Jim Beam column: E5s leading me to better days

Published 8:23 am Saturday, February 10, 2024

My 90 years of health invincibility took another hit this week in the form  of a heart pacemaker. The little device that is implanted in the upper part of the chest does exactly what the name implies.

Unfortunately, a lifetime of low heart rates eventually caught up with me. Medical folks have been questioning me about that heart rate in the mid-40s for many years. Most of them asked, “’Are you a marathon runner?”

“No,” I told them, but I said that Jo Ann, my late wife, and I started exercising  at the McNeese State University recreation center in the early 1980s and I haven’t stopped since.

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The Ward 3 Recreation Center on Power Center Parkway is where I have been lifting weights three days a week and walking 30 minutes six days a week for the last eight years.

A week from this past Wednesday, I realized I had overdone things. When I took my blood pressure it was 88 over 44. That was an immediate sign something was wrong.

My pressure had been nearly that low once before and Dr. K. Lance Gould, my cardiologist in Houston who has been treating me since 1990,  told me to drop my nighttime blood pressure pill and that did the trick.

I waited until later that low-pressure Wednesday to take my pressure again and “E5” kept popping up, but no pressure. I decided to drop that second nighttime pill again in hopes that was the problem.

When I got another E5 the next day, I decided the heart monitoring machine that Jo Ann and I had used for a long time must be broken. So on the following Saturday I purchased a new one and, you guessed it, I got more E5s on the new machine.

Jessica, my granddaughter, came over later that day and I asked her to check her blood pressure on both machines. Both worked perfectly.

“Grampa,” she said, “you need to go to Urgent Care.” I did and they couldn’t get a reading either on the first try. They brought in a bigger machine, which got two readings, both in the 160 range at the top and 60 something in the bottom. The nurse practitioner said I should resume those evening blood pressure pills Gould talked about.

I decided to try to check my blood pressure again Tuesday. I got E5s on the new machine each time and the instruction manual said I should consult with my physician.

I left immediately to go see Dr. Edward Hebert, my local internist. After taking my pressure and an EKG, he asked me to call Gould, who previously said my low heart rate reading might someday mean I would need  a pacemaker.

The two physicians spoke by phone and agreed a pacemaker was necessary. Hebert told me to get someone to drive me to the Memorial Hospital emergency room where he had set me up for the visit. My heart rate was in the 30s, and Hebert said I shouldn’t be  driving.

After running a number of tests, it was clear a pacemaker was necessary. I was set up for one on Wednesday morning. Dr. Edward Bergen and his extremely efficient assistant nurses did a masterful job and I spent that night in the hospital. They didn’t have to put me under and only gave me a relaxant that did the job.

X-rays were taken Thursday morning and Bergen, a pacemaker official, and the hospital doctor all told me there were good heart connections to the pacemaker.

I was attached to a heart monitor for three days, and to an arm sling after the surgery to protect the area where the implanted pacemaker is located. Bryan, my son who stayed with me most of the time at the hospital, and I were able to leave the hospital around noon Thursday.

There was one downside. Going to the bathroom with one arm in a sling, a heart monitor hanging around my neck, and a hospital gown that kept falling off my shoulder was extremely tough. Overall, however, I got great care and am looking forward to better days with that pacemaker.


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