HACKING YOUR HEARTBEAT

You thought this was a creepy, personal fantasy.
It turns out to be real. I told’ya, didn’t I?


FDA recalls close to half-a-million pacemakers over hacking fears


Turns out former Vice President (and erratic shooter) Dick Cheney was right all along: Your heart can be hacked. At least if you have a pacemaker, that is. On Tuesday, the FDA recalled 465,000 of the medical devices — the ones that help control your heart beat — citing security vulnerabilities. The pacemakers, which come from health company Abbott (formerly St. Jude Medical), require a firmware update. Fortunately, it can be installed by a health care provider in just three minutes. The models affected include the Accent, Anthem, Accent MRI, Accent ST, Assurity, and Allure.


EPISODE: NCIS – NEED TO KNOW (2012)


Tamer Hassan guest starred as Arms Dealer Agah Bayar.

Tamer Hassan guest starred as Arms Dealer Agah Bayar.

Alan Katzenbach, a lawyer, waits for Gibbs with his client, a chief petty officer named Leland Wiley. Wiley was busted for drugs and wants to trade information he has — which he claims involves national security and Agah Bayar, the arms dealer.

Gibbs is interested. Wiley comes over to talk, but grabs his heart and drops to the ground.

Gibbs comes for the update from Ducky. Turns out, Wiley had top security clearance and his workstation is locked down. They haven’t been able to connect him to Bayar yet.

Abby calls Gibbs to the lab. She tells him Wiley’s pacemaker was linked into a computer to monitor it. Someone hacked it and raised his heart rate up to more than 400 beats per minute.

“Somebody murdered Wiley by remote control,” she says.

What does this have to do with me?

Well, I’m glad you asked. This particular episode so intrigued the heart surgery team at Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston where a group of surgeons wanted to see if it COULD be done. Can you “attack” a pacemaker by remote control? One of the people that performed this experiment was my surgeon.

They did it, though my surgeon pointed out you had to be no more than a couple of feet from the pacemaker to do it. But you could do it. So, they contacted the manufacturer who changed the programming to protect it from potential attack. Cool, yes?

 


NOTES:

I had all that heart surgery in March 2014, not 2013 (how soon we forget) — which I now know was 2014 because I have implant cards to tell people what spare parts are in my body. Unfortunately, none of them indicates which part is which — which ones are implanted heart valves and which one is the pacemaker. Just trying to find out if my pacemaker is being recalled. I mean, my car is being recalled, so why not my pacemaker?

I also had one transplant card for each breast, but that one seems to have gone missing. Oh well … I believe that number is imprinted on the silicon baggies, so I’m sure they will find it as needed.


In theory, nobody can hack my pacemaker because the surgeons fixed it back in 2012. I am safe from remote terrorists. Which is good, because worrying about it was keeping me up at night.

I find it oddly comforting. Garry finds it disturbing. I suppose I can see where he’s coming from. He doesn’t like thinking about the mechanical and electronic stuff that keeps me alive. It would creep me out too, but I’m a bit of a geek and can detach from it on a personal level and get into the coolness of the electronics.

It is  kind of creepy. However, it doesn’t matter. No matter how I feel about it, I’ve got this thing in my chest. It keeps my heart beating. If my heart beat on its own, I wouldn’t need the pacemaker.

Every time I go for a pacemaker checkup, they use a little machine and briefly stop the pacemaker to see if my heart will beat without it. My heart stops beating. Talk about creepy. It is an icky feeling. Anyone with a pacemaker knows what I mean.

The blue tooth remote functions work. They are (in theory) more secure than they were before the NCIS episode aired and the guys got curious. Remote functionality is important. After all, I might need a remote tune-up. Blue tooth lets my doctor access my pacemaker from … how far? I don’t actually know. A considerable distance, whatever that is.

Garry — again — doesn’t want to know about it. I pointed out if someone murders me, this is potentially important evidence. He would rather not think about it.

So there we are. Too creepy?

I can feel my pacemaker. It’s in the hollow by my left shoulder. The outline is visible. I can feel the wires, the connections through my skin. It’s impossible to ignore. I might as well find it interesting. It’s part of me, after all.

