Neil Clarke

The Award-Winning Editor of Clarkesworld Magazine, Forever Magazine, The Best Science Fiction of the Year, and More

Beeping Medtronic Defibrillator


NOTE:
I am not a doctor and have no medical training.

I’m writing this post mostly because I couldn’t find any information on the internet when I needed it. Seven years ago (next month), I had a defibrillator implanted in my chest. It was recommended after a heart attack left me with a low EF, meaning my heart was damaged and not functioning as well as it should. It puts me at risk and the defibrillator is there to help in those situations.

In seven years, it has never triggered the full shock it can deliver, and next month it is due to be replaced due to a low battery condition. This isn’t about the low battery.

I have a defibrillator made by Medtronic. Every morning (the time can be changed by a tech) it does a check and if there’s a problem it will let you know with a series of tones. When the battery is low, it will generate a warning every morning at that time. Mine started generating that error last month and the technicians turned off that alert in the office during one of my visits so it wouldn’t keep bugging me.

A few weeks later, I was standing in line at the bank and this started:

 

It’s the same sound as the low-battery warning, so I thought that they may have just snoozed the alarm, but an hour later it sounded again, so I called the pacemaker/defibrillator clinic I go to and left a message. It was towards the end of the business day, so I guess I missed them. I didn’t get a call back. Four hours later, it beeped again. And four more. And four more. I figured the beeping during sleeping hours was probably a sign that this was more serious than I first thought, so I called the electrocardiology office.

Fortunately, my doctor was on call that weekend. He went to his office and had me upload the data from my device. After having a chance to review it, he told me the error was an indication of some irregular voltage readings, that could indicate a break in the leads. He sent me to the ER.

I spent the rest of the day in the ER getting X-rays and waiting for a Medtronic tech to run more thorough tests on the device. The technician told me that he had never encountered this condition in his twelve years of working for the company, but that he had been given a series of special steps to follow that would allow them to figure out if there was a break or related problem with the wiring.

The X-rays and tests didn’t reveal the source of the problem. Everything looked fine, so they decided to reset the error flag in the device and keep me overnight for observation. I went through the night without another alert and was tested again in the morning.

It was later explained to me that the fault was registering in what I think he called a coil. There are two of those and fortunately, the one that was indicated as the source of the problem could not generate a false condition that would trigger a full shock to my heart from the defibrillator. The other, however, could have. (Obviously, that’s quite dangerous and explains why they wanted me there overnight.)

If anything else happened while I had been there (or the beeping starts again while I’m home), they’ll want to move up my replacement surgery. I’m glad that there’s some time in-between. If this happens again, I’d much prefer it to be before the replacement than after, so they can deal with both the wiring and the device at the same time. (Replacing the wiring comes with risk, so I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that.)

Anyhow, if your device is beeping every four hours, or even just once has that tone in the video, you should probably call your doctor and upload the data from your device. Don’t wait it out. If your problem happens to register in a different location of the wiring/device, you could be in serious danger. Good luck.

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Defibrillator Saga, Part Two

2 Comments

  1. Luis

    Wish well

  2. Milos Dumbraci

    If one would have read this just some years ago, it would have been cyberpunk fiction AF. Uploading your data and sending it to your doctor, having your coils checked and so on… TotalRecall stuff!No wonder you started a scifi magazine. On a more serious note, you are living in the most high tech country in the world, so that definitely helps with lessening the worries (I hope) and I am sure everything will be all right. Best wishes, Neil! Don’t lose your sense of humor, it’s the best defense in such moments!

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