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Defibrillator Saga: Hopefully the End

I went in for surgery yesterday to have my defibrillator and leads removed and replaced. While most of the procedure was outlined in a previous post, there were a few “new to me” details that I didn’t find out about until I got there. To start off, during prep, I was informed that they would have to shave neck to toes due to some of the contingency procedures that could happen if there were any problems. That and hair is an vector for transmitting bacteria or other surprises. Next was that there would be an emergency line on my groin, just in case they needed to send a balloon up through a vein/artery (I’m not entirely remembering this part as it involves needles and my brain skitters a bit when that comes up) just in case they need to stop some internal bleeding. The legs were shaved just in case they needed to borrow some part from my leg to fix something else. Oh and there was another line placed in my arm, again with the needle, and something put down my throat so they could keep an eye on my heart during the procedure. (Fortunately that would be put in after I was unconscious.)

Later, they wheeled me into the operating room. There was at least six people in there and they put me under before the rest of the team arrived. In the past, I’ve been asked to count as they put me under. This time, I was just out before I knew what was going on.

The procedure went perfectly, so none of the contingencies they prepared for were necessary. They started waking me in the OR and it’s pretty much a blur. I know I was coming out (fighting my way out) of a very odd dream, nauseous, and unable to keep my eyes open. The kept me in recovery for perhaps an hour and then wheeled me to my room where my family was waiting for me. I really needed to see them, but I was struggling to stay awake and they hadn’t eaten.

Hospitals are not places to sleep. I slept in one or two hour slices throughout the night, interrupted by blood tests, blood pressure checks, stealing my water away (so I wouldn’t drink after midnight) and shift changes. It was enough to give me back my appetite and the strength to sit in a chair.

In the morning, a tech came to test the device–the same one that I saw during my first hospital visit in December–and we chatted about the new device and what had happened since he last saw me. This one might last 10-13 years before the battery needs to be replaced and it’s a lot louder. I could actually feel the vibrations, but that just might be the sensitivity of the incision area. It’s not big, but it hurts. Dull and regularly pain. For the next 4-6 weeks, I have limitations on my left arm designed to keep me from yanking the new lead out of my heart. The good news is the pain pretty much prevents me from accidentally doing any of the things I’m not supposed to. No lifting things, raising my arm, etc.

Everyone that needed to see me came through before noon, so I was able to get out on time, or early in hospital time. Lisa and Eamonn came to bring me home and I felt every turn. Driving is off the table for a while and left-side seatbelts would be a big mistake. Still, I’m home now and that’s a big improvement.

Thanks to everyone that supported me over the last few weeks, but particularly my family and the amazing team at Morristown Medical Center. Everyone over in Gagnon wing is a pro and so kind.

Complete list of posts in this series
Defibrillator Saga 1
Defibrillator Saga 2
Defibrillator Saga 3
Defibrillator Saga Conclusion


Surgery on Thursday


Post Surgery Update


  1. Cory

    Thanks again for posting your steps through all of this. It’s so helpful, in so many ways.

  2. Kevin Williamson

    Thank you for posting your experience. My device began to alert me today with the French cop alarm so I uploaded my info and called my cardio specialist. I’m going in tomorrow as the Medtronic technician thinks one of my leads is faulty. One lead is severely older than the other and it may need to be replaced. It seems rather risky. I’m super worried but, hopefully, it will be as successful as yours. The alarm is erratic as it’s only sounded three times today but I’m very anxious about removing a lead.. I’m hoping it’s not necessary. Reading your posts are very helpful. Thank you!

  3. Tom

    Thank you for your post. In 19 years I have had 5 pacemakers replaced because the batteries don’t last. The leads are the original leads from the first surgery. I has a valve replaced in August 2021 via open heart and had a few other things corrected at that time. My alarm went off this morning and waiting for the doctor to call.

    • Five in nineteen years? Wow. I’m at two in ten years, but then again, my devices have never had to activate for pacing or defibrillation. I’ve been lucky in that regard.

      Hopefully the alert doesn’t turn out to be as serious as mine was. (If the alarm is not going off every four hours, it’s probably less severe.) Good luck!

  4. Nichole McIntyre

    My husband’s defibrillator is also made by Medtronic and started the exact alarm you posted two days ago and it is every four hours. He definitely doesn’t live a very healthy life style and is extremely stubborn therefore won’t even call his cardiologist to tell them. I’m hoping that this will encourage him to do so. He just turned 55 and has had his implant for around 8 yrs

    • Hi Nichole,
      Sounds like he had his about as long as I did. I wouldn’t be surprised if the battery was nearing the end of it’s life expectancy. Hopefully it isn’t more significant than that, but it could be. That’s why it nags.

      They might be able to tell him what is going on if he triggers a remote diagnostic. (My model had a separate box hooked to a phone line that had something I could put over my chest to have it call in data. My newer one doesn’t need a phone line. It just scans me from under the bed. He could have either of those based on the age and both can be triggered manually.)

      Unfortunately, the only way to silence it and get a good nights sleep is to see a technician in-person. If he plans on waiting for the battery to die, this could go on for weeks. Good luck!

      • Nichole McIntyre

        I don’t know maybe he is just waiting on himself to die. His defibrillator has actually triggered several times in the past to the point his cardiologist said he should have actually passed out but I think when it happened we were actually asleep anyways. He didn’t have any phone lines in his house at the time so they put him on one that is supposed to be considered wireless yet he still holds it over his chest but most of the time we can’t even get it to dial out because we are way out in the country with no service. Just glad your story had a happy ending

        • If it’s been triggering like that he definitely needs it in working order and with multiple activations, it’s even more likely the battery is low after all this time. I hope you can motivate him to get it checked. Sorry to hear it’s been so challenging. Good luck to both of you. (and thank you)

  5. Kirsten Herbaut

    Hi Neil, Thank you for your blog! I just had the alarm in my medtronic go off (two tone) and have called hospital. A clinician will be getting back to me (soon I hope!) Only had my device since Nov 21. Before that I had a sub-cutaneous defibrillator that gave me an “inapproprate shock” upon a prolonged atrial fibrillation. How much fun can you have with an ICD anyway?!

    • Was it one-time alarm or did it keep going off every few hours? Hopefully it is something that can be easily resolved. Good luck!

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