Wednesday 24 January 2024

Not Any Human Heart, My Human Heart


Last week I saw my own heart beating.

I have seen a human heart beating before, but not my own.

Many years ago I did a post-registration nursing course and part of that involved watching certain operations performed. I was watching a spinal operation. The surgeons accessed the patient’s spine via their ribs and deflating their lung. I looked over one of the surgeons’ shoulder and down into the patient’s open chest. There I saw that person’s heart actually beating, its rhythmic, synchronised beating. The heart was so beautiful, a rich purple colour. Its movement was smooth but also strong, as it pumped blood, it contracted and expanded so noticeably. As I looked down into that patient’s chest, I saw the very spark of that person’s life. Their heart beating and driving the life that filled their body. It’s an image I have never forgotten.

Last week, I had an echocardiogram, an ultra sound scan of my heart. These scans have revolutionised diagnosing heart conditions, and there is heart disease in my family.

I have never had one before but I know how they work, I used to perform leg assessments on patients, using an ultra sound probe. I expected to lay back on an examination couch while a technician pressed an ultra sound probe back and forth across my chest, staring at their little monitor which I couldn’t see.

My first surprise was that there was a second monitor, on the examination room’s wall, were I could plainly see my scan. As the woman performed my echocardiogram, I could see its images on that second monitor too. On the screen, I watched the actual beats of my heart, the padam-padam of it pumping my blood.

I watched the blood rush into my right atrium, and moments later be pulled into my right ventricle. I saw that being repeated in my left atrium and ventricle. I saw my mitral valve, the valve between my left atrium and left ventricle, snap open and closed, like a stage trap door. I watched the outer muscles of my heart’s myocardium work, compressing and relaxing, compressing and relaxing, with their smooth but strong movements. I saw the blood pushed out of my heart, through a surprisingly wide artery, in a remarkably fast and strong wave. I watched my own life, beating away, on an oblong, flat screen monitor, in real time.

Up there on the monitor, was the image of my very life, the thing that keeps me alive. This was the spark of life, my spark of life, my heart beating. It was fascinating and I couldn’t take my eyes off that monitor. I was watching my own heart beating, watching the very thing that is keeping me alive.

The woman performing my scan explained each stage of it, what part of my heart she was scanning and what would be involved, always making sure I was comfortable. She was very attentive and caring, not just performing her task with no care about me except that she got the results that she needed to. Unlike so many other technicians I’ve met. To my shame, I cannot remember her name. She did introduce herself but I was far too focused on watching my scan, on that big monitor. At the end of the scan, she told me she was a nurse too.

I left the hospital with a feeling of being alive, of new life breathed into me. I had seen my own heart beating and strangely it had energized me. I wasn’t firing on all cylinders, I didn’t skip along the pavement outside the hospital or rush along the street, it was an extremely cold day. But I have found I have more energy and impetuses to do those things I want to do, I am writing more again.

I saw my own heart beating, saw my own life in front of me, on a flat screen monitor, and in return I got back so much.