As you may have noticed, there are alarms and alerts everywhere. Almost all of them, if not all, are impossible to miss. When you are watching television, there is occasionally a test of the Emergency Alert System. This alarm has been around for years, and when I was little it was referred to as the Emergency Broadcasting System. The test produces an alarm sound that is at ear piercing levels, as the FCC admits below:
In fact, you may recall that on October 3, 2018, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the FCC conducted the fourth national test of the system. But this time around, FEMA also initiated the first national test of the Wireless Emergency Alert system. At the time of the alarm, your cell phone also issued a very loud alarm.
The system is also used to issue more localized alerts. According to the FCC website, law enforcement officials use the Emergency Alert System to issue AMBER Alerts with photos and information about missing children and possible abductors, along with contact numbers to report sitings or provide information in local communities throughout the United States and its territories.
I applaud the effort to make sure that the citizens of this country can be warned if there ever is an emergency of national proportions, but sometimes I wish the tests could broadcast at a less shrill level. I have often felt that I should take my blood pressure immediately following such an alert, because I imagine that it elevates my heart rate and produces such a startled reaction that my blood pressure might almost appear to be normal.
Of course, we also use alarms and alerts to manage our everyday lives. We have alarms to make sure that we don’t miss or forget something. There are alarms on our clock and our phones to wake us in the morning, or to remind us of important appointments or events. There are alarms on our stoves to let us know that a particular dish is ready.
We have alarms that protect our property and our lives. So for example, we have alarms that guard our houses, either when we are away from home, or when we are home sleeping or relaxing and want to be safe and secure. We also have alarms on our cars to alert us to the fact that someone may be trying to break in and steal our belongings, or to take this value piece of property away from us.
I even found last year that I could purchase an alarm to let me know if I had any water leakage in my HVAC closet or in the area of my water heater. If you live in a condo building, it becomes very important to make sure that you catch any leaks at the outset, not just to guard against damage to your property but also the property of your neighbors as well. This may sound trivial, but it is hard when the HVAC closet is out on the balcony and not an area you are likely to be in during the day. This alarm is loud enough to get your attention should a leak occur.
So you're wondering why I am writing about alarms in a blog about heart failure. Well what do you do when an alarm goes off and you don’t know for sure where the alarm is or what it is trying to tell you? Even worse, what if you start to fear that the alarm tone may be coming from you! This happened to me recently. I had my television on, and was sitting at my computer working on some blog posts. I heard several faint high pitched tones. The tones sounded for a couple of times and stopped. I thought it might have been something on the television because I didn’t know of any alarm I had set. But I also noticed that it wasn't a loud alarm, and was an alarm like you might hear coming from a small piece of technology.
A few minutes later, I heard the faint high pitched tones again. This time I realized it had nothing to do with the program that was on the television screen. So I looked at my watch. There was nothing showing on the watch face that I had an alarm that I had set in error. So what else could it be? Having tested the smoke detector in November, I knew that the sound of the smoke alarm was much louder and a steady alarm.
I wondered if perhaps this was an alert to warn me that my battery in my sports watch was low. Of course, I have no clue where the instructions for the sports watch are. In the meantime, I heard the high pitched tones one more time. They were faint and didn’t seem to be coming from my watch.
Then I came to a horrible realization that made my heart jump. Earlier this year, I was leafing through the instruction manual for my pacemaker/defibrillator device as part of my research for a blog post. I remembered coming across a page that said that your doctor could activate something in your device that would sound an alert if your battery was running low in your device.
Of course, the battery level is something that the heart monitoring center notes in their quarterly updates. Here is the standard message that I get each quarter: “. . . your device’s program is functioning properly and the battery level is good for this interrogation. “ Unfortunately, the last time I got this message was in late September of 2018. As you can see, there is no estimate as to perhaps how much battery power is actually left. So I started to get a little anxious!
After looking around the condo and looking out my window, I was positive that the alarm was coming from inside my condo. I had run out of possible options of what the alarm might be, but I figured that the likely suspects were my heart device or my watch battery. The alarm tones were so faint that it was hard to tell if the tones were coming from either. I decided to put in a google query for the watch manual for my model of watch. In the meantime, I put the watch in another room to see if I could hear it.
I did not have much success in looking through the voluminous manual, which was not user friendly. But in the meantime, I could still hear the alarm despite the watch being in another room. So I thought it might be coming from me. I ran into my bedroom and got the manual for the heart device.
The manual basically told me what I already knew: The doctor could set the advice to alert me when the battery was low. But I did not know if the device was actually set on alert mode currently. The manual also said that the doctor could let me know what the alert would sound like. Not really helpful information when I needed to know the sound “NOW!”. The in-person device check was coming up within the next week, but if my battery had run down, I did not know how long I could function before the battery was replaced.
I started to think about my options. Running down to the front desk in the condo building and asking the person on duty whether he heard an alert tone coming from either my watch or my heart device. This didn’t seem like a winning option and might earn me the reputation of being the resident weirdo. I thought about calling friends in the building but that also seemed awkward, especially if it was just my watch battery telling me it was low on power. On the other hand, having my heart device conk out was not a good option either.
I walked into the kitchen to get something, and I looked at the refrigerator. I noticed that the control panel was lit up like a Christmas tree to tell me that the refrigerator door was open. And then it came to me – this happened once before a few years ago. I had looked in the manual at the time and remembered that an alert tone suspiciously like the one I had been hearing would occur five minutes after the door was left open and would continue to sound every few minutes until the door was closed. I started laughing. Crisis averted! My heart wasn’t the problem – rather heat was impacting the refrigerator temperature, a problem that was easily solved.
Once I stopped laughing I made a promise to myself to ask at the upcoming device check appointment for a demonstration of what the alert will sound like. The device company representative was very kind and called a colleague to see if he had the ability to provide me with a demonstration of the sound. Unfortunately, his program did not include that information. But he did tell me that the estimate on my battery life is about four years. He also said that even if I get an alert about the battery, there is usually 3 months in reserve when you first start to hear the alert.
So these are all good things to know. But maybe the best lesson I learned was to always make sure that my appliances are properly shut down, or doors are closed, or they are off when they are not needed. Just think of all the power I am saving that can be better applied to other purposes. Plus, it must be worth at least a million heartbeats to spare my heart some unnecessary worries.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.