Thursday, April 18, 2019

'That Little Murmur Wasn’t There Before'

I remember a little girl who was said to have a “heart murmur,” which conjured the image of a small internal voice forever nagging. She was deemed “delicate.” We shouldn’t yell around her or knock her down, and definitely don’t mention the murmur. It was all mumbo-jumbo, something adults told kids to make them behave. The Mayo Clinic attempts to clear things up for the lay audience:

“Heart murmurs are sounds during your heartbeat cycle — such as whooshing or swishing — made by turbulent blood in or near your heart. These sounds can be heard with a stethoscope. A normal heartbeat makes two sounds like ‘lubb-dupp’ (sometimes described as ‘lub-DUP’), which are the sounds of your heart valves closing.”

In other words, yet another illustration of nature’s fondness for iambic meter, and “turbulent blood” is awfully good. While recently writing an essay about light verse, I corresponded with a fine poet in Louisiana, Gail White, for whom humor and the more troubling human realities are conjoined twins. She wrote a poem titled “Heart Murmur,” which begins:

“‘That little murmur wasn’t there before,’
the doctor says, folding his stethoscope.
‘The valves are stiffening a bit with age.
It’s natural.’ So is the hangman’s rope.”

On Monday I underwent a heart catheterization which, like a heart murmur, sounds more ominous than it is. The cardiologist inserts a tube into the groin (always a giggle-inducing word), threads it into the coronary arteries and injects contrast dye to assess their blood flow. I watched the whole thing on a monitor suspended from the ceiling.

Now I’m left with an eggplant-colored and -sized bruise where the cardiologist breached my femoral artery. The point of the procedure was to investigate my “bundle branch block,” an alliterative phrase I love saying aloud. The heart seems to generate poetry. And the procedure cleared me for spinal surgery on Friday. I did a literature search and found this: “Poetry and narrative therapy for anxiety about spinal surgery.”

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