Can I use power tools if I have a pacemaker?
I recently had a pacemaker put in and, according to my doctor, I can't get within two feet of my power tools. How do I save my hobby and my health?
—Al Lakatos, Brighton, Mich.
Al, as a bunch of woodworkers, we wouldn't dream of offering medical advice. And we hope that you wouldn't dream of straying from the advice of your doctor, who is, after all, the person closest to your case and most knowledgeable about your medical history and physical condition.
However, we can certainly sympathize with your situation, so we posed your question to Dr. Henry Halperin, M.D., M.A., professor of medicine in Cardiology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. His advice: Ultimately, follow your doctor's orders, but you should also be an active partner in your own health care. Take specific questions to your doctor after compiling careful research about your power tools and your pacemaker.
For example, Medtronic, the world's largest manufacturer of pacemakers, gives specific guidelines about which electrical devices are safe and which you should avoid: "Most household and workplace appliances, tools, and equipment can be used with minimal or no precautions." They warn, however, that heavy equipment, including arc welders and chainsaws, should be avoided, and that some power tools require safety measures to ensure proper functioning of a pacemaker, such as keeping the tool a minimum of 6" from the pacemaker.
"For more modern devices," Dr. Halperin says, "[electrical interference is] much less of an issue. They're very well-protected. They've got all kinds of filters against interference."
If you and your doctor need more information, Dr. Halperin suggests having your doctor contact the cardiologist or electrophysiologist who implanted the pacemaker. Have your doctor contact the manufacturer for the specific limitations of your device.
In the end, Dr. Halperin says that with your doctor's guidance, a balance can be struck. "It's a question of quality of life versus safety."
And don't forget that woodworkers got along just fine for many centuries prior to the discovery of electricity and the invention of power tools. However, do keep in mind that hand tools will require more exertion on your part, so discuss using those, too, with your doctor before acquiring them.