It was like a very quiet ambulance. The siren finally caught my attention and I realised that it had been there in the background. My phones lay on the desk, and I wondered which of them was demanding attention. My constant battles with technology predisposed me to ignoring anything that didn’t need me immediately, but this was insistent. Sigh. Was it the Blackberry or the Nokia?
The Nokia was mine, with its clear icons and simplicity. How I fought against the idea of owning a mobile phone, the hassle of keeping it with me in my handbag and being pressured to answer it whenever it rang. Too much bother! As for charging it constantly – there were already enough routines in my life. So my husband went out and bought the lime green phone and presented it to me, saying I would get used to it.
Gradually it became part of my life. I enjoyed the quick chats with my family in stolen moments at work down on the Peninsula and being able to make last minute arrangements. Text messages became my new language. My learning, however, was on a need-to-know basis. Like when the phone rang while my husband was preaching a sermon and I couldn’t mute it…
And then the Blackberry landed on my desk at work, a gift from the Business Manager. This was to be my work device from now on, said the memo. Oh goodness, how would I keep two devices going? Two networks, two chargers and two ring tones. Now my work emails were immediately visible and I could not escape.
And now something was going off like an alarm and I had no idea which one it was, but it tapped into my technological angst. Would these little palm-sized invaders never be quiet? I lay my head on the desk and tried to discern the origin of the sound. It seemed closer, but just as I felt I was nearer to the source, it stopped. Thank goodness.
There it is again! We were having a meeting in my office at school on the Mornington Peninsula and the sound started again. With an edge to my voice, I interrupted the meeting and said to my colleagues,
‘Can you hear that alarm? You all have your devices here – do we have a bug in our system? I don’t trust these new Blackberries!’
They looked at me quizzically and one person looked out the window.
‘Sounds like a reversing truck!’ It wasn’t. The college was located in rural Tyabb and there was no large vehicle in sight. Just students and cows. But at least others could hear it – it was not in my imagination! My theory was firming up; our phones were out of control and were randomly malfunctioning. I had heard about the bugs that invade devices; I would call in the technicians.
It was early the next morning, a Saturday. I woke up, startled – it was happening again! My remaining shred of logic told me that my colleagues were not with me in bed. The demanding sound was not emanating from anyone else’s device. I lay there for a few seconds to clarify that I wasn’t dreaming, then woke my husband.
‘Can you hear that sound?’ I asked. At that instant, it stopped, and he looked hard at me.
‘Are you OK?’ came the concerned query. He had good reason to be worried about me.
‘No,’ My devices were in another room, consistent with my determination that they would not rule my life.
The next morning, I was woken again. Completely unnerved by this time, I began jumping around the bed, trying to determine the direction of the insistent sound. My husband, who by now was probably quite concerned for his wife’s mental health, looked intently at me and said,
‘It’s you! It’s coming from you!’
In that instant, I knew exactly what it was: my pacemaker/defibrillator. I felt like Peter Pan’s crocodile that swallowed a clock. Except, to my knowledge, I had done no such thing.
A year before I had had a cardiac defibrillator implanted because I have an enlarged heart. It is also life insurance should I go into ventricular fibrillation. All had gone smoothly, but recently I had felt unwell again, short of breath with the familiar deep fatigue that had previously plagued me. Too busy to follow up, I had pushed the malaise aside, intending to see my GP. No-one had bothered to tell me that the implanted device had an alarm!
For two weeks, that alarm had been sounding inside my body and I could not believe that I hadn’t figured it out – that I could have had such a level of denial about a high tech, expensive, foreign object buried below my left shoulder. My brain had relegated the presence of the implanted device to the ‘Don’t want to know about it’ department and simply did not make the obvious connection between my lack of wellbeing and the insistent alarm that was intended to alert me.
A trip to the pacemaker lab at Frankston Hospital and a few taps on the computer screen, and my settings were restored; I bounced out of the hospital feeling well and relieved. I cancelled the major scans and tests scheduled for the next day – what an amazing and instantaneous recovery! Apparently, I must have unknowingly been exposed to magnetic emission which had destabilised my pacemaker and reverted it to the default factory settings, which were not good for me! My device was patiently sending out distress signals, as it was programmed to do.
Recently I had my fourth and upgraded iteration of the device inserted, which now comes with an app that sends every one of my heartbeats every day by Bluetooth to my cardiologist. No more alarms: he will call me if I am in trouble. My new smart phone is my comforting constant companion. I had no idea that I would feel so grateful for my technology.