Thursday, January 10, 2013

`And Pause Awhile from Learning to Be Wise'

The first heart catheterization was performed in 1844 by Dr. Claude Bernard, the great French physiologist much devoted to the liver and pancreas. His patient was a horse whose left and right ventricles were accessed via the jugular vein and carotid artery. The procedure was first administered to a human in 1929, in Germany. The patient and physician were Herr Doktor Werner Forssmann, who sought a way to deliver medications directly to the heart. The following year Dr. Otto Klein performed the first diagnostic heart catheterization in Prague’s University Hospital, but the procedure remained on the fringes of clinical practice until 1956 when André Frédéric Cournand of France, the aforementioned Forssman, and Dickinson W. Richards, Jr. of the United States shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. 

Today, 2.7 million Americans get heart catheterizations each year. I'll join them on Friday, when a radiologist inserts a catheter into my femoral artery and snakes the tube, guided by fluoroscopy and real-time radiology, to my heart. I’m told I’ll be sedated but conscious, which is good news because I’m curious to know how such a thing feels, and I hope I’m able to see the monitor. I’m symptom-free. The catheterization is diagnostic. My cardiologist wants to know the cause of an irregularity in my heart rhythm, but I feel silly going to all this trouble. I have a horror of hypochondria, not disease, and I’m blessed with mindlessly undeserved good health. The only thing I can take credit for is having never smoked tobacco, but even that's nothing to brag about because I was never tempted. I should be a wreck, considering the way I used to conduct my life. When conversation turns to ailments and cures, I excuse myself from the room. I’m with Dr. Johnson, in The Rambler #48, on the subject of medical obsessions: 

“Among the innumerable follies, by which we lay up in our youth repentance and remorse for the succeeding part of our lives, there is scarce any against which warnings are of less efficacy, than the neglect of health. When the springs of motion are yet elastick, when the heart bounds with vigour, and the eye sparkles with spirit, it is with difficulty that we are taught to conceive the imbecility that every hour is bringing upon us, or to imagine that the nerves which are now braced with so much strength, and the limbs which play with so much activity, will lose all their power under the gripe of time, relax with numbness, and totter with debility.” 

My heart still “bounds with vigour” and I’m not yet tottering. In “The Vanity of Human Wishes,” in the passage devoted to the “young Enthusiast,” Johnson writes: 

“Should Beauty blunt on Fops her fatal Dart,
Nor claim the triumph of a letter'd Heart;
Should no Disease thy torpid Veins invade,
Nor Melancholy's Phantoms haunt thy Shade;
Yet hope not Life from Grief or Danger free,
Nor think the Doom of Man revers'd for thee:
Deign on the passing World to turn thine Eyes,
And pause awhile from Learning to be wise.”


Anonymous said...

And I should be sorry to give a wrong idea of my health which, if it was not exactly rude, to the extent of my bursting with it, was at bottom of an incredible robustness. For otherwise how could I have reached the enormous age I have reached. Thanks to moral qualities? Hygienic habits? Fresh air? Starvation? Lack of sleep? Solitude? Persecution? The long silent screams (dangerous to scream)? The daily longing for the earth to swallow me up? Come come. Fate is rancorous, but not to that extent.


Ron Slate said...

I want to say it's too early for you to consider the encroaching imbecility, but I don't want to deposit a mere pleasantry for you. Instead I'll say simply that I expect you have have more to say about this experience as soon as you've recovered, preferably speedily, from the procedure. I will think of you on Friday.

Roger Boylan said...

Best of luck, Patrick.