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Home from the Hospital: Defibrillator Edition

Exactly six months ago today, I had a severe heart attack that left me with annual one in fifteen odds of sudden cardiac death. There is no cure for the damage to my heart, but fortunately there are these wonderful little devices called defibrillators. Yesterday, I had one implanted one in my chest. If my heart acts up, this little device will save me. Everything went well and I’ll be recovering for the next 4-6 weeks.

If your curious, here are the details (very roughly written):

I arrived at the hospital at 8:30AM on Friday and got started on the paperwork. By 9:00, I was in a prep room where they shaved my chest, took blood and xrayed my chest, so they would have a before picture to compare to later. My doctor stopped by shortly before lunch (I wasn’t allowed to eat) and made me do a lap around the floor and a minute of crunches. This felt more like hazing, but he was trying to get a sense for how many leads they would need to run into my heart and needed to get my heart rate up. They settled on one.

Time for the big show arrived about an hour later. They wheeled me down the hall and slid me onto the operating table. While under, they cut me open and ran a wire through an artery and into my heart. The defibrillator was connected to the lead and placed in my left shoulder, under the skin. There is an obvious lump and scar. The device is heavier than you’d expect, but then it is mostly battery.

Next thing I knew I was in recovery and feeling pain in my left shoulder. A few shots of painkillers and I was feeling better, but also pretty sleepy. Every time I’d nod off, an alarm would go out, followed by a cry of “breathe deeply” from my nurse. This went on for over an hour. Another nurse came by and  gave us the rundown on my defibrillator:

  • can’t raise my left arm above the shoulder for 4-6 weeks, otherwise I could pull the wire from my heart
  • can’t hold anything ten pounds or heavier
  • can’t drive for one week
  • avoid people for a while (given that the flu is in full-force and would be particularly bad for me at the moment)
  • will never be allowed to use an arc-welder
  • avoid EM fields, particularly airport wand scanners
  • if the incision starts leaking, becoming red, swelling, or I feel sick, call my doctor right away
  • and some other stuff that is fortunately written down since I *was* drugged at the time

A few hours later, they move me to my room and tell me:

  • I can’t eat after midnight (just in case there are complications, and they need to go back in)
  • I can’t move my left arm
  • I can’t get out of bed
  • Get sleep

The hospital beds automatically adjust themselves every 50 seconds. (To prevent blood clots.) I didn’t manage to sleep through this gentle nudging until about 3AM, which is when a nurse came in to check on me. They were back at 5:30 for pills, so I didn’t manage to get much rest. The doctor came in to chat about the operation. (Apparently, I saw him the day before but don’t remember it.) The procedure went well, but there was a lot of bleeding thanks to the drugs I’m on for my stents. There will be a nice big bruise around the incision for while and I’m to leave a big padded bandage on it until Monday. No showers until then.

Next up, the person from the defibrillator company. We chatted about the security on the wireless (if you’ve read articles about defibrillator hacking, you know why I asked about this) and I’m confident that it would be extremely difficult for someone to mess this up. She did, however trigger one of the modes so I would know how it felt. (It’s an odd heart racing thuddy feeling.) The second level of voltage is too dangerous to test, but I’m told it feels like getting kicked by a horse. Then she surprised me… if you hear this (sound starts coming from my shoulder) you are to call your doctor right away. I then asked if they had consider allowing people to add their own mp3s. (not yet, but I’m hoping the next one I get will have that 🙂 )

Most of the people on the floor were being released, so I had to wait a while to get my final paperwork. They fed  me a late breakfast (second meal in two days) and eventually caught up with me. Afterwards, I walked out of the hospital (a bit painful) and came home… where I am moving as little as possible.


Today is the day…


Still recovering


  1. I wish you a full recovery Neil and all the very best for 2013 and beyond!

  2. Paula

    Do we get to call you The Terminator now, O Cyborg Neil? Maybe you should patent the MP3 idea…<3Beats? Sorry about the arc welding, though…do what your wife and doctors tell you!

    • The doctor’s word has been law. 🙂

      Wanted them to add some extra storage to this thing so I could start a new life as a data mule. The music would be my personal soundtrack.

  3. Sarah

    Cyborg or gremlin? No eating after midnight.

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