OVERCOMING ADVERSITY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

The good news is that my son, David, now 37, is an amazing, well-adjusted adult. The bad news is that he had to overcome severe and consistent adversity to get there.

He started life as a preemie. He was born eight and a half weeks early, at 4 pounds 2 ounces, with Hyalin Membrane disease – his lungs weren’t working. At 36 hours old, his lung collapsed and had to be surgically re-inflated. He spent one week on oxygen and six weeks in an incubator before he could come home at 4 pounds 15 ounces. I got to watch his eyebrows and eyelashes grow in!

David and me in the Preemie unit. David is 6 weeks old and out of the incubator.

He had an amazing disposition as a child. He was happy, outgoing and friendly. But he was also hyperactive. He had behavior problems at school from day one. Teachers didn’t know what to do with this delightful kid who couldn’t sit still or keep his mouth shut and was often a distraction to the other kids.

At nine and a half years old, David had a tonsillectomy. The anesthesia didn’t work properly and he woke up during surgery. He was totally paralyzed but he could see and hear everything going on around him! This was a traumatic enough event to trigger PTSD. He was never the same after he came out of that surgery. One child went in and a different child came out. It was that dramatic!

David started getting sick all the time and missed a lot of school. His behavior problems got worse. The private schools in New York City didn’t have the resources, or the interest in dealing with children with ‘issues’. We moved to Connecticut and put the kids into a public school. This school had a Special Ed Department, a school psychologist and a Guidance Counselor , all of whom tried to help David as best they could.

David was diagnosed with ADHD. The only medication of the day for ADHD, Ritalin, had terrible side effects for him so he had to stop taking it. We tried numerous other drugs and therapies and some helped a little but not much.

David was also diagnosed with learning disabilities. And he had mood swings. He could function adequately for a while but then he would crash and not want to get out of bed or go to school. Everything was a struggle for him. His school years were a nightmare for the whole family.He somehow made it through High School, with the highest absentee record his school had ever seen. He went to a wonderful two-year college called Landmark, which is specifically for kids with various learning and behavior problems. For the first time, David was taught how to manage his ADHD and his learning disabilities. He was given the tools to help him handle his work and regulate his behavior. Landmark was a wonderful and transformative experience for David.

At 23, while finishing the remaining two years of college, his kidneys began to fail. He took a year off from school to recuperate. During this time, David taught himself about the stock market and switched his major from education to business. He graduated college and became a financial analyst, and is now also a portfolio manager.

At one point he had to be rushed to the hospital in kidney failure. He was told that his condition was chronic and that his kidneys would continue to fail until he needed a kidney transplant. His kidneys didn’t hit bottom till he was 32. But it was pretty rough on the way down. On April 12, 2012, I donated a kidney to him.

David at 27

Unfortunately, David is still not symptom free. He has side effects from the immune suppressants which all transplant recipients must take to avoid organ rejection. In addition, his kidney is not functioning at full capacity, so he has days when all he can do is sleep.

Fortunately, his attitude is amazingly positive. He is grateful to be alive. He uses every day to fight his demons and make a happy and productive life for himself and his loved ones. He is one of the most self-aware people I know. He had to fight to get here, but the fight itself is part of what has made him into the person he is – caring and empathetic, upbeat and funny, loyal and giving. I could go on and on.

David three years ago, at 34, with me and his sister

He says that he wouldn’t change anything in his life, however awful much of it was. Because that was the path he had to take to get him to the wonderful place he’s in now. I would love to be able to change his past, but I wouldn’t change a thing about who he is now and where he is in life.

RECITING THE MORNING WOES

A BRIEF RECITATION OF WOES ON THE EVE OF A SOLAR ECLIPSE

I was doing really well (for me) until I melted down last night. It doesn’t happen as often as it once did, but it happens. I’m fine. Then seconds later, I’m not.

The body falls apart. I’m not going to get graphic, but there’s a lot of nitroglycerin involved and some screaming (mine). Which upsets the dogs and despite their good intentions, the frantic barking didn’t help much. I’m pretty sure they want to know what they should do … and sadly, nothing is the answer. There’s not much anyone can do except be there in case someone has to call an ambulance.

