Programming and Deprogramming

Everett Griffiths
5 min readSep 1, 2022

It was after my trip to the emergency room when my cardiologist said a word that stuck with me: “programmed”. She was not talking about software. I had been teaching a data science bootcamp at the University of Southern California when I started feeling off — my neck was hot, my legs were tingling and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I kept the students busy with activities from the lesson plan while I paced furiously outside, but the suffocating sensation did not subside. I had enough sense to turn the lesson over to the TAs and take a car to the nearest hospital. I am still surprised I did this: because of my upbringing, doctor visits were exceedingly rare and I had never until recently been to an ER, let alone for something as “trivial” as feeling a bit “off”. An EKG, however, revealed the chaos inside my chest.

An overly-dramatic EKG from the American College of Cardiology “ECG of the Month”

“Hearts,” my cardiologist said, “are programmed to beat a certain way.” Mine, she explained, was receiving abnormal electromagnetic pulses that caused premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) — bad beats. A lot of them. When I had one of these episodes, my heart would beat 7 or more times before a good beat would land and send blood where it needed to go. My condition was worsening.

“What happens,” I asked, “if the bad rhythm keeps coming back?”

She took a moment to answer. “Eventually, if that rhythm gets repeated often enough…