By Kathleen Hutchinson
17 Mar

A Birthday Reflection on Medical Advancements

Thursday, March 17, 2016

I celebrated my 45th birthday last week. It’s been true for me—your mind never gets old, just your body. I feel great and I feel young as ever. 45 is the new 25, amirite?

I don’t feel old but 45 sure does SOUND old. I mean, it’s close to 50!! But, I digress…

30 years ago feels like yesterday. OK, maybe not yesterday, but last year? Today, I would like to take note of how far medical technology has come.

Every time I visit the cardiologist, even when I was in the hospital for my 5th open heart surgery, I cannot help reflect on childhood memories and be in awe at the advancements in medicine.

One particular piece of equipment gets me every time—the EKG. When I was younger, there were so many wires, messy, gooey gel and suction cups. Lots of buttons to push and turn with yards of EKG strips of my heart rhythm. Now, it takes longer to place 12 leads and pull them off than it does to actually capture your heart rhythm on six inches of strip.

I don’t want to show my age to the EKG technician but I am unable to control myself. I tell them about the days of old and they are dumbfounded and cannot imagine the archaic ways. Some say they’ve heard the legendary tales.

The EKG machine is now about the size of a fax machine, a long way since 1928 when the table model electrocardiogram machine weighed 50 pounds and was powered by a 6-volt automobile battery.

At the end of last year, I had an appointment with my new cardiac specialist at UCLA. He had the coolest device—a handheld echocardiogram machine. It was about the size of the iPhone 6 Plus. Maybe I need to get out more, but I couldn’t believe it. He was able to exam my heart and valves on the spot. It’s handy for a quick look but it does not replace a full echocardiogram.

For years, I wasn’t receiving the proper care so when I landed in the hospital late 2014, and learned I needed a pacemaker and pulmonary valve replacement, I was scared. Pacemakers were once the size of a Walkman or bigger, now they can fit in the palm of your hand. I’m not certain of the history with mechanical/tissue valves; however, one of my doctors had said to me, “Time is on your side. Medicine is advancing so quickly, imagine where we’ll be in 7-10 years when you need to replace your ICD and in 15 years when your valve needs replacing?” It may sound strange, but he is right and I found comfort in his words.

I’ve only attended one local adult congenital heart conference since my surgeries and I departed the conference impressed. We have come so far. We’re using 3D printers to create working models of an individual’s heart so physicians have the ability to test a procedure first, determining what works and what doesn’t. I don’t know about you, but I think that is amazing.

Because there is so much more to learn, I’m seriously considering attending this year’s National Conference. Should I attend, I’ll be prepared to be blown away.

A short side note, as I attempted to Google history of heart technology, I tried many phrase variations. When I searched for “EKG 1976,” IMDb listed a television show from the 1970s. Wait, does the internet not go back that far? Wow, now I really feel old!

What cool technological advances have you seen or experienced? I would love to hear your legendary tales.

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