Pumping A Heart by Hand: 6.9.17

6/9/17

6:50pm

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When I was just eight years old, I knew for certain I wanted to be a heart surgeon. I don’t know why. It felt important. It felt right. Plus I couldn’t get enough of dissecting things; finding dead animals, killed by our cats and wanting to see how it all worked. I always felt I could handle intense emergencies. I always wanted to be the one to heal a wound on a family member or pet. I liked being the one in charge of health and doing the nasty work to get there; getting my hands and clothes dirty. Why the heart? Again, I don’t really know why. I just loved the word: heart. I liked that it wasn’t really a pretty drawing like you see on Valentine’s cards. I liked that it was a meaty muscle, filled with blood, pumping, covered in fat and veins. Something real. The thing keeping us alive, and not some fantastical sweet version of anything. Something messy, dangerous, strong, detailed, complicated. 

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Until 8th grade. I had had my own stretched out stints in the hospital at that point, as a recovering Leukemia patient. I felt I had had my fill of hospitals and sterile environments, the smell of plastic tubing and the sound of beeping machines. If I was to really be a heart surgeon, perhaps the experience would have been inspiring. But it was exhausting. And the young, egotistical resident doctors didn’t seem to display the same kind of fascination I had with the beings holding the body parts, as much as spouting all their education whether it was necessary, or helpful, or not. Of course, I can look back on them and feel such compassion. How proud they were to be new doctors. Showing off. How precious! But as the young patient, I lost my inspiration in their presence. My own heart went through it’s own trauma’s: getting dangerously close to getting clogged by a blood clot, caused by the plastic tubing placed into my Superior Vena Cava, a vein powerful enough to withstand the toxic reactions of my treatments, so that I could receive my chemo therapy without it burning holes through my smaller veins and bubbling out through my skin. I’d had enough echocardiograms and was no longer interested in watching my own heart beat as a fuzzy image on a machine. And to top it all off – we watched a video of an open heart surgery in my 8th grade science class and I nearly passed out, watching all the blood being pumped through all of the plastic tubing. 

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But suddenly I’ve gotten into watching “Untold Stories of The E.R.,” and all the heart traumas are fascinating to me again. One episode in particular that touched my spiritual center was when a young woman’s heart stopped, and the emergency room doctor pumped it for her, by hand, for two straight hours! She was supposed to be dead or most certainly have severe brain damage after the episode – but she made a full recovery! The immensity of understanding that a stranger pumped your heart with their own hand to keep you alive; or to be the one who simply acts, knowing – “this person’s life has been charged to me; I will do everything in my power, including place my own hand into their chest to beat their heart” – is breathtaking. And the doctor himself seemed humbled under the weight of the experience of what he had done, against medical protocol.

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I suddenly deeply wished to be faced with that kind of responsibility: “No, I am here. You will not die.” And let their blood spill out over my hands and arms and stain me. My beating heart, keeping me alive, so that I may beat their heart for them, to keep them alive. For now, it is perhaps the most visceral, molecularizing way of understanding that we are all one beating heart. Should that person have recovered and wanted to thank me, I would say No – I must thank you, for laying open in my hands and giving me this deepest experience of love I could ever imagine. I am humbled to you, for you are the stronger one in this scenario.

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