“A really strong woman accepts the war she went through and is ennobled by her scars. ” Carly Simon
When people first hear that I have a defibrillator implanted in my chest, it often leads to a multitude of questions. How does it work? Can you feel it? Does it hurt? Has it gone off? The one thought that tends to make some people squeamish is the image of a wire being threaded down inside my heart. They have this crude image of this massive wire, one similar to those seen in a hardware store, being shoved through my veins down into the hearts chamber. Thank God that isn’t the case!! Through the wonderful advances in medical technology, things have the ability to do more in a smaller, more compact design.
How does a defibrillator work and what does it do for me? An Implantable Cardioverter-defibrillator (aka ICD or defibrillator for short) is a small, mechanical device that has the ability to correct a dangerous heart rhythm by providing a shock through a wire that has been threaded down inside the heart. Have you ever seen the paddles paramedics or doctors use on a patients chest when they claim a patients heart has stopped beating or they have gone into cardiac arrest? An ICD is the same thing, only it has the ability to provide the much needed shock to stop the irregular rhythm from the inside of the heart. It also has the ability to act as a pacemaker, allowing it to provide tiny little electrical impulses to pace and a very fast or very slow rhythm problem. How does this device know how to do this? I’m not entirely sure, but the device itself has the ability to monitor when your heart goes into these dangerous rhythms and then is able to correct them. Because my heart would go into “funny” rhythms, the defibrillator was put in place to provide that Defibrillation shock or electrical impulses in the event that it goes into those problem rhythms.
In my case, the defibrillator was implanted just below my left collarbone and the wire lead was threaded through a vein, down into my heart.
Can you feel it? The device itself, in all honestly, I hardly even notice that it’s there. At first, with any foreign object placed in the body, I did have some anxiety having this object implanted in my chest that naturally didn’t belong. I would wake up in the middle of the night, wanting to rip it right out of my chest, but I knew I couldn’t. But over time, that anxiety subsided. For the most part, the only thing you see is the scar left by the incision made to implant the device. Without the scar, you can’t really tell that the device itself is there at all. But if you rub the skin gently where the device is, you can feel this hard, rounded object sitting just under the skin (sounds a little creepy, I know, but you get used to it).
Does it hurt? The device itself doesn’t hurt at all. The shock that it will provide to my heart….thankfully I haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing a full blown Defibrillator shock. I watched as my mother experienced them with her defibrillator and the only way she could explain it, it was like getting kicked hard in the chest. In the event the device fires as a pacemaker, you don’t really feel it much at all, except for this funny tickle going on inside your chest.
How is life differently having a device implanted? Device checkups and doctor visits are obviously a part of my routine. But overall, life with a defibrillator implant can essentially resume back to normal with the exception of a few things that I have to avoid (some sports and hanging around anything magnetic is off my list of things to do). Like anything new in life….you just learn to adjust and get used to it over time. Some patients hide their scar and hide the fact that they have a device while others, like myself, wear the scar proudly and am happy that technology has been developed to help patients in my situation. My scar and my devices are a part of who I am…..A woman whose life that has been touched by heart disease and is working to educate others to take care of themselves!
Just 20 years ago, a defibrillator was the size of a pack of cigarettes…imagine having that box in your chest!