What It’s Like to
Be Paddled

in ,

In Short: Shocking!

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February 8–9, 2017, we had a 12-inch snowstorm, and I was out with the snowblower for 3-4 hours when I began to feel like I couldn’t catch my breath. Knowing something was very wrong I asked my daughter to call 911.

Medic grabbing a defibrillator out of an ambulance.
Photo by RODNAE Productions via Pexels

Paramedics arrived quickly and determined I was going to the hospital, which is generally a 10–15-minute trip. Mid-way they decided I had to be shocked — cardioverted — as I was experiencing Ventricular Tachycardia. I could see on the monitor my heart rate was at 200+.

They pulled the ambulance over, I heard “Clear” and saw on the monitor a heart rate of 222. The shock was indescribable. Not so much painful as jolting or shocking, no pun intended. It felt as though I had lifted off the gurney 6 inches, and I had a passing thought that my toenails were going to shoot through the back of the ambulance.

Immediately I saw the heart rate drop to 70 on the monitor, and commented to the paramedic that I felt much better and asked if we could go home. That was a hard “No.” I wasn’t surprised.

In the Emergency Room the doctors and nurses seemed intrigued by the fact I remained awake and alert, but I didn’t get the impression my situation was all that rare, just maybe a bit out of the ordinary.

The next day a stent was placed due to a 95 percent blockage. I already had two from previous heart issues, but this problem was much deeper. Two days later an Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator (ICD) was implanted in my chest to protect against Arrhythmia, which occurs when the electrical impulses that coordinate your heartbeats don’t work properly.

Funny sidenote: The procedure went extra-long (approximately 4 hours, vs the expected 2) as they were having problems with one of the leads not working properly, and were on the phone with Tech Support (I believe Support was in Israel, but don’t quote me as I was a bit out of it). Seems there was a shipment of bad leads sent out, and with serial numbers they were able to identify the bad ones.

A few days later, as I was dressing to finally leave the hospital, the ICD fired up due to another arrhythmia. I was awake for that too. The ICD performed as designed.

Restrictions such as no driving for three months (understandable) made the recovery tedious, but recover I did. One restriction that I must keep in mind is I cannot permit hand-scanning at airports as the scanning unit might trigger the ICD. That hasn’t been an issue at airports in the USA, but while in foreign countries explaining the problem can get dicey. The automated scanners do not run the risk.

Ultimately there was one more arrhythmia six months later, and that occurred when I was sitting at the kitchen table reading. There was no activity or stress that elevated the heart rate. An arrhythmia simply happened that triggered the ICD, and soon after a cardiac ablation procedure was performed to correct the electrical signal issues. I have been arrhythmia-free since (knock on wood).

Device battery life was projected to be about 9 years, and that seems to be on track as recent device interrogations project another 5.5 years. Yes, batteries were included in the package. When the batteries are going bad the device will have to be replaced, and I am sure that will be fun.

Still today, whenever I hear “Clear” on medical shows I do flinch and look away.

Steve has been retired for a bit more than a year, and is still doing home improvements, gardening, biking, daily gym workouts, and other assorted physical endeavors because he still can!

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4 thoughts on “Be Paddled”

  1. Several years ago, around the age of 70, I woke up around 5 am (much earlier than usual) with the feeling that my heart was racing. I sat for about half an hour hoping the feeling would subside. I didn’t want to wake my wife — it was Shabbat, the Sabbath, when we normally don’t turn electrical devices on or off, drive, etc. But I woke her and we got dressed and she drove me to the hospital.

    At the ER, they told me my heart rate was steady at 180 bpm! And it had been there for over an hour by then. They put a drug in my IV (I don’t recall the name) and my heart rate came down to the normal range. The diagnosis was just tachycardia.

    The cardiologist explained that it was a problem with signal pathways within the heart, and if it recurred, the best option would be a cardiac ablation, to shut down the pathway causing the trouble. I bought a chest-strap monitor that sent its data to my smartphone, and monitored my heart rate. It would go up as high as 125-150, but would always come back down if I sat for a few minutes. Even went to Boulder, CO for a wedding (without medical advice, as I suspected they would tell me not to) where the heart rate went up with less provocation, and came down more slowly.

    A few weeks after returning, I had the cardiac ablation, and although my heart rate sometimes goes above 100 with even moderate exercise, I have not had the problem of it going excessively high, nor of it not dropping.

    I’m glad I didn’t have to get paddled!

    Sounds like you got Adenosine, which is in essence a chemical cardioversion. I’ve only given it once in my career …and it didn’t work (but the patient definitely felt it — a very brief “that was weird…”.) Usually, when doing a cardioversion the patient first gets a sedative, but sometimes, if the medic is particularly worried about the patient’s stability (which sounds like was the case in the author’s experience), they will skip that to save the time. -rc

    • I am glad you were able to get resolution. Sounds like you aren’t even on any medications to control the heart rate so good for you! I am medicated and I can’t get close to a heart rate of 100, even during my daily cardio workouts.

      Heathcare advances in our lifetime have been rather dazzling and I for one am very grateful and humbled.

      Steve is the same Steve as the author. -rc

  2. Oh yeah! Been there twice, once in the ER and then again when we got to the hospital 25 miles from the hospital they brought me to. Then I got to watch them put in my stents…it was all fun, considering I was not supposed to be alive, 2 widow makers blocked 100% and 98%.

    Yep, you were definitely lucky! (Info on a cardiac widow maker.) -rc


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