Monday, June 14, 2021

The things I do

The hardest thing about suddenly living alone is learning to live alone. It’s not merely about keeping our own company, though that can be a challenge for some people. Instead, it’s about having to take sole responsibility for absolutely everything, every day, and that gets exhausting. Theoretically, that should get easier over time, but it certainly isn’t easy at the start. For some of us, monitoring our own health can add another burden to the mix.

For more than twenty months I’ve been re-learning how to live alone. It’s not just that for 24 years I lived with Nigel, but also that for more than a decade before that I lived with one or more people, whether flatmates or with a partner. Its been some 35 years since I was alone all the time, so I’m not even remotely used to it. Add to that how important Nigel was in my life, and that’s a recipe for disaster right there.

Some people think about the opportunities I have, to decorate the house however I want, to choose what to buy for it, what to discard, all of that, without having to consult anyone else is a great. The reality is very different: Having to consider Nigel when making a decision about something wasn’t a burden, so I had nothing to be liberated from. All of which makes my situation now seem unreal to me. So, I get to choose how the house is decorated and equipped—big deal. Supposedly “good” things like that are far outweighed by the bad.

Like health, for example.

Since 2016, I’ve had a string of health issues, beginning with that cardiac stent and continuing right through to two bouts of tachycardia (one requiring hospitalisation) and one bout of atrial fibrillation (which also required hospitalisation). Every step of the way, Nigel was there for me. As I put it a month after Nigel died, while I was still living alone in our house in Auckland:
[I]t scares the crap out of me that I might have another afib incident while living here, all alone, and have no choice other than to call an ambulance, no matter how difficult that would be (dealing with the dogs, for example). Nigel took care of me when I had an afib incident and helped keep me from freaking out. That’s all gone now, and I have to rely on myself, and that’s frankly terrifying.
My anxiety was eased a little bit when I drew up a Will, but that mostly just took care of my fear that I might die from a broken heart, as I talked about at the time. The anxiety about possible health problems persisted well after I moved to Hamilton, and the major reason for that was the fact I was alone and needed to figure out how to monitor myself, and to try to make up for the fact that Nigel was no longer there to notice subtle changes I wouldn’t see.

Not very long after I moved, I ordered the six-lead version of a device called KardiaMobile, which performs a basic ECG and detects atrial fibrillation (afib), tachycardia (unusually fast heart rate), and bradycardia (unusually slow heart rate). When I first saw the cardiologist way back in June 2018, he recommended the device, adding “it’s rather expensive though—around $400.”

For a variety of reasons, especially that I just didn’t get around to it, I didn’t order one. Then the new Apple Watch later came out, and it had the ability to monitor not just heart rate, but also detect afib. Unfortunately, at the time that function was only licensed in the USA, and so, it made no sense to get a new watch which didn’t even have the afib detection capability in New Zealand.

More time passed, and after Nigel died I remembered the device. The sole importer into New Zealand was out of stock—though their price was far less than $400. After I moved to Hamilton, I looked again, and they had it, but I’d also stumbled across the fact that there was a newer version that was the equivalent of a six-lead ECG, while the NZ distributor only carried the 2-lead version. So, I ordered the 6-lead version from a supplier in the USA (also under $400)—just as Covid-19 was starting to take off. It arrived at my door the day before NZ Lockdown began.

When the device arrived, I took it out of the shipping box and left it on the table for a few days in case it had any virus on it (at the time, it never occurred to me to wipe down the shrink-wrapped box with alcohol, something I did once I was able to order-in things again). A photo of the still shrink-wrapped box is up top; the photo below shows my device out of its box.

The first time I used the device, it found no irregular rhythms, which is what I would’ve expected, but it also showed me that I had it set-up, and was using it, correctly. After that, I used it whenever I felt “odd” (often after taking my blood pressure), and each time it was normal. The reassurance was more valuable to me than I can possibly express.

After I had the cryoablation procedure in December last year, I used the KardiaMobile frequently (and randomly), just to make sure I haven’t had tachycardia or afib. That’s been reassuring, too, because it showed that going off the dangerous drug didn’t put me into afib.

I’m now using it periodically to make sure the change to my heart rhythm drug (which I talked about last week) doesn’t cause problems. It’s important to note it’s highly improbable there will be any problems at the moment because the daily dosage is the same; problems, if there are any, wouldn’t be likely to happen until I start reducing the daily dosage.

This was the best I could do to monitor my health in a way that was somewhat like the close observations of me Nigel would’ve made, though his would have been based on him seeing changes in my behaviour or bearing that I wouldn’t see, and mine was based on, basically, clinical data. It’s the best I can do.

The two together—Nigel’s observations and my clinical data—would have been a formidable force, but that’s not possible now. Even so, I’m sure it’s no surprise to hear that whenever I’ve used the device I’ve thought about Nigel, as if he was there helping me, and also comforting and reassuring me. The device has pretty dramatically reduced my anxiety and worry about what “could” happen, and the fact that Nigel’s not here to help me. To me, then, this purchase was among the best-spent few hundred dollars of my entire life.

I’m still learning to live alone, how to take sole responsibility for absolutely everything, every day. It can be exhausting, but at least I found a way to monitor my own health, and that’s definitely taken a burden out of the mix. It may not sound like all that much, but it’s one of things I do to deal with the additional responsibilities and burdens I now have in my solo life. And, so far it works.

Important note: This is about my own personal health journey. My experiences are my own, and shouldn’t be taken as indicative for anyone else. Similarly, other people may have completely different reactions to the same medications I take—better or worse. I share my experiences because others may have the same or similar experiences, and I want them to know that they’re not alone. But, as always, discuss your situation and how you’re feeling openly, honestly, and clearly with your own doctor, and always feel free to seek a second opinion from another doctor.


Roger Owen Green said...

My baby sister is in hospital presently. Fortunately, her daughter has been down there, just like my niece and sister were down there when my mom was in decline.

I suspect my wife will have to do this for me, quite possibly in the next 2 to 5 years when my irregular heart rhythm will require me to have surgery.

Meanwhile, I take my BP, pulse, and temp every day.

Arthur Schenck said...

Having support is crucial. I doubt I'd be alive now if I hadn't had it.