I was smarter last night than I sometimes am. I did NOT take the blood pressure medicine because combined with the nitro, that generally makes me dangerously sick. This hit just before I would normally have taken meds and I knew enough, this time, to not go there. It was the high point of my evening.

It was late, too. No one to call. Not a mental thing. Nothing I could tell myself that would make the pain go away or get my breathing back.  Just something my body does, for no apparent reason though I’m thinking not having eaten properly or slept well for these four days probably didn’t help. Other than knowing there’s some kind of sleep and food connection, I have no idea what causes everything to cease up like that, but this has been happening a long time and is much worse now than it was years ago. Usually, I can pull out of it in less than an hour … at least to a point where I can stop screaming.

Last night was not one of those nights.

I am very tired. Not feeling much like writing or answering or for that matter, getting out of bed, but I had coffee brewing and was pretty sure the coffee would help.

I dreamed of the girls I grew up with. I haven’t seen any of them in more than 50 years, but there they were. Hanging out on Carol’s front porch — a house long knocked down and replaced. They all looked old.

Mary (left), Marilyn (middle), Carol (right). I think we were about 6 or 7.

I realized that I looked old too. I would have stopped to chat, but I wasn’t feeling well and went drifting homeward, worrying about dogs, knowing Garry’s on his way back. Needing to make myself at least not look like something that just crawled out from underneath the sink.

I can feel the coffee doing its job. Convincing my blood to move through veins. Helping my head to stop aching. Today will be better. I’m reasonably sure of that and the dogs are not as crazy as they were last night.

Apparently all that screaming upset them and Duke leapt the fence and slept in front of my door, refusing to move unless I emerged. He is a good boy.

I’ll be back tomorrow, but today? I’m taking the day off.

HOW HEMINGWAY FELT – RICH PASCHALL

The Final Sentence, by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


In a cold and sterile room, Ernie sat on the end of a table. He waited in brutal silence for someone to enter.  He studied the floor intently through his boredom.  The light-colored tile was clean.  He could find no dust in the corners, although he examined the areas closely.  One small window that could not be opened allowed a little sunlight to fall to the floor.  The counter along the wall was clear.  The cabinets were labeled with the contents.  And a small chair awaited an occupant.

Ernie did not feel well.  He had not felt well for months.  Perhaps it was longer.  He had been somewhat in denial until recently.  His body could no longer ignore what his brain had tried hard to conceal.  The persistent aches and acute pains had become a fact of life.  Now there was this, the reason for his waiting.  His vital signs had been taken, and he was made to sit on the end of a rather hard surface, trying not to think of what was to come.

Suddenly, there was a knock on the door.  The person on the other side announced himself and then came in.  He was a man in his mid 50’s according to Ernie’s way of thinking.  He was as official as official could look.  He sat in the small chair, put a file folder on the counter and began.

“Hello Ernie.  How are you doing today?” the businesslike gentleman asked.  He studied Ernie’s face for his response.

“Hello Dr. North.  I am doing OK, I guess,” Ernie lied in a tone that was not at all convincing.

“Really?” The doctor responded.  He had been treating Ernie’s ailments for over 15 years, so he knew all too well what were the complaints and attitudes that went with Ernie’s comments.

“Well, I guess it is not that good,” Ernie confessed.  “My neck and lower back are almost always in pain.  My right leg and arm sometimes get numb.  If I sit too long, it is hard to get up.”

This admission of his problems was a hard thing for Ernie.  He was only 61 and ardently believed that he should still be leading an active life.  He wanted to do everything he had done in his thirties.  As a bit of an adventurer, he wished to be off to foreign lands in search of new and exciting things to do.  He wished to climb mountains and paddle canoes down rivers.  He wanted to fish and to swim.  He wanted to ride a bike through small towns and villages of Europe.  In other words, he did not want life to change.  His hopes for the future could only be achieved with a time machine, however, and he did not have one of those.

The doctor proceeded to make a quick exam of Ernie.  He focused mainly on his coordination, flexibility and strength.  He was not pleased with the result.  He did not have to say that.  It was written all over his face.  Ernie knew it.  He was a good reader. Doctor North sat back down in the little chair and made notes in his folder.  Then he wrote a prescription and wrote down some phone numbers for Ernie.  He began with a voice that could only be described as sad.

