Irish Medical Times article - Start me up!


A couple of years ago, at the age of 41, I was admitted to hospital with sudden and severe heart failure and had an ICD implanted. Prior to this excitement, I thought a defibrillator was something supermarkets hung on the wall, alongside a dusty pic of employee of the month (circa 2008) and a stack of yellowing local newspapers. 

Before my operation the older woman in the bed across from me kindly assured me that it was no big deal, she herself had one and offered to let me ‘touch it’. In a scene from some very strange coming of age Sci-fi movie, I approached her bed with a mix of fear and curiosity as she pulled at her nightdress. 

‘What do you think?’ she asked with a hint of pride, as she thrust her chest forward to show me the outline of what appeared to be a box of matches she was secreting under her skin. It sat nicely on top of her pectoral muscle, a quick access to light a sly cigarette perhaps. 

However, the device is not a firestarter, as we are all learning, it is a heart starter. An ICD monitors your heart for fatal rhythms and can deliver therapy in the form of a shock to reset your heart. A thumb sized paramedic living inside your thoracic cavity, chilling, watching the football, paddles at the ready. In my head (heart) I imagine my ICD to be a hardened New Yorker who flits between paramedic, fire fighter, general hero and good looking guy who saves people in a very dramatic fashion, and then says ‘fuhgeddaboudit’. 

For the most part I do forget about it. It’s a one size fits all set up, so I initially found its prominence on my smaller frame somewhat eye-catching. I already have a collarbone you could hang your coat on, a couple of intertwining sternotomy scars coursing down my chest, and hollows where lymph nodes were cut from my neck (yes, I am only gorgeous!). I quickly got used to it and I am now proud of my device and all my scars - they are symbolic of my survival. 

Implanting the ‘box’, as the medics kept calling it, wasn’t a prolonged procedure, there was even talk of skipping the sedation. I had to interject, don’t let the scars fool ya, I’m not that tough, I am in favour of analgesics and numbing of any sort (I’ve even had phone conversations I wish I’d been anaesthetised for). Luckily, I was in excellent hands, I had one day of niggling pain then graduated to feeling pretty good. 

Thankfully, I have not received a shock from my ICD, yet. My understanding is it generally feels like a donkey kick to the chest. I found this analogy used in Ireland amusing, are many people getting kicked by donkeys? Is this a relatable event? In the States I have heard it described as a baseball bat to the chest. Also perhaps an uncommon occurrence, one would hope, but I found I was nodding along to the feeling of having one of the San Francisco Giants batter me into a homerun. Actual patients receiving the shock have described it as a ‘thump’ lasting seconds, perhaps we’ll go with that. 

Do I live in fear of it firing? No. I am an active person, I go on long cycles every week, I play tennis, I bend into shapes for Pilates, I bounce along to workouts and strength train, I walk everywhere, I climb trees with my young daughter and jump on a trampoline, I even took up rollerblading so I could keep up with her! Actually, reading this back, I might not be the best example of appropriate activity with an ICD, please check with your doctor before engaging.

But I am slowing down as I learn I’m not like your average person. I’m part of the lucky few who have been tapped on the shoulder, given a warning, and gifted a magic box. In a way, we’re not that dissimilar to the heroic Ironman. Perhaps Ironman doesn’t take medication and naps, but he’s got metal in his heart, he wears a suit of armour and his world falls apart regularly. 

If you are worried about your heart, or your world, get it checked out. Christian Eriksen now stands among other sports stars and regular heroes who know 'there by the grace of intervention go I'. Your heart is still lub-dubbing, dessert is still coming, but no harm checking the freezer, just to make sure if this party gets busy you’ve got some choc-ices in reserve ready to go.

I am extremely grateful to have an ICD, my endless thanks to the brilliant expertise of Dr Brendan Foley and the team in St James’s Hospital Dublin who saved my life. No ice creams needed.

Original article found here - Start me up!