WASHINGTON — A palm-size pacemaker device was implanted in Vice President Dick Cheney on Saturday to guard against bouts of dangerously rapid heartbeats, a preventive measure doctors likened to "having a cardiologist in your chest 24 hours a day."
Physicians at George Washington University Medical Center, where the hourlong procedure was performed, emerged in their hospital scrubs to pronounce Cheney's prognosis "terrific" and his life-expectancy "excellent."
Cheney walked out of the medical center seven hours after he checked in. He waved to well-wishers and held hands with his wife, Lynne. "I feel good," he said before climbing into his limousine. "Sore shoulder."
It was the third time since the November election that Cheney has been hospitalized for cardiac problems. On Saturday, doctors emphasized the device was implanted "not to react to a crisis but to prevent a crisis," and said that the vice president could return to work Monday without restrictions, which Cheney, 60, planned to do.
"He is the same person that he was on Friday, with the addition of this electronic insurance policy under his skin," said Dr. Jonathan Reiner, Cheney's cardiologist.
Still, doctors acknowledged that Cheney's overall heart function remains diminished, the result of four heart attacks suffered since 1978. Reiner said the volume of blood propelled from Cheney's heart with each beat is below normal, operating at a level of "moderate impairment."
For his part, Cheney appeared to glide effortlessly through Saturday's ordeal. Sedated during the procedure, he opened his eyes immediately afterward and asked what time it was, ate a shrimp salad for lunch and took only Tylenol for pain, his doctors said.
Among White House officials, every effort was made to stress that Cheney is capable of continuing with his duties, despite his medical problems.
At Camp David, Md., President Bush took time out from a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to call the vice president in the hospital recovery room. During a photo session later, Bush said he does not expect Cheney to slow down.
"I know he ought to work at a pace he is comfortable with. And I know Dick Cheney well, and if I were to say: 'You've got to slow down, Mr. Vice President,' he's going to say, 'Forget it,' because he's got a job to do, and he's a valuable member of my administration," Bush said. "And I look forward to seeing him in the Oval Office Monday morning."
Cheney elected to go forward with the implant after a monitoring device recently strapped to his chest for 34 hours detected four episodes of rapid heartbeats lasting a total of about five seconds. In a worst-case scenario, such irregular palpations could cause a sudden stoppage of the heart and death.