Summer, 2019: I was on a long bike ride on the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail when I first lost consciousness, passing out mid-sentence while talking about 1970s TV shows. I woke up in the brush, my friend Tammy screaming my name in my face. Luckily, I only had a few scrapes. We walked our bikes for a mile to find cell service to call my husband. I wasn’t hurt, but it was alarming.
I met with my primary care provider and we adjusted my blood pressure and migraine medications and implemented dietary changes. For a while I felt better. But when it happened again in 2020 and I damn near killed myself, we knew there was more going on.
A stress test at UVM Medical Center showed a Mobitz type 2 block in the electrical system of my heart that was only present when I was exercising. My doctor explained this is a serious form of heart block that generally presents itself during exercise. I always assumed I’d have issues with my heart, such conditions run in my family, but I never expected it in my 50s.
I met with Nathaniel Thompson, MD, a clinical cardiac electrophysiologist at UVM Medical Center, who made me feel totally at ease, insisting I call him Nate. He talked to me with respect and patience and asked me about my hobbies and lifestyle. Fitness is really important to me. Dr. Thompson laid out my options and we determined that if I wanted to continue to be active, a pacemaker was the best choice.
I was so nervous about the surgery. The very idea of having a tiny machine plugged into my heart like an iPhone charger was so frightening (I’m a horror writer by trade so I know scary), not to mention that we were in the middle of a global pandemic. But when I arrived at the hospital everyone made me feel so comfortable and safe. The cardiology suite they put me in was larger and better appointed than most of the New York City apartments I lived in when I was young! The care team, from the anesthesiologist to the young man who wheeled me out front at discharge, were so kind and empathetic. They really made me feel cared for.
For something I expected to be traumatic, it was a shockingly pleasant experience. Hopefully I won’t need further surgery or procedures for a good long while, but if I do, I will not hesitate to go back to UVM Medical Center. I’m cycling again on my fat-wheeled bike and am so grateful to the staff at the hospital.
Ann Dávila Cardinal lives in Morrisville with her husband and son.