Harry Paidas: Timepiece keeps watch to save my life

Harry Paidas
Harry Paidas

I have been fascinated by watches for as long as I can remember.

Long before it was fashionable for people of my generation to wear a watch, I wore one.

My first watch, gifted to me on my 5th birthday, featured Davy Crockett (King of the Wild Frontier) with his rifle serving as the minute hand on a face of Arabic numerals.

Early watches were what I considered “character watches,’ including several of the Disney characters as well as comic book characters like Superman. Throughout my early years, I was known for my watches since most kids my age didn’t want to be bothered by things like knowing the time of day.

Of course, the problem with all of this was that I was constantly being asked what time it was since I was the “go to” guy with the watch.

As time went on (no pun intended), my taste in watches became more sophisticated and I insisted on certain styles.  My favorite was plain-faced with glow-in-the dark arms, Arabic numerals, and an automatic changeable month and day where the numeral “3” would be. I never took to Roman numerals and often exchanged well-intended gifts that had Roman numerals for the Arabic style.

The brand of watch didn’t matter much as most of my watches were either Timex, Bulova or Benrus. I even had watches for various occasions. Run-of-the-mill watches for school, fancy watches for church, and banged up versions for playing sports.

My watches have always been worn on my left wrist − advice my mother gave me since I am right-handed and she thought it was less likely I would break my watch if it wasn’t on my dominant hand.

For most of my life, the watch was as much a part of my body as my fingers and toes. I rarely went without it because it was always evident to me that something was missing if my left wrist was bare. Things became instinctive like being on time and being aware of the time of day.

It wasn’t until I started shogging (shuffling and jogging) that I became aware that there was more to a watch than telling time. So in my early 50s, while training for my first distance race, I went against my lifelong preference and invested in a Garmin watch, which did all kinds of neat things geared toward training and improving speed and stamina.

The Garmin served me well through several marathons, although due to my lack of speed, it would occasionally lose its charge before I could finish. On the other hand, it did things like record my runs with statistics that included pace per minute, heartbeat and distance comparisons. I wore it as a watch, but it was so much more.

Telling time became secondary to its ability to serve as a mini computer on my wrist.

Just when I thought I would never give up the Garmin, I was introduced to the AppleWatch. I was skeptical because of my fascination with the Garmin, which had guided me through some exciting and  difficult times. But I was willing to give it a try because a couple of years before, I reluctantly replaced my beloved Blackberry with an Apple iPhone and never regretted it.

It did not take me long to warm up to the Apple Watch, as I found out I could use many of the same apps from my phone on my watch, including texting and accessing news and weather. I found I could also talk on the phone from my watch, bringing back memories of my Dick Tracy toy watch that I had six decades ago.

It seemed with each passing week, I would discover something new on my Apple Watch cementing it as the gadget of choice for the foreseeable future. At one point, when I was play-acting as Peter Pan against Captain Hook (my grandson), I fell  hard to the ground and immediately got an SOS from my watch inquiring as to whether I needed emergency services as a result of my fall. While I was grateful and rather amazed by the inquiry, the watch had no idea that Tinker Bell (my granddaughter) was there with the Pixie dust to rescue me.

About two months ago, I went from Fantasyland to reality as the Apple Watch graduated from being a gadget to a lifechanging device. Traveling from the south on our way home I was driving in West Virginia when my watch gave a strong vibration as though as I was receiving a text message. When I glanced to my left wrist, I saw what looked like an urgent message on my watch. Since I was driving, I waited until I could pull over and stop to read the message.

The watch said my heart was showing indications of atrial fibrillation. Never having had afib, but knowing many people who have, I knew it should be something to take seriously. So, Kathe took over the driving duties and I sat in the passenger seat doing the research. Among the things you can do on an Apple Watch is take an EKG to measure your heart rhythm and, sure enough, it was indicating that I was in afib.

The next call was to my cardiologist in Cleveland to report what was going on. The nurse who took the call calmly explained that I should not panic but when I get to Ohio to keep going on I-77 and stop in the office. In the meantime, she asked if I could send the results of the EKG. I was incredulous, “You mean I can actually text you the results? How am I supposed to do that?” She calmly walked me through it and assured me that I was not the first person whose Apple Watch detected atrial fibrillation.

The result of my visit confirmed the watch’s diagnosis and although I am not pleased to report that I am now on a blood thinner, I am pleased to report that I am still here to report.

I am still in awe as I think back to the days when a watch was merely a decorative timepiece and now realize its current status as a potentially life-saving medical device. And with artificial intelligence becoming more influential in our lives, who knows what’s next.

Harry Paidas is faculty emeritus at Mount Union and writes a monthly column for The Review.  He can be reached at paidashp@mountunion.edu.

This article originally appeared on The Alliance Review: Columnist Harry Paidas says Apple Watch saved his life