Honolulu Lite


New medical device for
in-home use is shocking

Almost just in time for Christmas, the FDA has approved use-at-home heart defibrillators, those electric gizmos you see on hospital television shows that zap people back to life after someone yells, "Clear!"

Doctors think this is a great idea and that many lives will be saved. But having an apparatus that shoots hundreds of volts of electricity into a person sitting around the house could lead to mischief. Sure, it will be handy when Uncle Ernie keels over while watching "Matlock," but what if people start using it for other things, like parents using it to get that sleepyhead teenager out of bed in the morning. ("Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey! ZAP! Hey, anyone smell something cooking?")

I'd be afraid that with a defibrillator in the house, my family members might be a little too fast on the trigger. You lie down for a nice afternoon nap, and your kid freaks out and gives you a thousand volts. ("Sorry, Dad. I thought you were dead and stuff.")

My wife, always one to get the most out of household appliances, might feel like the zapper isn't getting enough use sitting in the closet. She'd probably try to use it for other things, like stopping me from snoring. Snoring is known to cause spouses to go insane. That's why we don't keep any firearms around the house. Excessive snoring is one of the few legally acceptable excuses for killing someone. A defibrillator in the house would be just too tempting for my wife.

ACCORDING TO news accounts, the defibrillators will cost about $3,000. That is a lot of money for a gadget that, hopefully, you'll never have to use. They really ought to combine the defibrillator with other appliances, like, say, the microwave. That way, you can save a life and make popcorn at the same time. The defibrillator could be just one more attachment to the vacuum cleaner. Suck up the dust devils under the bed, shock Grandpa back to life, then clean behind the dresser.

I probably shouldn't joke about this device, seeing as how I'll probably need one before too long. Home-use defibrillators are a great idea. But I'm a card-carrying hypochondriac (the card says "Whatever IT Is, I've Got It"). Having a defibrillator in the house would just make me worry excessively about having a heart attack. I'd start to worry about what would happen if I seized up while no one was around. The dog wouldn't know how to work the thing. I'd end up walking around the house with the defibrillator strapped to my back and the paddles stuck to my chest with duct tape.

If doctors are going to trust us with advanced medical devices like this, what's next? An in-home surgery kit? ("Bullet Out!" by Ronco!) Or how about a portable CAT scan machine? ("Honey, I've found out why you're having those headaches. Looks like somebody shot a nail into your head when you were a kid. Don't worry, I just got that new Craftsman Cranial Saw at Sears. Bob Villa says it's as easy as cutting bread!")

The defibrillator will hit the market just after Christmas. But I'm saving money for the Mr. Anesthesiologist Machine. Or the George Forman Lobotomizer. I can see George pitching it now: "You gotta have a hole in your head not to buy my new product! Only $29.99!"

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. E-mail

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