What It's Like to Have an Implantable Defibrillator

She thought she felt an earthquake, but it was only her defibrillator firing.
Shannon Schroeder, 37, of Poulsbo, Wash., has a defibrillator monitoring her heartbeat and waiting for a chance to shock her back to life.

Though she rarely notices it's there, a few years ago, the defibrillator fired accidentally while Schroeder was taking her daughter to preschool and carrying her one-year-old.

Women are less likely to get ICDs, even though they are just as effective as they are in men.
"I felt this boom, like an energy wave, and looked around thinking there had been an earthquake. But no one else seemed to notice," she says. "Afterwards everything seemed so quiet and surreal." Fortunately she never lost her grip on her baby.

An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) is a little smaller than an iPod, but it packs a huge kick. If the thin wires running to the chambers of the heart detect ventricular fibrillation—an often lethal arrhythmia—the ICD will unleash a burst of electricity to force the heart back into rhythm. It's similar to the heart paddles that television doctors use while yelling "Clear!" Except it never leaves your body. The experience of having the device—and having it go off—causes anxiety, fear, and even depression in some patients.

A recent study found that implantable defibrillators can misfire in about 15% of patients. (ISTOCKPHOTO/HEALTH)

12 Next
Lead writer: Chris Woolston
Last Updated: April 15, 2008

Get the latest health, fitness, anti-aging, and nutrition news, plus special offers, insights and updates from Health.com!

More Ways to Connect with Health