The Heart of the Matter
It pumps far more than blood
I sat in one of the chairs in the hallway at the entrance to the Critical Care Unit and cried. It was a soft, silent cry, a slow release of emotion. My wife was behind the door in Room 4, sleeping, machines of life surrounding her, tiny flashing lights and numbers were the only illuminations in the room. The only sounds were the chirps of the monitors measuring her vital signs.
Her heart was broken. A valve needed repairing. The doctors said it was not an unusual vascular problem and that there was a high probability of full success, especially since her health otherwise was very good. The surgery went well, I was told. Better than the surgeon anticipated. And so, so far, so very good.
Still, it is the heart we are considering. The organ of life.
The heart is a muscular machine that pumps blood through the blood vessels of the circulatory system. The blood carries oxygen and nutrients to the body while carrying metabolic waste, such as carbon dioxide to the lungs. The heart is about the size of a closed fist and does its work from its position in the middle of the chest. Its rhythm is determined by what are called pacemaker cells. The rest rate is usually around 72 beats per minute.
But we all know the heart is far more than this.
The heart is where our soul exists, where emotion rests, it holds our essence, and it’s filled with meaning. The heart is the poet’s engine and the lover’s locomotive. The link between the physical heart and the human emotions of courage, sadness, caring, and tenderness has been with us for centuries from the ancient Chinese to Shakespeare to The Beatles. The belief in the existence of the emotional heart is so strong that it is hard for us to separate from the physical. In 1982 when Barney Clark received the medical world’s first permanent artificial heart, his wife asked the surgeons, “Will he still be able to love me?”
Love is what fueled my tears in that hospital hallway. I was relieved and thankful. My heart pumped my own blood, but it also pumped love itself, sending it to all parts of my being, embracing me, soothing me. And through the door before me, in the room just to the right of the entrance, another heart pumped, as it had before. But now it performed its vital work more efficiently, with more purpose. This heart always had held love, but now, love had new life, the soul more nourishment. And with its rhythm now matching the beat of my own, wouldn’t it be remarkable if they both kept on beating for a million years.
Photo by Jess Bailey Designs