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Rain and Fear: A Defibrillator Sparks Fear in the City

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It was a scorching summer day in Manhattan. Suddenly the skies opened up and sheets of rain billowed across University Place. "Oh God," I thought, " my defibrillator." The voice in my head grew louder. "If it gets wet, it might send an electric shock to my heart." At that moment as if on cue, lightning crashed into a building. It zig-zagged across the sky. The sidewalk seemed to shake as the thunder roared. I ran into a bistro clutching my defibrillator close to my side. The warning beep had not sounded. I was safe for now.

The perky hostess with painted-on eyebrows wearing a little black dress sat me at the front of the restaurant. I gazed out through large glass French Doors. The thunderstorm intensified. Golf-ball size hailstones began to pound the sidewalk. The red light on my defibrillator blinked indicating the device was running smoothly. I ordered a Cobb Salad. Just seven weeks earlier I had undergone quadruple bypass open-heart surgery. I was placed in a medically induced coma. The chief surgeon had told my brother to say his goodbyes. He feared my heart might rupture at any moment. But I had made it through. And here I was sitting in a downtown bistro after a doctor's visit. So weak was my heart in the hospital that my cardiologist ordered I wear a portable defibrillator. I wore a life vest outfitted with six electrodes. It was attached to a black box I wore on my hip. In the event of a heart attack, the contraption would send an electric shock to my heart. A recorded male voice would say firmly: "bystanders stand back." The warning was meant to keep Samaritans at bay. If I -- lying unconscious during an "episode"-- was receiving a shock, anyone coming to my aid might be zapped as well. Luckily I had not suffered a heart attack that would activate my contraption.

As I and about eight patrons watched Mother Nature unleash the fiercest of sudden storms, I was aware of a reality that New Yorkers face and others across the country are beginning to realize. We live in a world where a suspected gunman colors his hair red, calls himself "The Joker" and allegedly opens fire in a crowded movie theater. It was shortly after midnight and the Batman flick playing at the multiplex in Aurora, Colorado was The Dark Knight Rises. Some called 24-year-old James Holmes a "ticking time bomb." Police say the shooter killed at least a dozen people and wounded 58. We live in a world where a gunman can shoot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and kill six bystanders. Police say alleged gunman Jared Loughner was " fixated" on the Congresswoman. Police say he waited in a Tucson, Arizona supermarket and shot Giffords at point blank range with a pistol. We live in a world of attempted car bombings in Times Square. Police say the May 2010 terrorist attack was stopped by two street vendors. They discovered the bomb and alerted a police officer. Faisal Shahzad was arrested and later told cops he trained at a Pakistani terrorist training facility.

It's not just the "evil guys" from "over there" flying planes into skyscrapers. Now New Yorkers as well as all Americans face domestic terrorism. There is suspicion and fear. We don't know if we can be safe anywhere. And even a blinking defibrillator can spark concern.

After finishing my salad and paying my bill I got up and walked to the bar. I explained to the bartender I was wearing a defibrillator. I asked him if he had a plastic bag I could use to protect my device from the thunderstorm outside. "All I got is this," he said. He pulled out an Industrial-sized black garbage bag. It looked like it could hold 70 gallons of trash. "Thanks," I said, grabbing it. In the bathroom I carefully removed my vest and black box and put it in the bag. I folded it over several times to cover the machine. I walked out and placed the bag on a barstool. I couldn't leave the bistro because the storm was still raging. The bartender had disappeared. But half a dozen waiters and waitresses (not to mention the hostess in the little black dress) stared at me and the garbage bag.

Suddenly a loud beep began. The bag seemed to come alive. I realized I had forgotten to remove the battery. Beep. Beep. Beep. I start unraveling the bag and clumsily take out the white vest with six electrodes attached to a black box. It fell to the ground. The red light blinked ominously. The warning beep sounded as loudly as an alarm on a speeding ambulance. I looked up. I saw that the wait staff was wide-eyed and appearing to collectively hold their breath. I knew what they were thinking. The patrons, taking refuge from the rain, stared at me as well. I had 60 seconds to pull out the battery before the possibility of an electric shock. I took it out. I was still getting the stares. I explained: "It's a portable defibrillator. I had a heart attack a few weeks ago. Sorry but I forgot to take out the battery."

Everyone in the restaurant was silent but after a few seconds, the hostess begins to laugh. And soon the peels of laughter almost drowned out the sound of thunder. But soon the laughter subsided.

Rain and fear on a summer afternoon. Could a defibrillator really look like a bomb? Of course not, you say. But still we worry and wonder. Could homegrown terrorism strike like lightning and a thunderstorm out of nowhere once again?