“Ernie, I am sorry to say that your strength and flexibility are not what they used to be.  Some of this should be expected as we age.”

Ernie sat motionless and expressionless as Dr. North went on.

“The MRI you had last week revealed acute cervical spine disease.”

His patient did not react, so the good doctor continued.

“You have degenerative discs.  That is to say your spine is in bad shape.  That is why you have these pains and the occasional numbness.  We will treat that with some prescriptions now.  Here is Prednisone.  And you should see a specialist for this.  These are my recommendations.  This is what we can do in the short-term.”  At that, the doctor handed Ernie some papers.

“And in the long-term, doctor.   What about that?”

Dr. North looked down to avert his eyes.  He thought a moment and spoke without looking up.  “It’s not good.  This is something we can not make very much better.  It will get worse in time. I want you to get all of your treatment options from a specialist.  He maybe able to relieve the pain for a while.”

“I see,” Ernie responded.  “I guess I know how Hemingway felt.”

“Huh?”

“Ernest Hemingway.  I understand the end of his life now.”

The doctor was not exactly sure what Ernie meant.  He was not a student of American classics and their authors.  Ernie was and he just understood something he could not grasp from high school until now.

“Fill the prescriptions and make an appointment with the specialist today,” Dr. North advised.  “Call and let us know when you have an appointment and we will send records to the rehab specialist.  Make an appointment to come back here in two months. And Ernie, I think you should stop driving.  Get someone to take you to these appointments.”

The doctor left the room and Ernie got up slowly.  As he stood his right arm and leg began to tingle.  It was as if he had slept on them and cut off circulation.  He carefully left the exam room and walked to the reception desk.  He handed the doctor’s charges and appointment instructions to the receptionist and began to walk away.  She called after him.

“Oh, Ernie.  The doctor has you down for an appointment in two months.  Would you like to schedule that now?”

Ernie responded with an odd grin and a simple reply, “No, thanks.”

At that, Ernie carefully walked to the door, opened it and went out into the quiet hallway.  He was never heard from again.

AN APPALLING MEDICAL HISTORY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My mother was plagued by serious medical problems, literally from birth, into her 50’s. She almost died several times. It made her a real fighter. She never let her physical limitations limit her life and always had a positive attitude.

Infants are rarely born with infections. My mom was born with one — not sure which. Maybe an ear infection. When she was three, she contracted polio. She recovered, but her legs were severely damaged. She had to be put into leg braces, which she wore till the age of 13. She also had to relearn how to walk.

Mom at about two years old

At around age five or six, Mom developed a severe ear infection that required painful and traumatic draining procedures every few days. She eventually needed surgery. She had half her head shaved and had to wear a big white bandage around her head for six months. Not so great for her ego at school.

At age 18, at college, she took a drug commonly used in the 1930’s to stay awake and focused when she needed to pull all-nighters. This was often since she had terrible study habits and an active social life. She developed a side effect of the drug and her white blood cells started to die off. The doctors at her college in Wisconsin told my grandmother to pick Mom up and take her home to die.

Mom at college

My grandmother was not going to give up on her daughter. Instead, she found a doctor who gave my Mom typhoid fever — a highly unorthodox attempt to stimulate her white blood cells to start reproducing again. The bold, risky treatment plan worked, but Mom was an invalid for a year, unable to leave her house.

At 20 and married to the doctor who had saved her life, Mom got pregnant. She delivered a five month stillborn boy after 18 hours of labor. After trying to get pregnant again for the next eight years, she was told she could never have children again. As a side note – my Dad, her second husband after being widowed, was also told that he was sterile. So I was quite an unexpected surprise. In fact, when Mom got pregnant with me, her gynecologist gave her shots to bring on her missed periods. It didn’t even occur to him that she could be pregnant.

After about eight relatively healthy years — except for migraines — Mom got rheumatic fever. She was sick and it affected her heart. She was an invalid for two years this time. She didn’t leave her bedroom for a year or the house for a second year. Her first husband, a physician, jokingly said that she was made of ‘biological junk.’

