Saturday, March 15, 2008

Rules Are NOT Made to be Broken

I’m a real stickler for the rules.

When my parents and teachers told me to do well in school because an education would help me get a job later on in life, I did as I was told for fear of being homeless.

When they told me to stay away from drugs because the substances had harmful effects, I did what I was told for fear of being brainless.

My mind works in extreme, neurotic ways, but I think that’s a good thing. I’m 31 years old and I’ve never really gotten into any trouble. And I’m very healthy -- for the most part. I had an incident last year where my heart stopped for nine seconds.
Doctors thought I might die if I didn’t get a pacemaker. So I got a pacemaker -- for fear of dying.

With the pacemaker came a whole new set of rules and consequences I needed to obsessively learn. No tackle football for me. But at 155 pounds, I’m already risking my life playing tackle football.

I no longer can stand near the microwave. And there’s yet another good reason why I shouldn’t go near a kitchen.

I’m not allowed to go for an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan of my body, which is fine with me. (After watching the scene in “Shawshank Redemption” where the main character crawls through a very claustrophobic sewer pipe, I had to run out of the theater for air.)

I’m not allowed to carry cell phones, iPods or magnets in my shirt pockets anymore. Such devices in close proximity to my pacemaker could put me back in the hospital for another surgery. Not a tough debate there.

So since I’m a stickler for the rules and since I don’t want to go under the knife again, I’ve been a good rule-follower. But my discipline recently annoyed my cardiologist when he wanted to test my pacemaker over the phone while I was in his office. He asked me to put a magnet up to my chest where my pacemaker was located.

“I’m sorry, I just can’t put a magnet up to my chest,” I told the doctor. “It’s against the rules.”

The doctor said that the magnet placed on my chest would allow him the ability to get a full diagnostic read of my pacemaker over the phone through some machine on his end. He assured me that the magnet wouldn’t harm me, though it would speed up my heart and would feel a bit “weird.”

“Weird?” That’s not what I wanted to hear. I don’t like “weird.”

“No thanks,” I said to the doctor. “I won’t ever need to test my pacemaker from home over the phone. I’ll just come into the office like usual if you want to test it.”

Like the doctor who told me I needed a pacemaker, this doctor wasn’t asking me to put the magnet up to my chest.

“Take the magnet,” the doctor demanded, a bit annoyed with my childish behavior.

My hand was like another being, as I had no control over it. I tried to get it to take the magnet, but my hand just wouldn’t obey.

The doctor grew more impatient, and as a result, I somehow forced my hand to take the magnet.

“Put it up against your chest,” the doctor said.

I got my hand to move the magnet in the right direction, but I couldn’t actually put the magnet on my chest. If you stick a fork in an electrical socket and get shocked, your brain tells you not to do that again. If you put your hand in a fire and your hand melts, your brain tells you not to do that again either. Every bit of my brain was telling my hand not to stick that magnet on my chest, yet the doctor, much like peer pressure, was telling me, “Go ahead, you’ll be fine. Every one of my patients is doing it.”

Fortunately, or unfortunately, my wife came with me to the appointment, and she actually took the magnet from my disobedient hand and stuck it on my chest for the doctor to perform the test diagnosis over the phone. The magnet sped up my heart like the doctor said. My arm, without my doing, actually jumped like a fish does out of water.

“See, that wasn’t so bad,” both my wife and doctor said in cadence.

I verbally agreed. But between you and me, I’m never doing that again.

-February 2008

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