In Short: Shocking!
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.
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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