Mom at around 28 or 29

Before she got sick, Mom had been studying acting along with fellow students like Stella Adler, Karl Malden, Susan Strasberg and Buddy Epson. I believe that Lee Strasberg was one of her teachers. She had caught the eye of a Hollywood producer. He wanted Mom and her fellow student and friend, Judy Tuvim, to go to LA for a screen test. But first they were both told to lose ten pounds for the camera. Mom had just started her diet when she got sick.

Her friend, Judy, went on to become Judy Holliday. She ‘made it big’ and starred in Broadway version of “Born Yesterday” and the musical ‘The Bells Are Ringing,” then again in the Hollywood versions. Unfortunately Judy’s career was cut short. She died at 44 of breast cancer.

Professional Head Shot

Mom was left with scar tissue on her heart, which in those days, meant permanent heart damage. She was told she could no longer act, dance, play tennis or do anything strenuous. She had to lead a more sedentary life from then on. She couldn’t continue in acting so she decided to go back to school, finish college and study psychology — due to the influence of her former therapist and family friend, Abram Kardiner, who was soon to become my father.

Shortly after she started school again, her first husband died of a massive heart attack at the age of 43. She was 29. Three years later, she married my father and had me. When I was five or six and she was 38 or 39 at which time she was diagnosed with  lupus erythematosus, a chronic inflammatory disease and it affected her heart. Again. She was warned had to stay out of the sun and would be extremely sensitive to any kind of systemic infection. Exposure to the sun or to an infection like strep throat could trigger a lupus episode with potentially lethal results.

She had to be careful. She was warned to never take public transportation — especially airplanes — because they were breeding grounds for infections. Difficult since she was living in New York City.

Mom at around 40

When I was nine and she was 42, she developed strep. It activated her Lupus and she went into heart failure. More accurately, her doctor panicked when she got strep and gave her a dose of penicillin, even knowing she was allergic to it. The full body rash she developed was what actually sent her into heart failure. She was rushed to the hospital, where her doctor sat with her all night. He told her he was staying because he didn’t know if she would make it through the night. It was touch and go for a few days, but she pulled through, spirits intact.

In 1972, at the age of 56, she had her final bout with heart failure. Once she recovered, she enjoyed 24-years of relative health. Ironically, in her late 70’s, her heart was thoroughly checked out and all the scarring had disappeared, completely healed. So much for permanent damage. There was also no trace of Lupus. That was extremely unusual because Lupus is a chronic condition that doesn’t just go away by itself. There can be a temporary remission, but this was apparently long-term (permanent?) remission — which was (is) unheard of.

Mom in her 50’s

Mom continued to enjoy her Karmic reward of good health until the age of 81, when she got lung cancer. She fought it fiercely for four years, with great positive energy. Always fashionable, after losing her hair to chemo, she developed a unique style with wigs and hats. She died of a metastasized cancer at the age of 85 with her fighting spirit intact.

The medical community has come a considerable way in treatment, especially for heart related problems. Treatment would be much better today and what was or was not wrong with her heart could be diagnosed more accurately and treated with proper exercise rather than withdrawal. Yet even today, that’s a heavy weight of medical problems to deal with for any life.

TRASH GOES OUT MORE OFTEN THAN ME

“We are made of sterner stuff than most people,” my son said. This was in answer to the question how come we hurt so much and still function. Well, sort of function. I have good days and not so good days, but overall, I’m slowly losing the battle to soldier on. But, I keep saying “I feel just fine, thank you.”

The other day, I bumped into this thing on Facebook.

fibromyalgia

I got to “The trash goes out more often than you do,” and I broke up. It’s true. The trash goes out at least once a week. I don’t necessarily get out that often. It depends on how things are going. Good weeks, I get out a lot more. Bad week? Barely out at all.

A lot of us have fibromyalgia. I try not to think about it because there isn’t much to do about it. No special drugs to make it go away and anyway, I have so many other issues, even if there were, I probably wouldn’t take them. Everything interacts with everything else, so the less I take, the better. This has nothing to do with how I feel, by the way. I could take a lot more stuff than I do, but I think I’d find I was even more miserable if I did.

Before I take anything, I look it up online. Ninety percent of the time, I can’t take it because I have a history of ulcers, have had a heart valve replacement, have high blood pressure, have a pacemaker … or take some other medication that makes it dangerous and this includes things like aspirin, ibuprofen, and many other over-the-counter medications.

