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Heart-Stopping Stress Why I Had a Pacemaker Implanted a Month Before My Wedding
In April of 1998, a month before I was to marry my wonderful husband, Shawn, and find out whether or not I’d passed the bar exam, my body decided I didn’t have enough stress on my plate: It threw in a life-threatening health condition on top of the two most important events of my adult life. I made it through unscathed and happier than ever, but looking back on those days, I’m not exactly sure how. On April Fools’ day that year, as I was driving to my intern job at the law firm, I blacked out for a split second at the wheel. This terrifying development came completely out of nowhere. At first, it seemed like an isolated incident, so I kept on cruising down the road, with the worst headache imaginable. By the time I made it to the office, I started to feel woozy in a sickening way I’d never experienced. A few minutes later, I woke up on the floor, dazed, distantly aware that someone was talking to my mom on the phone. Soon I was in a hospital bed, answering a bunch of questions from a pack of doctors. “Are you eating okay?” I wasn’t. “Are you stressed?” Well yes, I was stressed, I told them. I was waiting for the results of the most insanely difficult and important test of my life while planning a picture-perfect ceremony and ... and then everything went black again. You never forget the first time a defibrillator sends an electric current through your chest. I awoke to a literal shock and a bunch of doctors hovering over me, plastic paddles in hand. After
everything had settled down a little, they gave me the lowdown: The signals from my brain to my heart were short-circuiting, causing my heart to stop intermittently with no rhyme or reason.
On top of all the chaos in my life, this entire debacle happened when I was 25, in the three-month window after I’d been forced off my parents’ health insurance and before I got my own. Somehow, in the midst of everything, I was concerned about money, a concern that only magnified after I’d been transferred to a better-equipped hospital for treatment and they gave me the real news: I had to have a pacemaker put in, or I would die. I did not take this well. “Are you crazy?” I asked. “I’m only 25 years old — now I have to have this huge box hanging off my body? Now I won’t even be able to eat microwave popcorn?” “First off all, you can have popcorn with a pacemaker,” the doctor replied. “You can go out and fill your house with microwaves, and you’ll be fine. Secondly, pacemakers are the size of a small spoonhead these days. They’re really not as inconvenient as you think.” I kept protesting. I told him that I didn’t have insurance, and even if I did, I was getting married in one short month. Couldn’t we do something to get me past that day? There was, he told me, but he wouldn’t recommend it. He had a look on his face like I’d gone insane. He stepped out
of the hospital room for a quick chat with my
fiancé and parents. “You have to convince her to have this
surgery,” he told them. “If she doesn’t go through with the procedure, she will die.” When they heard that, the situation was pretty much wrapped up. “This is not even a question,” Shawn told me. “You’re getting this done, Nicole.” After passing out and being rudely awakened by the defibrillator once more on the way to surgery, they installed the pacemaker in my body. The surgeons even scooted the normal incision spot down a few inches so that the minimal scar would be covered by my wedding dress. In the end, Shawn and I were married on our planned wedding day, May 30, with my pacemaker regulating my fluttering heartbeat. And needless to say, I passed the bar. Like I said, I’m not sure how I managed to survive the stress of that confluence of events. One thing’s certain, though — after going through that, dealing with other lawyers doesn’t seem so stressful.
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