Man uses fence to jump-start heart

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By Belinda Feek

A Hamilton man has taken Kiwi ingenuity to a whole new level after using his neighbour's 8000 volt electric fence to jump-start his heart.

John Griffin suffers from atrial fibrillation [AF] - an irregular heartbeat which, if left untreated, could lead to a stroke.

One of the treatments for the condition is electric shock by defibrillator.

But when Griffin got frustrated with the emergency department during an episode, he went home and ended up using his neighbour's fence to get a shock instead.

It gave him a "decent belt", he said, and his heart started beating regularly again.

"It was right as rain ... It worked like a treat."

But medical experts have warned against Griffin's DIY method, labelling the practice "dangerous".

The 69-year-old retiree has had AF for 19 years. He says he knows when it comes on, knows when to take his medication and when to seek medical attention.

But on April 2, he lost his rag and called a senior nurse in Waikato Hospital's Emergency Department [ED] a "proper little bitch" before leaving without treatment.

Griffin said he had put up with the irregular heartbeat for about 20 hours. From 48 hours onward, a patient becomes susceptible to a stroke.

Griffin felt the atrial fibrillation wasn't going away so admitted himself to the hospital's ED.

During the first two hours, he had scans and tests, before being told it would be another six hour wait.

He didn't mind the wait, as he knew he wasn't a priority patient, but knew he had to take more medication to get him through the next six hours.

"I asked the nurse if I could go home and come back in say three hours but was refused as she said I would be wiped off the list and would have to start again."

He suggested that instead, he pop home and pick up more medication. But again she told him he would be put to the back of the queue, he claimed.

He then asked if the hospital could supply him with medication but was told no and warned again.

Continued below.

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Griffin then swore at the nurse, who he then claimed told him, "I won't stand for that." He went home, took his medicine and, daunted by a trip to a hospital in Auckland, noticed his neighbour's fence.

Kicking off his boots, he put the back of his hand on the fence to give himself an electric shock.

He described the DIY method as feeling like he had received a "decent belt" through his body, but added it worked "straight away, virtually. I just walked away."

"It gave me a decent belt and [my heart] came right."

Dr John Bonning, Waikato Hospital's clinical director, did not recommend people use an electric fence that way as it was "dangerous and ill-advised".

As for the incident at the hospital, he couldn't talk about Griffin's case as it was being investigated after he lodged a complaint.

"Unfortunately incidents of verbal and physical aggression is an increasing problem confronting healthcare workers every day. We have adopted a zero tolerance policy that refers to specific actions or behaviours that will not be tolerated."

Bonning said prioritising patients in ED was a fluid situation that varied "from minute to minute".

"It is not practical or safe for a busy ED to let patients go home and come back into the queue. If they are well enough to go home then they probably could seek treatment elsewhere."

He said medication cannot be given to anyone without a medical assessment.

Counties Manukau Health stroke specialist Dr Geoff Green had never heard of somebody using an electric fence that way, but also advised against it as it could have the reverse effect.

"There is certainly reports of people precipitating AF by getting shocks so it obviously worked for him which is really quite interesting but if people do grab electric fences or have inadvertent electric shocks sometimes they can get AF from that, so it can also cause AF.

"So I wouldn't recommend it to anybody."

Dr Gerry Devlin, medical director at the Heart Foundation of NZ, said using an 8000 volt electric fence was "completely inappropriate" and would deliver a large bolt.

"We should not be recommending people treat themselves in that way."

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