There’s not much for me to do about the fibromyalgia except try to ignore it. Mostly, that’s what I do. If people ask me how I am doing, I always say “I’m absolutely fine,” because any explanation gets way too complicated. Too many people think fibromyalgia is a fake disease created by malingerers who want those fabulous disability payments.

This is probably true of most chronic problems. People who don’t have one or two of their own simply don’t get it. But, I believe you. I know how it feels like when you can’t find a body part that doesn’t hurt and nothing in your big bag o’ meds will help. I know the frustration of making plans, then getting to the day and realizing you aren’t up to it. How, after a while, you realize this is the way it’s going to be.

Finally, I have to laugh. Life is absurd. The world is nuts and so am I. Surely this world is a bizarre alternate reality into which I’ve unknowingly slipped. Wake me when things improve.

A LIFE OF DIETING – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I’ve lived with dieting my whole life. Growing up, my Mom gained and lost the same 40 pounds many times over. She was only 5’1” tall so that was a substantial amount of weight for her. She was also on a low sodium diet for her heart, so watching what we ate was an everyday thing. We loved food, but always ate healthy.

From my twenties to my forties, I got lucky and could eat whatever I wanted without gaining weight. I had a hyper active thyroid for a while which might have been part of the reason. Anyway, when my husband and I ate our way through France for two weeks, I gave up desserts for a week or two to lose the five pounds I had gained. Those were the days!

In my forties, maybe due to perimenapause, I suddenly put on twenty pounds. I didn’t think anything of it until I tried to lose the weight and couldn’t. For the entire twenty years since then, I’ve been struggling with weight. It may only be 5 to 10 pounds, but for me, it’s a big deal. My metabolic rate seems to hover somewhere around zero. I have to starve to lose weight.

I was thrown out of Weight Watchers. On their lowest level of points, I maintained my weight, but didn’t lose. They refused to ‘allow’ me to go below the minimum calorie count they deemed ‘healthy.’ So I left and tried Jenny Craig. They are much more flexible and I’ve been with them, on and off, for four years.

I love Jenny Craig. Many people don’t like having to buy prepared foods to eat every day. To me, it’s a Godsend. I hate spending the time and energy to shop, plan and cook meals when I can only eat a fraction of what I really want. I hate having to weigh all my food. It feels creepy and obsessive to me. I don’t want to think about food at all.

That’s what Jenny Craig lets me to do – not think about food. The six or so times a day I’m supposed to eat something, I just go to the freezer or cabinet, pick something out and eat it. No worrying about what to eat or how much. I can also snack on vegetables and salsa whenever I want, so I’m a happy camper.

I left Jenny after reaching my goal weight and maintaining it for a full year. Big mistake. I went back to eating regular food, but being careful about what I ate and how much. I still always eat healthy and love fruits and vegetables. Things were fine until my daughter came to visit for Xmas in 2015. I decided it was a bummer to have to ‘diet’ all the time when we were eating out with friends a lot. So I stopped monitoring what I ate for ten days. I didn’t binge, I just didn’t pay attention.

I gained six pounds and you guessed it, I had trouble taking the weight off. Again. In fact, over the next year of self-help ‘dieting’, I managed to gain two pounds. I continued to struggle for more than a year, going down a few pounds, then back up a few. I seemed to always be  perpetually dieting but not losing weight.

I recently reached a critical level of frustration. Suddenly, I remembered I didn’t have to go it alone. I could go back to Jenny Craig. Get meals, counseling to get me back on track. I hadn’t even thought about that for the past year. I made an appointment and immediately felt more in control. With the packaged foods, I’ll go back to knowing exactly what I can eat each day. And they add some fiber, or something, to their foods, so I’m actually satisfied eating their small portions. I didn’t mind doing this diet – why didn’t I think to go back to it earlier?

I think the answer is we all suffer from the myth that dieting will be easy. For me, it’s mostly common sense and self-control. I was beating myself up when I couldn’t drop the weight on my own. I should have reached out for help sooner.

I just started Jenny again so I haven’t lost any weight yet. But I feel more in control, less agitated and less obsessed with dieting. I still have to watch what I eat when I go out, but for the most part, I know what I have to do. And, I know I can do it. Just — not necessarily alone.