Today’s announcement: I have entered the world of wearable health tech. This was not planned. In fact, it’s something I’ve avoided, because I didn’t want to obsess about how many steps I’ve taken each day. However, I learned some things from my heart study that made this a priority. So I am now wearing my new Apple Watch, which has already proven its worth.
Back in December and early January, as I’ve written previously, I did a three-week Holter monitor study, because my arrhythmia had been very active in recent months. And, as expected, the study validated my observations, fortunately with the reassuring news that my annoying arrhythmia is still within the normal range of abnormal, as it has been for decades. A nuisance, more than anything.
However, the study also recorded a more concerning development, one 15-second episode of a Type 2 Heart Block. There are two types of Type 2 Heart Blocks, and true to form, mine was the more complicated, which involves a blockage of certain electrical signals so they don’t transmit properly and the heart slows down. In my case, I had no symptoms of my heart rate slowing, because one part of my heart doubled the number of electrical signals it was sending, but only half of those transmitted, so the result was my normal heart rate.
This was rather disturbing news. I’ve known for years that scleroderma can cause changes to heart tissue over time. I had a long discussion with my cardiologist about this several weeks ago, and we agreed that I needed some way to keep monitoring my heart in case I do experience episodes of sudden light-headedness or dizziness going forward. This has happened to me on occasion over the years, but even though I felt weird, it was so infrequent that I just let it pass. The options were: (a) a mini portable ECG monitor that I could use to record readings and then email reports to him; (b) an Apple Watch, which has an ECG app that I could use to do the same; or (c) a small chest implant that would monitor my heart for three years.
The implant was a non-starter. The mini portable ECG was the most affordable, but a nuisance to carry with me all the time. So, I went for the watch. Fortunately, I could afford it. Not cheap, but a powerful little computer to wear on your wrist with many useful features.
I put the system to the test recently, when I got quite stressed one Friday evening when I was trying to reach Al and could not get hold of him (it all worked out, but it was one of those days). My arrhythmia kicked up big time, so after Al got home and all was well again, I took several ECG readings on my new watch. I picked the first and the last when I felt back to normal, and emailed the PDFs from my iPhone to my cardiologist with a note. Within a half hour, he wrote me back that these were the “okay” kind of extra beats, so no problem, but to keep him posted. We’re catching up again this Friday.
This was very reassuring. I’ve had no cause to send any more ECGs since then, but I am now learning to use my watch to track exercise. It’s always been clear to me that my heart feels better when I walk, but I’ve been avoiding it because of the cold weather. Now, however, I have a big incentive to get moving. And I have a very cool way to keep track of steps, exercise, calories burned, and general movement. Already, I’ve pushed myself out the door for walks that I wouldn’t have taken before all of this. I’ve tried out a fitness routine. And I do feel a little better for it all, so far.
It’s been a month of coming to terms, or, at least, beginning to come to terms with the fact that this very ornery disease still has some curve balls to throw at me. I have lived with scleroderma for nearly 40 years, now. I’ve been fortunate that my disease has always moved slowly enough for me to learn how to compensate. With the help of some amazing tech and a wonderful cardiologist, I intend to continue doing just that.