My defibrillator went off

My defibrillator went off. I have a Guidant pacemaker-defibrillator (ICD. Implantable Cardiovascular Defibrillator).

I'm a clown and was performing in a Fourth of July parade. At first, I thought I had been hit in the back by a hard kicked soccer ball or something similar.

I didn't see anything behind me and turned and continued in the parade. Then a second hit, and a couple of seconds later, a third hit. I asked people around me what had hit me. They thought I was clowning around.

I called to my friend, another clown, and asked her what hit me, then said I thought I was having a heart attack and asked her to get a police officer.

I was still standing. I saw an officer across the street and walked to him. I had another jolt as I was approaching him. As they sat me in a chair I had the fifth jolt.

Paramedics were called immediately and took me to the hospital. You can imagine the reaction as I was rolled in on a gurney in my full clown outfit, makeup, and big red shoes...and smiling.

The staff were great. They did blood work, a urine test, EKG, x-ray and called the device tech. (Guidant products are now owned by Boston Scientific.) The tech did an inquiry of my device and saw the confirmation of the five jolts.

The analysis was my pulse had reached 161. It is set to go off at any number over 160. It caused the atrial (top part of my heart) to beat very fast. It continued to take readings and jolted me a second time to reduce the atrial pace. It did that 3 more times until my heart was stable.

BP had gone up to over 160. It is never that high.

Now, the important stuff.

I had run out of Coreg (it helps the heart to beat regularly) and hadn't taken it for a day or two.

I had pushed myself very hard for 3 or 4 days and was tired so I went to the local branch of you know what and had a super strong caffeinated beverage. It helped. I felt good. I felt no exhaustion. I overdid it and had worked up a sweat. I was late for the parade and had rushed to get there and was cavorting for the crowds.

Then ... boom!

It wasn't fireworks!

I learned a lesson. I need to pace myself. Duh! It's hard to do and I hate it.

I need to cut back on caffeine. It increases heart rate.

I need to listen to my body when I am tired and SLOW DOWN.

I found out what the jolt feels like. It hurt and surprised me the first time. I was confused and didn't understand what was going on but I remained on my feet and was able to think clearly and get help. While the jolt was strong it lasted such a short time it was tolerable.

The device did exactly what it was supposed to do. I'm alive, the world is brighter and more beautiful.

I'm drinking less coffee!

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18 replies. Join the discussion

I'm so glad the device did it's job and that you're okay! How scary that all must have been for you! You'll get there in terms of doing what you need to do, it's such a learning process!

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How amazing! You obviously see the funny side the way you told it, what a sight you must have been on that gurney. It's great that you have such a zest for life and you're out there living it, an example to us all!
Grace x

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did you get the amazingly bright light too? isn't it funny that it happened and you didn't know what it was? i went throught the same thing...not in a clown suit, but in the shower......(luckily i was able to get dressed) and even after it fired 2x i wasn't convinced that that was what had happened.

by the way, grace....thank you for the reading material about smoking!


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Dear BatteryOperated,

Sorry to admit it but I had to smile as I read your tale - the image of a clown being jolted by some unseen force and then going to the hospital in your working clothes tells me you are a survivor. Are you sure you're a clown and not a mime? There's a lot of pathos in here....

Internal fireworks on the 4th? Too coincidental. I'm glad you're here to share your story.

Enjoy your day,

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Thanks for your comment. It was confusing at first, then I was able to function and get help, then being back in E.R. it all caught up with me. I didn't want to die. I didn't want to be in the hospital. That's when the tears came. The EKG tech said everything worked like it was supposed to and, instead of being sad, I could put a different spin on the story and realize how fortunate I was. I need the tears and the emotional release but he was also right. Someone brought me a phone so I could call people and not feel alone. They were sweet at the hospital.

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Thanks, Grace! My nurse-friend had me in stitches laughing at how funny it was as she drove me home. Laughter, as we know, is good for healing.

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Hi Evie,
No bright light. It really wasn't a death experience although it could have been without the device. What did you do after yours went off? Did you go to the hospital?
Do you know what caused yours?

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Love your comments, Laura, especially the "jolted by an unseen force and then ... " You keep me laughing and, yet, it was that classic combination of comedy and tragedy. I can probably bring that experience into my performing and artwork. Thanks for the insight.

