THE BLOG
04/17/2012 10:31 am ET | Updated Jun 17, 2012

My New Pacemaker: Some Teachers Will Do Anything to Get Out of State Testing

The following blog was written in the early morning hours Wednesday.

Alone with my thoughts.

That is a scary enough prospect, but at this point Tuesday afternoon I would have opted for any momentary diversion. I could have even listened to Fox News analysts explaining why Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum had dropped out of the presidential race.

I remembered something I had said earlier to one of my fellow teachers. "All I want to do right now is live through the MAP tests." I wish I had chosen my words more carefully. Only a few hours earlier, I had started my students on the communication arts (reading) portion of the annual standardized tests, which have become, to many, the be-all and end-all of Missouri public education.

After about a half hour of that initial exam, I left East Middle School for my own tests and those tests had led me to this small, sparsely-decorated room at the Freeman Heart Institute in Joplin.

The journey to this examining room had taken just three days. I noticed Saturday night while taking my blood pressure that my pulse rate was less than half of its usual number. I thought it might be the machine, but a test on another machine Sunday and one in the school nurse's office Monday morning led me to call my doctor, who scheduled an appointment Tuesday morning.

I arrived at East at my usual time, approximately 6:30 a.m., prepared for the first day of MAP tests and began giving them at 8:30 a.m. until my principal stepped in to allow me to leave for my appointment at 9:30. After checking me out, my doctor told me the numbers were nothing to be alarmed about ... and then immediately left to set up tests at the Heart Institute for 1 p.m.

I love mixed messages.

I returned to East for another hour and a half, left for the afternoon appointment, and that is when the fun began in earnest. The waiting room was filled almost to capacity. "Wall-to-wall old people," I thought. "What am I doing here?" Then my faulty memory kicked in and I recalled the 56-year-old face I had seen in the mirror when I was shaving a few hours earlier. "These aren't old people," I silently corrected myself. "We're all just at the beginning of an AARP adventure."

After about an hour, a door opened and a nurse said, "William Turner." When I go by my real name, as I have to when I fill out the paperwork for doctor appointments, I feel like I am using an alias.

The nurse led me to the first of two examination rooms I would see before leaving the Institute. As I waited 15 minutes for the doctor, the only sound in the room was the droning of the air conditioning. My reading material, the charts on the wall, was not comforting. One chart showed varying forms of heart disease. The other, more upbeat, told me "we are in charge of our attitudes." In other words, be ready to be positive when they give you the bad news.

The doctor took my blood pressure, which was slightly elevated, but the pulse rate was normal. "A miracle cure," I thought. I had done all of this worrying for nothing. The doctor ordered some tests and another waiting period began. I filled out more paperwork, adding to the six pages I had completed upon arrival, and waited for the tests to begin.

First, I was told to remove my shirt, then the nurse shaved areas of my chest in preparation for an EKG. I have always been ticklish, but somehow I managed to stifle my laughter. After I was hooked up and tests were taken, I was put on a treadmill.

At the slow speed, for some reason it was excruciating and I had some difficulty breathing. "Take longer steps like you're walking," the nurse said. "You don't walk with short steps like that, do you?"

"Yes, I do," I said, but I did as she asked. Surprisingly, when she increased the treadmill to a higher speed, I actually felt more comfortable, but the highest speed did me in quickly. After I finished the treadmill test, I heard the nurses talking about how hard it was to get a reading from me. Apparently, my miracle cure was an apparition.

And that led me to the final examination room and there was no subtlety about this one. One poster talked about people with low or below normal heart pumping ability. The other offered information about the electrical conduction system of the heart.

After staring at the two posters and preparing myself for the worst for 20 minutes, the doctor's assistant entered the room.

"The doctor would like to schedule you to have a pacemaker implanted tomorrow," she said.

The 20 minutes and the posters led me to expect that, but it was still difficult to hear the words. "I guess that's better than the alternative," I responded. Humor has always worked well for me in serious situations.

She told me how much better I would feel after the pacemaker is implanted and reminded me of what could happen if I did not have the procedure -- the possibility of passing out in front of my students.

"Or worse," I thought, and that would be the last thing these students need to see after all they have been through.

I asked some questions about the procedure, all of which I am sure she has heard hundreds of times.

"No," she said, "you don't have to worry about microwave ovens," and "you will be able to be more active, not less.' Then I asked the big question, "When will I be able to go back to work?"

Since my first day at the Newton County News in 1977, I have only missed one day of work. I pride myself on showing up every day and giving my best effort. "You might be able to go back Friday," she said, "but I would advise you to take the rest of the week off."

And that is exactly what I am going to do.

At first, I comforted myself with the thought that many others have gone through the same routine procedure. The only one I could think of, however, was former Vice President Dick Cheney.

"And he's still around," I thought. Then I thought about it some more. "And he just had a heart transplant!" There has to be someone else.

I never came up with any other names, which is probably a good sign, since that would indicate those people aren't having the problems Dick Cheney had.

In about five hours, I will return to Freeman Heart Institute, and if all goes according to plan the procedure will begin at about noon.

As always, I deal with the worries (and yes, I know hundreds of similar procedures are performed successfully every day, but this is one is being done on me) by writing about them. At first, I thought about waiting until afterward to post this, but how would I be able to write the sequel if I don't publish the first part of the story?

Later today, after my students have completed the second day of MAP testing, my big test will begin. I have faith that my eighth graders and I are going to excel.

You will just have to wait for the sequel.

Note: The operation went without a hitch. I am sore and tired, but feeling much better. And I will be at East Middle School 6:30 a.m. Monday. Even better, all of the standardized tests have been given.