wired head
Wired head

And other parts, too!

| One of the worst things about getting old is when you realize that entropy is winning.

Some time ago I had noticed that when I took my blood pressure in the morning, the machine would report a very high pulse rate, as if I had been exercising vigorously for several minutes. I never paid much attention to this because (a) my meter is getting pretty old and perhaps flaky and (b) if I repeated the test a few minutes later, it would always be back to a "normal" (for me) range.

I didn't pay much attention to this — until, that is, it happened in the doctor's office during a routine visit. After a second machine produced the same results, the doctor ordered an EKG. To make a long story short, the EKG revealed an irregular heartbeat, specifically an atrial flutter. (In a flutter, the heart beats irregularly, but in a regular pattern; by contrast in atrial fibrillation (A-fib) the heart beats irregularly with no pattern.)

What followed was an echocardiogram of the heart (essentially a sonogram), a chemical stress test, and a visit to the cardiologist. The thing that makes a flutter serious is that the heart becomes very inefficient at pumping  all the blood out of the heart, which raises the risk of it clotting and causing a stroke. To counteract that possibility, warfarin was prescribed (AKA Coumadin, AKA "blood thinner") along with a beta blocker to slow the heart beat down and improve blood flow. To add to the unpleasantness, with warfarin the rate of blood clotting has to be checked every week!

artistic rendering of human heart

To stop the flutter in its tracks, I chose to have a procedure called catheter ablation. Not to put too fine a point on it, they open a vein in the groin and run wires up into the heart then apply energy to scar the heart tissue where the electrical impulses that control the heart take a short cut back to the starting position instead of continuing on through the heart. Thus, the top chambers of the heart beat like crazy while the lower chambers beat not so much.

In other words, the ablation is a genuine heart burn (as in burning the heart).

The bills for this little exercise have come in, and they total $70,000. Holy heart attack! Of course, it's all funny-money because Medicare always awards itself a very large discount (which they call an "adjustment"): they paid only $13,671 for a hospital bill of $63,543 leaving me to pay $1241 as "co-insurance." And my Medicare supplement plan from HP? It paid $0.

Besides the hospital bill, there was the cardiologist's bill ($3,617) and a bill for operating the EKG machine ($1240). When Medicare gets done paring those down, there won't be much left to pay.


wired up for a sleep study
​Wired up to sleep with 30+ electrodes

But wait, there's more! When I went back for a follow-up with the cardiologist he said I may be at risk for other arhythmias (such as A-fib), and he wanted me to do a sleep study to see if I suffer from sleep apnea. It turns out that sleep apnea makes lots of things worse: irregular heart beat, diabetes, high blood pressure — all the things I have!

So last night I reported to the sleep center to be wired up and monitored in detail while I slept. (Frankly, there is something a bit creepy about having someone watch you sleep!)

Junction box connecting all the wires
​Junction box connecting all my wires to the "control room"

More than 30 electrodes were applied from head to toe with all the wires running to a central junction box that could hang on a strap around my neck so I could move about while wired. An output connected the junction box to the sleep center control room where a technician would observe my every moment while I slept via the instrumentation and a video camera.

Picture it: You have uncomfortable sensors stuck all over your body. You have bundles of wires running from head to toe. Your wires are attached to a large box which in turn is attached to a wall outlet. You have another gadget clamped on your finger. It's an unfamiliar room and bed. There's a video camera on the wall capturing everything (careful where you scratch!), and there's a person sitting in the control room watching you. Sleep tight!

It turns out that I do suffer from sleep apnea, although it will be a week before then have crunched all the data and produce a report suggesting next steps.

The silver lining in all this cloud is that the sleep center was equipped with Sleep Number beds so I got to actually try one. I did find it very comfortable once I lowered the number enough. But I'm still skeptical about a bed that is essentially an air mattress.


having a root canal
Ready for my root canal

But wait, there's even more!

Last week I woke one morning with a horrible toothache. The slightest pressure on the tooth sent paroxysms of pain through my jaw. Of course the tooth in question is in the spot where I do most of my chewing!

After suffering for two days, I realized there was nothing for it but to see the dentist. Diagnosis: an abscess.

A visit to the endodontist confirmed my worst fears: a root canal was in order.

The endodontist assured me that every possible measure would be taken to ensure my comfort during the procedure and that I could watch television or listen to music during the two to three hours it would take. Why, he said, I could even take a nap if I wanted to.

OK, I wasn't born yesterday! And, I've had a root canal before. Nobody takes a nap during a root canal! (Although, to be fair, everyone in the office insisted that some people do.)

The root canal was in fact painless. I was so shot up with Novocain that I would not have felt a jack hammer at work in my mouth. Unfortunately, when the Novocain wore off, my mouth did feel like a jack hammer had been at work there!

Entropy: process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder. Yup, it seems to be that time of life when it's one damned thing after another.

Last updated on Apr 13, 2018



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