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Keywords:

  • cardiac pacemaker;
  • technology;
  • war veterans;
  • body perspectives;
  • interpretive interactionism;
  • nursing

Background.  The consequences of war and medical discourse have historical connections to pacemaker technology. Understanding these consequences is important because war veterans, medicine and cardiac technology have a shared history that continues into the present. The incidence of Australian war veterans needing cardiac pacemakers has increased many-fold in recent years, due to advancing age. This need was recognized by the Australian Department of Veteran Affairs and a cardiac programme was established in the veteran hospital that was the setting for this study.

Aim.  This paper reports on a study aimed at capturing the interest and sensitizing the practice of nurses involved in the care of war veterans and other health care consumers who have been diagnosed as requiring a cardiac pacemaker. The study sought to answer the question, ‘How does the war veteran experience his body in relation to invasive cardiac technology?’.

Method.  The research was guided by the principles of interpretive interactionism, and used unstructured interviews with eight male war veterans. The data were collected in 2000.

Findings.  Thematic and content analysis revealed five themes: emotional knowing; the medical encounter; belief in the myth of miracle; technological constraint; and the altered heart. The findings indicated that the human dimension was characterized by experiences of ambivalence, inner conflict, powerlessness and suffering.

Conclusion.  Nursing is at the interface of science and patient care, and this study contributes to nursing knowledge by focusing on a previously unresearched topic, namely embodied interactions between war veterans and invasive cardiac pacemakers. Within a highly technical area such as cardiology, nurses can still work around the technology and keep patients as their primary focus, thus promoting quality care. A humanistic rather than a technological focus locates nurses between patients and cardiac technology. In this in-between location, nurses are not an extension of cardiac technology but a valuable source of information, education, and counselling.