Years ago, early in my life with scleroderma, I developed an arrhythmia. For decades now, my heart occasionally feels like it’s skipping a beat. Actually, however, as my cardiologist has explained to me, I’m having an extra contraction. It gets worse when I’m stressed and is my orange alert to slow down, examine what’s going on, and make some adjustments in my life. It always improves with regular exercise, especially walking.
Recently, in the weeks after the November election, my arrhythmia has been more active. No surprises, I guess, because I have been very stressed about both the divisive politics plaguing our nation and the pandemic surge. But its frustrating and annoying, to say the least.
So, when I spoke with my cardiologist recently, he recommended doing a heart monitor study for up to 30 days. (Hopefully I won’t need to wear the monitor that long.) It’s probably been 35 years since I wore a Holter monitor, and I think it was maybe for only a week. Back then, the monitor was this big clunky device, the size of an old Motorola cell phone, that you wore around your neck or on a belt, connected to a bunch of wire leads attached to your body. Basically, it was a portable 24/7 EKG. You had to make notes in a notebook if you felt any symptoms, with date and time. All that information was compiled after you turned in the monitor and notes. Not fun.
Fortunately, technology has significantly advanced over the past three-plus decades. No appointment necessary to activate the device. It arrived via UPS on Friday, in a small box with the equipment and how-to instructions. Instead of a big, clunky monitor, there are two small, rechargeable monitors about 1.5 x 2.0 inches and maybe a half-inch high. You charge one while you wear the other, and the charge lasts about 12 hours. The monitor snaps into an oval foam base. On the back of the base are two snaps for removable electrode patches. So basically, you plug in the monitor, attach the electrodes, and then peel off the sticky backing from the patches and adhere to your skin. The correct positions (two alternatives) are illustrated in the guide book.
Readings collected by the monitor then feed via wireless tech to a Samsung phone that is solely for collecting the data. This, in turn, sends reports periodically to the tech company that is running the study. If you experience a symptom, you press the button on the monitor, and then the phone displays some choices to describe the symptom. You tap the appropriate description and go back to whatever you were doing. You just have to keep the phone within 10 feet; if you go out of range, the data will download when you’re close again.
Pretty amazing. And relatively easy to manage. You can’t get it wet, so you have to pause the study and remove the monitor when taking a shower or bath. I also find that my skin needs a break every 24 hours from the electrode patches, which cause a mild rash, even as I asked for the extra-sensitive skin version. So I wait about a half hour after my evening shower before reattaching everything. In the morning, I just switch out the monitors.
My cardiologist said that if I experience enough symptoms over the first week or so, I can call him and see if he can get an early version of the report, so that we can end the study. I’m hoping that will be the case. I’ve certainly recorded symptoms at least a dozen times so far. From what he tells me, it’s probably nothing serious, just an annoyance that I continue to live with. But I’m glad that we’ll have an updated baseline, at the very least.
Ironically, he also predicted that my symptoms might vanish, or at least lessen, once I have the monitor on. That was certainly true for the first 24 hours or so. How odd to have the presence of the monitor be somehow a placebo or, at least, a reassurance that I’m going to get some answers. The disconcerting experience of the extra beats, especially when they go in runs, is worse when I don’t know what it means.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to get in some walks, despite a lot of snow here in recent days and much colder temperatures. That, and trying to better manage my news diet. The winter solstice is one day past. Let there be light.
Image: Jude Beck