Thursday, May 24, 2012
When I was 21, I got an ICD as mostly a preventive measure. After an esophageal echo proved I was susceptible to ventricular tachycardia, I discovered that my brand new pacemaker of one year would be replaced with a bigger, bulkier device capable of electrocuting me. I was shocked (I had to say it).
The larger ICD was located slightly lower than my pacemaker, so that combination took some getting used to. But after the normal recovery period, life went on as usual. I wasn’t really afraid. Since I never experienced a long run of V-tach before, I didn’t dwell on the possibility of my ICD going off.
Cut to nine months later: I’m coming out of a deep sleep in my apartment at school when all of a sudden, the wind is knocked out of me. I was laying on my stomach, so my bed cushioned the shock and it felt more like pressure than pain until I sat up and the pain spread down my left arm. I called my mom and gave her the only explanation I could think of: “I think my defibrillator shocked me.”
I didn’t know what to do, so naturally, I went to the ER. But first, I wrote two incredibly awkward e-mails to a couple of my professors who were holding finals the next day. I wasn’t sure what to expect so I wanted to let them know what was going on just in case I ended up being admitted to the hospital for observation or something (It was December. Go figure). The hospital just confirmed that yes, my ICD had shocked me and they sent me home.
After my two finals, I was done with fall semester of my senior year of college. I left campus and returned to my apartment to pack up what I needed for my month-long break and then drive the two hours home. I climbed the three flights of stairs, walked in the front door, turned the corner towards my bedroom and BAM!
The second time I was shocked was a completely different experience. I was standing up and I had no freaking idea what was about to happen. It’s like getting kicked really hard in the chest, but it’s so much worse. Normally when you are struck in the chest, you have at least a split-second’s notice that someone or something is about to strike you because you can see them. But when the force is coming from inside your own body, it is really like being kicked in the chest by a ghost.
I can only imagine what seeing my body forced back into the wall behind me must’ve looked like. The combination of pain and being taken by surprise is what makes it such an unpleasant experience. I screamed, lost my balance and fell backwards, and then I was overcome with excruciating pain throughout my chest and down my left arm. And there was no way I was going to be driving home that day.
When I saw my cardiologist later, ICD interrogation revealed that what my device read as V-tach was really my heart beating in sinus rhythm, firing on its own without the device’s aid, which makes no sense at all. That’s kind of how CHD is, right? When does any of it make sense? And there’s really nothing that can be done about it, so we do what we always do—we roll with it.
It’s been 3 ½ years since that second and last shock. My new bi-ventricular ICD is almost two years old and sometimes I just wish it would go off once—just so I know the device works and just so I can get it over with.
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