Replacing a cardiac pacemaker battery: DIY not recommended

Prepare for surgery; this’ll only hurt a lot.

Recently my dad, who is 82 now, went in for a surgical procedure that I always wondered how it was done. He had the battery replaced in his heart pacemaker.

This surgery spurred a flurry of email from several corners of the country, as my older brother (upstate NY) and I (South Carolina) exchanged messages with Mom and Dad (California). The tone of the messages was, well, a little different.

My brother and I wanted to know how you actually replace a pacemaker battery, and what size jumper cables you’d use for the job. I’m really touched by all the sympathy that came across in these messages.

“Keep me posted,” I wrote. “I’ve always wondered how they replaced the battery.”

“So do they use tiny jumper cables?” my brother wanted to know. “Or new hamsters?” Sick puppy.

Now, I’m a big do-it-yourself fan. I do my own programming on the computer, built my own perpetual jukebox for the home stereo, and do whatever repairs are needed around the house. Part of it is because, admittedly, I’m frugal. But more important, I’m intrigued by the challenge of doing something myself. Always been that way.
So why not home surgery? I’ve mentioned it a time or two in this blog, and I was only joking a little. But with this Obamacare thing, expect more people to try home surgery using online instructions and whatever tools they may have in the desk drawer. Can’t be any worse than government-run health care, but that’s another rant for another day.

To this end, I went to eHow, the mother of all DIY sites. I’m familiar with eHow. Not only have I consulted that site for various projects. I also used to write for them. Seriously. My work shows up under a different name because, quite frankly, it’s hack work. I really don’t want that crap to be associated with my name. Even the headshot photo I used for eHow articles was designed so you can’t see my face. It paid, though, which is a lot more than you can say about other Web sites.

But enough of that. I did a little checking with eHow to see what articles I could find about replacing your own pacemaker battery. eHow being eHow, I had my preconceived notions:

1) Dash over to Walgreens and get a pacemaker battery. In most stores in the lower 48 states you will find them near the hearing aid batteries and continence supplies.
2) Sterilize a screwdriver, pocket knife, and needle-nose pliers. An autoclave is best for this task, but boiling the tools in spring water will work in a pinch …
… and so on like that.

According to eHow writer China Zmuida (did I mention that few of the writers use their real names?), battery replacement is only done through surgery, preferably by a real doctor under sterile conditions. Well, she didn’t say it exactly like that, but you get what I mean.

Which makes sense and it is the highly-recommended procedure, but really, that is kind of lame. But in China’s eHow piece, DIY surgery didn’t even enter the discussion. Her article had the standard tips and warnings prescribed under eHow’s editorial guidelines, and all of them have to do with not skipping appointments and the usual standard stuff. But the “do not try this at home” caveat appears nowhere in the article.

And there is no “hey, y’all, watch this” anywhere in the article.

The closest I found to a DIY project is a Livestrong piece by Mike Belfiore on how to replace the battery in a heart monitor. Not even in the same ballpark. Livestrong, by the way, is owned by the same folks (Demand Media/Demand Studios) that runs eHow.

I checked out another DIY site, Instructables, which has more over-the-top projects (try applying your own sutures as an example). Nothing there, either.

Anyway, I’m glad my Dad left this one for the professionals. He’s doing well, his color has improved since the battery was replaced, and he says he’ll be around a while to harass the family unit some more.

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Author: Eric Pulsifer

Eric Pulsifer is a veteran wordsmith with experience as a journalist, editor, musician, and freelance writer.

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