In my post last week on my Covid colonoscopy adventure, I mentioned that I learned something new in the procedure room. The nurse anesthetist and the other nurses were trying to find a magnet for the procedure room. Apparently the one in their room had gone missing in action. I never realized that a magnet was a standard, even sought-after supply in a hospital.
What the nurses told me was that the magnet can disable the defibrillator while they are doing the procedure. If I understand what they were saying, if my heart rhythms started to go a bit off because I was under anesthesia, it might cause my defibrillator to “fire”. Not a good thing – I have been praying for six years that this would never happen. I guess the magnet temporarily disables the defibrillator from firing (medical types – I’m sorry I know I am probably oversimplifying what happens). Someone later asked me if the nurses remembered to check and make sure the device was fully operational after the procedure was over. You know, this is probably the wrong question to ask someone with obsessive compulsive tendencies. I am just going to trust that the nurses restored everything was restored to normal when they were finished with the procedure.
I have some familiarity with the impact magnetic forces can have on the defibrillator. I have a card to show at TSA screening and other security checkpoints. There is a boxed paragraph on the back of the card that provides a specific warning for security personnel. It says:
Other than the screener who told me that I could just throw the device in the bin (I quickly set her straight that this was a non-starter), most of the screeners know exactly what to do when they see the card. They will pull me aside for a pat down search with no wands – or they will send me to the new capsule enclosure that screens passengers without magnetic forces.
I also am aware of the fact that I am not allowed to have magnetic resonance imaging, also known as an MRI. As the instruction booklet for my device says, this is a diagnostic test that uses a strong electromagnetic field. The booklet also says that you should not have an MRI scan because they can severely damage your device. It also says that hospitals mark rooms with MRI equipment with signs that say there are magnets in the room and not to go in.
Okay – so this is a little spooky. I can’t go in a room because there are magnets there? That made me look at my kitchen and the refrigerator with a little concern. Like everyone, I’ve got a number of cute little refrigerator magnets holding takeout menus in place as well as the little weight chart my doctors make me maintain. Should I take all the magnet art off my fridge?
Nope – I think the magnets used in MRIs and airport screening are a lot stronger than my fridge magnets, and not nearly as cute. Plus, I think you would have to hold a magnet of much more strength directly above your device for a while. I’ve had those magnets in place for all of the last 7 years that I have had a heart device, and as far as I know, my heart and the device are showing no magnetic damage or wear and tear.
The discussion about magnets, led me to once again review my instruction booklet to see what other things might be taboo. Yikes – there are about 18 pages devoted to safety precautions (but at least it’s a pocket size booklet so they are small pages!). It has been quite a while since I reviewed this booklet, and there were some things I had forgotten.
For example, there is a category for “items that are safe under normal use”. Most of them are things each of us use every day or a few times a week like hair dryers, or clothes washing machines and dryers. I start to wonder what constituted an abnormal use of say an electric can opener or an electric toothbrush. Then I decided perhaps I do not want to know after all. I was happy to see that I can continue to use my microwave oven, because frankly if I lost the use of that appliance, I’d probably starve.
There is a category for things that are okay to use as long as you do not hold them directly over your heart device – like a cordless phone or a portable MP3 player or an electric razor. Cell phones fall into a different category. You must keep the cell phone at least 6 inches from your device (so this is the communications version of social distancing, better known as cell distancing). This is because the cell phone is a source of EMI (electromagnetic interference) and can impact the device’s operations. Happily, the effect is just temporary and can be cured by moving the phone away from the device. I do not have a problem when I use it as a phone because I put the phone to my opposite ear which is over six inches away. I probably need to be a little more cognizant of where the phone is when I am texting or reading something online.
There is a long list of items that must be at least 12 inches away from your device. As I understand it, these are tools or pieces of equipment that might be powered by electromagnetic induction or other electromagnetic sources. This list included a chainsaw – but frankly, since I bleed so easily, I don’t want a chainsaw within 12 miles much less 12 inches of me or my device. So, we’re good on that score. The same for corded drills and power tools. The list also includes a lawnmower, a leaf blower and a snowblower. Happily, I don’t have a lawn to mow, nor do I have to shovel or blow my own snow or dispose of my own leaves. I live in a condominium building and the landscaping and snow removal is taken care of by local companies through our condominium fees.
The next item on the keep 12 inches away list may be of particular interest to those who live in, or frequently visit, Las Vegas or Atlantic City, New Jersey: a slot machine. I have not been in a casino in years, and even the times when I was, I never gambled. I could not justify putting any money into a machine or on a betting table when that money could be used to buy a perfectly good outfit. I do not plan on changing habits at this point in my life, so my device is safe from the allure of the slots.
I have to wonder – do those who have heart devices take their rulers to a casino to measure whether their seat is 12 inches from the slot machine? As I recall, the traffic in the casino was pretty mobbed, so I am not sure the required clearance exists. And I have to wonder what it is about the slot machine that is a threat – is there an electromagnetic source in the machine itself? Or is it just the fact that the temptation of easy money pulls you in like a magnet to pull the lever on the slot? Whatever! I’m happy that I have never been a gambler and do not have to factor slot machine encounters into my risk analysis.
I came to a category in the booklet of machinery or other items I should not use at all. This list includes a magnetic chair or a magnetic bed. I did not even know that beds and chairs came in magnetic varieties. I debated doing some research and then I thought, nope the OCD person in you will benefit from just moving on. I have had every piece of furniture in my condo for at least at least 18 months or more, so I would have to think if there were any magnetic sources in the furniture, the heart monitoring people would have noticed some impact on my device by now.
I was disappointed to learn that I am forbidden from using a jackhammer. There goes my chance to apply for a job on the Amazon Headquarters construction site. I am sure they would not hire a candidate who was restricted from using a jackhammer – because I know they must have them.
There is also a warning that you must remain 24 inches from arc welders and CB and police radio antennas. I do not think this will present a problem. The last item on that list is running motors and alternators especially those found in vehicles. The patient is specifically warned from leaning over a running motor and alternator of a running vehicle, as it creates a large magnetic field that can impact your device. I guess this means if I am ever stranded on the road, I should resist the urge to pop the hood, run the motor and try to diagnose the problem on my own. The warning does include a caveat for those of us with OCD tendencies who tend to overthink things: “However, the distance required to drive or ride in a vehicle is safe”.
Finally, the booklet provides guidance on medical and dental procedures that may not be not safe (for example, electrocautery) and those that are safe (for example, dental drills, diagnostic x-rays, mammograms, etc.).
It was good for me to have a refresher on magnetic influences that can adversely impact my heart device. Probably the thing I need to be most vigilant about is keeping my cell phone the proper distance from my heart device when I text or peruse the news clips. Other than that, after reading the advice columns in the style section of the paper (about the only thing I read anymore) I have made a new heart health resolution: To avoid people with strong magnetic personalities who might lead my heart (and my heart device) astray!
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. She spent the next 7 years learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth. Then in October 2020, she received a heart transplant. This blog is about her journey of the heart.