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i thought the bright light was standard issue.......something having to do with being electrocuted, the proverbial flash of lightning right in front of your face.
actually after mine went off twice, my daughter and i drove over to the fire station just to see what they would recommend...we then drove to the er and i wound up in icu for 5 days. seems that now i have the turtle and the rabbit running their race in my heart. i have bradycardia and then go into a-fib and v-tach. it was the v-tach that caused the defib to fire (had it not been for the icd, i would not be here). weirdest thing was that as crappy as i was feeling before it went off, almost immediately after the second jolt i felt better and almost listened to the paramedic who suggested that i just go home (i guess because i was able to walk and talk that he assumed that either i was lying or nuts). i now take amiodarone and coumadin in addition to the meds that i was already on.
so, i say to all who would listen, bring on the lightning flash, the mule kick, the sure beats the alternative.

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Dear Happy Clown! Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I have had a Guidant defib/pacemaker for 2 years but it has never fired. It's reassuring to hear that you remained on your feet, conscious, and able to get help for yourself. Mine is also set at 160 high and 45 low. I know it does pace about 15% of the time at the low end. I can feel mine pacing once in awhile, mostly when I'm over-tired or have been on the go all day. My doc said that its always good to go to the ER the first time it fires just to have everything checked out. Be careful with Coreg. When my doc cut my dose in half (a good sign) too abruptly, I went into storms of A-fib and had to go on Digoxin for a few weeks until I settled down to the lower dosage.Thanks again for your informative and fun description. Hugs, laurali

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Wow!! I have heard that it feels like a kick in the chest but to have an explanation from someone that has had it happen is interesting. I have a gudiant ICD too. Mine hasn't gone off but it's set to defib at 180 not 160. It's a lesson to not run out of meds or do too much though! I hope you are feeling better now and good luck to you!

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Hi Junimead,
Thanks for your comments. Having this support group is great. I think I've learned the lesson about modifying my behavior and resting when I need to instead of pumping myself up with caffeine. I'm also grateful to know I could manage when the jolt happened. Without the ICD my episode would probably have had a different ending. It's really helpful to talk to others who understand. I hope all of this helps someone else.

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I just brought this one up to the surface for 'Scared' !

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hi battery operated - what a great stowry. i am now three days into my ICD implanted and still sore as can be...but the more i read from you incredible ladies, the more at easy i am. the past few days of continuing on my Coreg and other meds, combined with a pain pill now and then, i have been freaked with low blood pressure. not the alarming kind, but close. it drops during the initial spike hour after taking Coreg then comes back up later in the evening. i had a real hard time selecting what seemed to be "elective surgery" but really knowing how necessary it was for long term survival from what i went through...but my miracle recovery was going so found myself in denial of what my condition really was. so now i am in the recovery mode again - so the feeling of taking a step backward will go away soon i know. heck, got home on Saturday from surgery, and walked my two miles sunday morning. i'll take it!
thanks for the insightful wisdom of you fantastic ladies


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I think this story should be required reading of everyone who has an ICD. I hope you have some time off work to pamper yourself in your final days of recovery - yes, pampering is what we do! I'm not sure what men call it.

Be well,

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WOW how scary! I'm so glad that you're ok! Take it easy and don't over do it (I know easier said than done...but try).

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I think we should call it "taking care of #1 -- ME!!!!" My doctor darn near had to prescribe it for me. Right after my hospitalizations for HF and renal failure, I was in her office 1-2/week for blood work and a "look-see". After witnessing my type A approach to recovery, she finally answered my 14th "What else do I need to do?" question with "Decide which game is your favorite on The Price is Right!" I got the point that the recovery was not going to happen overnight no matter how hard I "tried" to get better. :-)


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Hi battery operated. I know this is an old discussion, but I'm glad I found your story. I don't feel so alone now. The exact same thing happened to me, without the clown suit. I was in my kitchen the first fire and outside getting into my car to go to work the next 4 fires. I finally laid down on the sidewalk and prayed. I thought that my body was trying to die but that little box in my chest wouldn't let it. Turns out because I didn't get my Toprol refilled and was off of it for two days, my heart rate got above 150 just from rushing for work and boom! I also drink too much coffee. Looks like I'll have to cut that out now too. I need to exercise and lose weight, but now I'm scared of getting my heart rate up and getting shocked. Do you or any of you out there exercise without fear?

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