, but they weren’t done yet.

Three days later, after many more tests and discussions, an ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator) was put into my chest. It is a combination pacemaker and defibrillator. The pacemaker makes sure the heart doesn’t beat too slowly and the defibrillator gives a shock if the fast heart beats from tachycardia start up again. Fortunately, that part of the device has not had to engage in the last year. The pacemaker has worked a small percentage of the time, as it is designed to do. I have had no further issues in the last year.

What amazes me is what doctors can do for heart diseases and other diseases that years ago would have been untreatable. Heart disease runs in my family. My father died of a massive heart attack at the age of 41, but I believe he may have survived with the technology we have now. I have outlived him now by more than twenty years. I am incredibly thankful for the doctors, nurses, designers of the ICD, and other professionals who put in countless hours to help ensure that people they don’t know or may never meet will live longer and fuller lives. I am thankful for the support and love of family and friends who have stood by me through several heart issues. And I am thankful every day that I have been given more time to enjoy this amazing thing called life. to laugh and love more, and to wonder in awe about the miracles in the lives we lead.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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