Heart of the Matter

Spending time with children is a rejuvenating experience; a course correction of sorts. It helps one remember, with help from the innocent clarity of a child’s vision, what is wrong, what is right and what one should be thankful to God for. I often try to steal some time away from my daily schedule to play with my daughters and feel that I have reverse-aged during this time that I have spent with them. Their company helps soothe the creases on my brow and loosen a few knots in my mind, and I have found that solutions to ticklish problems will often present themselves to me after a particularly strenuous bout of peek-a-boo. So one day, when my elder daughter started playing around with my stethoscope I watched her with curiosity, itching to see what she will do. After a while, when she figured out what to do with it she placed the diaphragm of the instrument on my chest and…froze! It took her a while to realize that the drumming she was hearing, was coming from the instrument she held in her hands.

‘Papa, what is it ’, she asked me, wide-eyed. ‘That is my heart beating, baby’ I replied. ‘Your heart is beating so fast, Papa’! Her eyes were wide with amazement and her voice quivered with excitement. She stayed that way for quite some time, smiling and looking at me admiringly as if making my heart beat was a great achievement on my part, before she found other issues of interest to distract her from me. Looking in her wonder-filled eyes moved me. How little is required to make a child happy? That wondrous joy in her eyes also reminded me of something which I had lost long ago – innocent admiration of nature’s great wonders. We are surrounded by these and yet are often blind enough not to see them. It needs the clear vision and credulity of a child to notice these, to appreciate the little miracles of life around us – like the beating of the heart.

The heart is a wondrous organ, that is why there is only one in the body, and you can hardly do without it! From around three weeks of conception, about the time a woman comes to know that she is carrying, the fetal heart starts to beat; suffusing the embryo with life. And it never rests and never stops until life itself does. Is there another organ in the body which works as hard to keep us alive; probably not? Diminutive as it is, weighing only around 250-300 grams; the heart is a laborious animal. Day in and day out, it goes on and on, contracting and relaxing and pumping blood to all the parts of the body so that they get their nutrition. All the spent blood from all the organs collects in the right atrium, one of its four chambers, and is then pumped to the lungs from the right ventricle to be loaded with oxygen and returned to its left atrium and thence to the left ventricle which pumps it to the whole body again. Even while you sleep the silent worker is at it, labouring to keep you alive, never pausing, never stopping to rest.

Poets have never tired of singing its praises or eulogising it when it is ‘broken’. Numerous fine artists have been immortalised in innumerable romantic flicks, clutching the left side of their chest and crooning romantic numbers. Surprisingly the heart is situated bang in the middle of the chest! Its strongest chamber, the left ventricle is slightly to the left and can be felt to contract by putting one’s hand lightly on the chest and thence the misplaced notion of the heart being to the left and all. The heart is a small wonder, being no larger than the size of one’s clenched fist but it sure is mightier. Working ceaselessly lifelong, the heart itself is supplied blood by three small coronary arteries. These arteries rush blood to the walls of the heart during diastole or the relaxation phase of the heart. The rest of the body, on the other hand, is supplied with blood by the heart during systole, the contraction phase. It is the coronary arteries which are notorious for all the cholesterol plugs, which lead to a decreased calibre of these vessels thus decreasing the blood supply to the heart and causing a ‘heart attack’ or ischemic heart disease.

This ‘little master’ is the boss of the supply department of the body and it never tires or even heats up. The only evidence that it is working is given by its quiet sound of contraction and relaxation – the ‘lub-dub’ sounds which had so amazed my daughter. These sounds are music to any doctor’s ears but sometimes we need to be reminded of this miracle by our children, to be able to fully appreciate the blessings each one of us has been bestowed upon with!

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