Heart 2 ♥

Yesterday I happened to pick up the Australian Magazine from the Weeken Australian, something I only really do when I am visiting Mum and Dad, simply because I personally do not buy the paper. I was flicking through it when I discovered an article entitled “Switching: Can you really die of a broken heart?” The topic intrigued me, so I read it.

I guess it interested me because of my previous blog on euthanasia, and I have always held a belief that it is possible to die of a broken heart, because I have heard of it happening. But, I have also seen palliative patients hold off death, until that final moment when they have been able to say good-bye to family and friends. But is this to do with the mind or with the heart, or is it both?

What role does the heart play? We all know the biological function of the heart, it is basically a lump of muscle that pumps that red stuff round our bodies too keep us alive. A simplified definition I know, but there it is. That is all it is, a lump of muscle, or is it?

The Ancient Egyptians believed that it was more than that. They believed that the heart was the source of wisdom, emotion, memory and personality. They even held the belief that final judgment involved the heart. They believed that the heart was weighed against a symbol of universal truth, harmony and balance, the feather of Ma’at.

The Judge was Anubis and in order to pass into the underworld, the heart had to equal the weight of this feather. Should the heart be heavier, it would be fed to Ammit, and the soul would be destroyed.

In 1535 Andreas Laguna identified the heart as the seat of all emotions, and Aristotle in the 14th Century believed it to be the body’s primary organ, believing it to control emotion, motion and sensation, and that it was the centre of vitality.

Most scientists today would scoff at this, but I am not 100% convinced myself that this is not part true. The article I mentioned earlier discussed the idea of death as a result of heartbreak. The author, Jane Wheatley, discusses examples of people who having been through periods of great distress, and as a result having similar symptoms to that of a heart attack. She mentions research done in Japan in the 90’s of a syndrome known as Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy, which reported cases of patients with heart failure, all of whom had no history of risk factors, recovered independently in days with no interventions. All of these patients had recently been through an emotional crisis.

The evidence seems to support the link between the heart and emotion. Further to this, I have heard report of patients post heart transplant taking on characteristics of the heart donor. These stories were part of a documentary I saw a few years ago, and the idea came about that the heart may have memory cells. A logical next step I suppose, and not an idea I am willing to dismiss.

It is hard to deny the idea that the heart is more than a ‘lump of muscle.’ History and lexicography both seem to deny this idea. As far back as we can go, there has been the idea that the heart is more than just a pump. If it is why do we feel an ache in the heart with loss or sadness, why does it hurt so much? If it is why does poetry link the heart and soul. Why is the heart even now seen as the centre of our beings?

Some of you may see this as ‘hippy nonsense,’ but even religion says other wise. Genesis 6 : 5 puts the thoughts of evil men in their hearts, and in Exodus 5 through 12 there is the quote:

“Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his Officials so that I may perform these miraculous signs of mine among them.”

It seems that time again, both literature, and science prove to us that the heart is much more than it appears. I am certainly willing to believe it, are you?

Doctor, Doctor…..

U-M Emergency Department

Image by UMHealthSystem via Flickr

This post is prompted by a conversation myself and a friend were having today about Emergency Departments. We were talking about the triaging system that is in place in every emergency department in the world, and I was explaining that this is possibly the only thing  that keeps some semblance of sanity in a normally chaotic environment.

ED is a place overflowing with emotions at the height of every extreme. People are scared, angry, in pain, distraught, and sick. Not one person in this room (and I am quite sure this includes the staff, who are pulling their hair out trying to deal with it), are thinking of others. But, then you get that one person, who thinks themselves smarter and more important than anyone else. That person who unlike anyone else in that room, decides that they should not have to wait the crazy amount of time usually allocated to their simple cough or cold, that they decided was beyond the ability of their local GP. These people, in their selfish wisdom, walk up to the triage desk, and claim chest pain, because they know that they will get seen quicker than anyone else. Have they not been told the story of the boy who cried wolf?

These people are surprisingly common! My pet hate as a nurse are these people. It does not matter to them that that one person who really does have chest pain, now gets neglected because of their selfish act. I have heard stories of people ringing an ambulance claiming chest pain, and on arrival of the ambulance have been leaning up against a wall, smoking a cigarette, and all they really wanted was a blanket!

I guess what I am saying, is think about why your are attending the already over flowing emergency departments, try and think about the other patients who are there – there is usually a pretty damn good reason that we are required to wait six hours, and PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE acknowledge that the staff working there are usually harrassed enough dealing with heightened emotions, with out us complaining about the time it takes to wait. Something hospital staff have very little control over. We can not flick a switch that means people stop getting hurt or sick.

Have a little humanity and compassion.

The Man on the Pier.

This was a piece inspired by a photograph I saw, unfortunately not one I can post on this site due to copyright, but I hope you all enjoy my moment of creativity.

The Man on the Pier.

It was not the loss that was the hardest to understand, it was the reasoning
behind it. People kept telling him that it would get easier, things would make
sense again, but, standing there looking into the waves, happiness seemed a
million miles away. There seemed only one answer. It could all be so easy. So
easy, to end it all, to stop the pain and the misery.

Worse than the misery he was in, was the misery he was causing others by just being there, by just being around people. Since the loss of Eliza, he found it hard to smile and
laugh. There was this oppressive black cloud hanging over him, one that he could
not shake. He wanted to laugh and smile with the others, but it was like a
couple of lead weights hung onto these emotions, weighing them down.

He looked down into the ocean, feeling the sea breeze, and smelling the salt and
seaweed  on the air, one last time. Then with one final heaving sob, he stepped
off the end of the jetty, and let the icy ocean engulf him, watching the blue
green Ice water close over his head. Feeling the air compress out of his lungs,
and allowing the blackness to encase him.

So this is what it feels like? This is what people can’t predict, what nobody yet knows or understands? It is hard to explain what happens, it is like a red net curtain falls, followed by a black velvet one; only it isn’t black, it is more than black, it is darker than
black. You can’t feel or touch it, but you know that if you could it would be
soft and warm, but unlike any softness or warmth you have ever felt
before.
Beyond this curtain is a yawning black chasm, stretching into vast
nothingness, and whilst you are balancing on the edge of infinity, reality
wavers like a flame searching for oxygen, before it flickers and expires, and
infinity embraces you, and the sense of falling is overwhelming, but it does not
come with fear, it comes with peace and calm.

The sensations that follow are those of belief and final understanding, the answers come all at once, like a flock of pigeons after a scrap of bread that has been tossed to its fate. The feelings that envelop you are sense and belonging; this is where you have been heading, this is where you have always meant to be, you suddenly realise that
death always has been inevitable, and it always was rushing towards you like a
high speed train, and sooner or later it was bound to stop at your station –
delays can only last so long.