My Time in the Collective

About four months ago, my primary care physician referred me to my cardiologist because he was routinely detecting premature ventricular contractions. When my cardiologist examined me six weeks ago, he ran an EKG and could detect none of these so-called PVCs. So, he decided I should wear a “Mobile Cardiac Outpatient Telemetry” monitor or MCOT for a month. The MCOT is a rechargeable sensor that plugs into a bandage with electrodes. The whole thing connects via Bluetooth to a mobile phone that in turn sends data back to BioTelemetry, the company that makes the device. To be honest, I spent the month feeling like Jean-Luc Picard in that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where they made him part of the Borg Collective.

August was a challenging month to wear this thing. Because I had traded shifts at Kitt Peak with a co-worker, I was scheduled to be there two weeks in a row. What’s more, that was the time I traveled to Bisbee for the Steampunk Invasion. A week after that, I traveled to Albuquerque for Bubonicon where I worked at the booth and spoke on panels.

The monitor I wore needed to be recharged every five days. When that happened, I removed the electrode bandage, shaved that part of my chest anew, and put on a new bandage. A bigger logistical challenge was the monitor’s requirement to stay in cell phone connection with BioTelemetry. This was the part that really made me feel like part of the “collective.”

It never ceases to amaze me how much it’s now taken for granted that we will always be in cell phone communication range. The problem is, I work on a remote observatory with radio telescopes. We don’t have cell towers close to the observatory because they interfere with radio observations. We do have some limited WiFi capability now, but the MCOT monitor didn’t give me the option of utilizing that. So, I got to spend much of my two weeks finding places where I could get it to connect to its data server and transmit its data before the phone complained at me that I had been out of cell range for too long.

The most emotionally challenging part of wearing this monitor when I did was that it happened right around the time I reached the very same age my dad was when he died of heart disease.

While wearing the monitor, I got to learn how far these devices have come in the last fifteen or so years. One of my co-workers had to wear an early version of a cardiac monitor when she was a child and the whole thing was like a body suit. I imagine she felt even more like a member of the Borg Collective when she wore it than when I did!

Earlier this week, I learned the results of the monitoring. In short, I do seem to have the occasional premature ventricular contraction. They seem to occur most often when I’m under stress. This would imply that my primary care doctor is more stressful for me to visit than my cardiologist! By themselves, at the rate they occur for me, PVCs are not especially dangerous. I did learn by paying attention and comparing notes with my cardiologist how to recognize them, so I can alert a doctor if I notice their rate increase or become more severe. The experience of speaking to my co-worker about her cardiac monitor experience reminds me how far heart care really has come in the last few decades.

Still, I’m glad to be free of the collective and hope I don’t get assimilated again any time in the near future.

Of course, paying attention to technology like this helps me think about technological change as I write my science fiction and my science fiction-infused steampunk. If you find this blog of interest or just want to help support my writing endeavors, I encourage you to support my Patreon site at: http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers.

6 comments on “My Time in the Collective

  1. sftrails says:

    My dad had to wear one of those. He did not like it.

    This heart stuff is always kind of scary. In getting cleared for surgery just this past week I had an EKG. The nurse practitioner thought it abnormal, the cardiologist didn’t think it was all that bad, but sent me down for an echo cardiogram. And I was cleared for surgery.

    EKG’s by themselves are never enough these days, it seem. More to bill you for. Resistance is futile

    • I think the more we learn in any scientific endeavor the more “messy” it turns out to be. It gets harder rather than easier to define “normal” or even “normal enough” when trying to decide if it’s sufficiently safe to perform a medical procedure. Hope your outpatient surgery went well.

  2. I live in the middle of nowhere, so can relate to the cell phone connection problem, although I haven’t had an MCOT. My one nursing class didn’t tell me what “premature ventricular contractions” were, so looked it up. (Yes, I had a basic idea from the name itself, but didn’t know any details.)

    As it happens, I just got an EKG myself, and they want an echocardiogram.

    Here’s a little Star Trek irony; some friends and I have an occasional GURPS (Generic Universal RolePlaying System) world-traveling campaign that we call “Best of Both Worlds.” The name was inspired by both Miley Cyrus/Hanna Montana and the name of the Picard-We-are-the-Borg two-part episode. We haven’t played it since May–until yesterday, day before this post.

    Hope things go well for DLS, sftrails, and all of us!

  3. It does sound a bit intrusive, but I’m so glad it was not serious.

    • Thanks. I would have been a little happier if the doctor had found a more direct cause and effect from the testing (e.g. increased caffeine usage increases the frequency) rather than the more general issue of “stress” increases their frequency regardless of other external factors. Still, I am grateful that he didn’t uncover anything worse lurking in the background.

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