Living With Prophylactic ICD Therapy and the Risk of Sudden Cardiac Death: How Patients Negotiate Solutions and Problems

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Abstract

Prophylactic implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) therapy treats potentially lethal cardiac arrhythmias in patients who have not previously experienced such but are at considerable risk due to underlying heart disease. Most patients are unaware of their risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD) until the ICD is introduced to them. Thus, the problem of risk of death and the solution of ICD therapy are presented simultaneously. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Danish hospitals, this article illustrates how clinicians narrate prophylactic ICD therapy as a benign therapy preventing risk of death and providing the good life. However, risk of SCD is not the most pressing problem for the patients. The article argues that the solution of ICD therapy ignores patients’ experience of living with severe heart disease and introduces the risk of shock therapy. For patients, a good life does not equal absence of risk of death but a life without heart disease.

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