"No Heart Monitor for Me, Thanks, I'm Drivin'"

The only story I can tell to bring Operation Gadget back from the dead is one about my wife and what she's been through.

On November 7, Kathleen was in a car accident that scared the heck out of us. She fainted while behind the wheel on Interstate 95 about four miles from our house. Kathleen was seven months pregnant at the time.

Although the car was stopped on the roadside, it wasn't in park, so the car travelled across the southbound lanes of traffic and struck a median barrier. The car was miraculously not struck by another vehicle, otherwise Kathleen and the baby could have been killed.

Kathleen was transported to a nearby hospital and spent 10 hours in the Labor and Delivery Unit being tested for cardiac and neurological problems as well as for signs of premature labor. She was given a clean bill of health then, although she was encouraged not to drive until after she delivered because of what was thought to be a benign fainting spell at a really inopportune time.

The driving restriction had a big impact on family life and logistics, and was initially the number one reason I stopped blogging here. Since she was still allowed to work and wanted to do so, I became the chauffeur for the next 9 weeks. This ate up a lot of discretionary time.

What we didn't realize at the time was that Kathleen might have been experiencing signs of a condition that would fully manifest itself on the day of her scheduled c-section on January 21. She experienced shortness of breath, persistent tiredness, and a number of other symptoms that her obstetrician and cardiologist attributed to the late stages of pregnancy.

However during the c-section Kathleen went into heart failure. Although she came out of the procedure with a beautiful new son named Peter and in stabile condition herself, her heart was extremely weak. So much so that she had to be transferred from the community hospital where Peter was born to the Cardiac Care Unit of a major Philadelphia hospital.

She was later diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy, a rare but potentially fatal condition that afflicts a small percentage of women in the time around giving birth. This was a big shock, but Kathleen made a fantastic recovery. After spending five days there, she was able to walk out of the CCU and go home to continue her recovery.

Kathleen left the hospital wearing an external defibrillator vest. Her cardiologists wanted to rule out the possibility that she had an arrhythmia condition that might have caused her to faint before her November car accident. That sort of condition might also have been the cause of a six-second run of ventricular tachycardia that occurred to her while she was on the table during a cardiac catheterization procedure.

Over the next three weeks, she didn't have any further arrhythmia episodes, so the cardiologists cleared her to stop wearing the defibrillator. Then the cardiologists put her on a telemetric heart monitor to monitor her electrocardiogram (EKG) in higher resolution than the defibrillator monitor could, just to ensure there were no further signs of an arrhythmia.

She spent another three weeks with that contraption before being cleared to remove it. Including her time in the hospital, she was monitored for a total of about seven weeks.

Operation Gadget has often featured reviews and discussion of heart rate monitors used for athletic training purposes. We aren't reviewing these devices that Kathleen has used. They aren't about fun and games. They're nearly as serious as the cardiac events that they try to prevent.

None of Kathleen's cardiologists felt comfortable with her returning to driving a car before she had extensive telemetric heart monitoring and a tilt table test. She had to wait weeks after the c-section for all of these tests to run their course or take place.

In the past eight weeks, we've had a lot of fun times and a lot of hard times, but the focus has been on getting Peter off to a good start and getting Kathleen back on the road, literally and figuratively. When you have two kids under the age of three and you live in a small house, you need to be able to drive if only to give the kids or yourself a change of pace.

Kathleen started driving last week. Her first trip was out with Jimmy and Peter to Target, a place where Kathleen and Jimmy used to shop together quite often before Peter was born. It seems like trivia, but making a trip like that is a big step toward Kathleen getting her personal autonomy back.

I want to salute Kathleen who has shown great personal courage in getting through a scary time. I can't think of anybody who's had a more positive outlook in the face of the frightening possibilities of a medical diagnosis.

Life has been getting back to normal for some time, and now is the time to bring this blog back to life. I hope Operation Gadget is as interesting as it used to be. Welcome back to reading it.

{Updated / corrected information in this post is shown in italics.}