Thursday, August 21, 2014

Matters of the Heart

Of late, I have been ruminating on the nature of the human heart.  More about the reason in a minute.  One of the things I think about is the way in which humans are generally binary—most of us are born with two of everything: two eyes, two ears, two arms, two legs, two lungs, two kidneys, etc.  When we get to some parts of us, we are born with one—one brain, one heart, one liver.  These one of a kind parts of our bodies are, understandably, mostly indispensable.

For centuries, humans thought of the heart as the center of human life—kind of a brain, seat of wisdom and knowledge and moral judgment, as well as of all life.  Understandably, when you consider how indispensable the heart is.  Oh, I know other organs are indispensable—your brain, for example.  But there is something about how we view the heart that is just...well...different.

So, why this rumination?  Well, as I have previously written, I had experienced over the past several years bouts of atrial fibrillation.  That essentially occurs when the heart begins to put out conflicting signals as to when to beat.  The heart functions on its own electrical system—the S-A node setting the pace, and the A-V node bridging the atria and the ventricles.  In atrial fibrillation, another area sends out a rogue signal to beat, somewhere in the atrium, so the atrium beats, and then the S-A node sends out its signal, so the heart beats again.  Chaos—yup, that’s what it is.  A good description of what it feels like is a fish out of water flopping around on the deck.

And that’s what I have experienced.  The immediate correction is to shock the heart back into regular rhythm—which I have had done several times.  The first time the “cure” lasted for a year and a half.  Then the interval shortened to a year, then less, and finally to several weeks.  So it was time to consider another option, if there were one.

Well, TA DA, there was one.  It’s called cardiac ablation.  I’ll let you go here to see what that entails.  It is not a simple procedure.  The doctor advised my husband and me it could take 4 to 5 hours. Mine took a bit over 6 hours—so, I am told.  I don’t recall any of that, of course.

Before I went into the hospital, I told very few people.  No need to parade my medical history around and share it with the world.  Naturally, my husband knew, and our children with their spouses.  My father, and siblings knew.  Also a handful of friends.  That was it—no posting on Facebook or any such public place.

The day before I went into the hospital, one friend called and asked if I was nervous.  Well, I pondered a bit—and said, no, not really.  Then my dad asked how serious the procedure was—could it result in death?  Well, the answer is it could—rarely does, though.  But, the same can be said about getting in a car and driving down the highway. 

Did I think about death?  Naturally.  I think about death from time to time.  I am not immortal. The bargain of life is we are born, and we die.  I also like the opening words from my denomination’s Brief Statement of Faith:  “In life and in death we belong to God.”

So, while I think about death, it holds no fear for me. In fact, I have mused that dying during surgery would be an “easy” death compared to what some people go through.  It is for the living that death is hard.

Oh, please don’t think me morbid—this blog is, after all, about “matters of the heart”—both in the sense of what our hearts mean to us as living biologic creatures, and also what our hearts mean to us in those that we love.

Perhaps a brief poem by X. J. Kennedy (whose birthday is today, August 21, as I write this) speaks words I would say--

“In Faith of Rising”
When all my dust lies strewn
Over the roundbrinked ramparts of the world
I can be gathered , sinew and bone
Out of the past hurled
Delaylessly as I
Flick thoughts back that replace
Lash by dropped lid, lid to eye
Eye to disbanded face.
No task to His strength, for He
Is my Head—Him I trust
To stray the presence of His mind to me
Then cast down again
Or recollect my dust.

And then these words, from Sir Walter Raleigh, who penned them the night before his execution.

Even such is time, that takes on trust
Our youth, our joys, our all we have,
And pays us but with earth and dust;
Who, in the dark and silent grave,
When we have wandered all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days;
But from this earth, this grave, this dust
My God shall raise me up, I trust!

In matters of the heart, I trust.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Fledging Time

It's that time of year, again.  The time when the sweet young people that parents have been nurturing get ready to leave home to go to college.  Or get ready to launch out on their own, having graduated from college and now on their way to that first job.

It is indeed a bittersweet time.  That time was for us, my husband and me, some years ago.  Usually, I am not so aware of this rite of passage--buying up the supplies, figuring out how to pack and load all of it, stuffing the family car to the gills with the entire contents of a child-becoming-adult's bedroom.  But this year, I am more aware as two young people in our neighborhood are launching out.  One is on her way to college, the other on her way to her first job more than half-way across the country.

We have watched these girls grow to women, and have cheered them on their way, from a distance of course.  What we are now particularly watching is their parents as they go through all the letting-go agonies that parents before them have experienced.  The agonies that we too experienced a decade or two ago.  In talking with these parents, it is evident they are feeling those mixed emotions--pride and worry all intermingled.

I especially recall when our older child, our son, went to college that it didn't "hit" me all that much.  First, he was going to a college somewhat nearby--close enough that if either we or he needed to, we could drive to see him.  I recall that I did not cry or even tear up when we--his parents and his younger sister--got in the car and drove away leaving him to make new friends, meet new challenges, and live on his own.

I do confess that four years later, when he had graduated and was now heading to graduate school, it did "hit" me--my son was REALLY leaving home.  Graduate school was in another state, and his then girlfriend (now wife) was going along with him.  That surely meant that we had been replaced as the central figures of his life and that he really was "leaving home."  And, as they pulled out of the driveway to begin what became a life journey, I did cry.

I faced the emotion of separation with our daughter in a different way.  Her first college was further away from home, and as it turned out not the right place for her.  So, after a successful semester, she asked for and received our permission to embark on an even bigger adventure.  At age eighteen, she went to London for a half a year.  She found a job in London and found a city that she loved (and now calls home).  Of course, she returned to the U.S., transferred to the right college for her, and finished her undergraduate education with a flourish.  

This spring, a robin built a nest in our next-door neighbor's hanging flower pot.  First there were four lovely blue eggs, and then four scrawny absurd baby birds.  They turned into four constantly open mouths.  It was fun to watch the dutiful parents flying back and forth bringing beakfuls of food for these ever-hungry babies.  Then we left on vacation.  By the time we returned, the robins had fledged and were gone.  I was sorry to miss watching that wonderful transition--when the baby robin first leaves the nest, and the parents flutter around for several days watching, guarding, squawking encouragement or last minute instructions.  

While we human parents may not do so much fluttering around and squawking, we do completely share the nervous anxiety wondering and worrying--will she make it? what if she needs something and I'm not there? does she remember to....?

My blogging friend, Julie Zickefoose (who is far more eloquent than I) has her own fledgling child who heads to college this year.  Read her lovely blog post here.

And, if you are anywhere where you see a nervous set of parents fluttering around their daughter or son, send a couple of helpful thoughts and prayers their way.  It is, after all, fledging time.