Thursday 4 June 2009

O Heart!

I'm in the office, it's 4pm, and I'm utterly exhausted. I blame that swollen, fatty, beating heart that I saw a few weeks ago when channel four screened live open heart surgery.

Some of my readers will have seen that I suddenly lost my job 9 months ago. With it went the only exercise I ever get - cycling to work. For pretty much most of my adult life I've cycled to work or college. (In fact I only learned to drive a couple of years ago when Bean Thomaltaigh announced that Mac Thomaltaigh was on the way. It was an unstoppable train that no excuse could deflect- I had to learn to drive or else. I'm not, announced Bean Thomaltaigh, in a tone that sounded final, going to drive myself to the maternity hospital. That was that).

But even after I got my license I continued to cycle to work - and continued to enjoy it. Or most days anyway. Only a few times did I let the weather or a hangover serve as an excuse. And even then I preferred to take the Luas instead of the car. (You can listen to podcasts easier on the train or walking. I find that when I'm driving anything engaging is lethal - my concentration drifts to whatever topic is at hand. I confess to shooting through an unnoticed red light once because someone said something interesting on the radio. Terrible I know, but there you are. To remove the temptation of anything engaging I now listen to the impeccably boring Mary Wilson on drive time.)

A few months ago I was fortunate enough to find a job, but at a location about 50% further from home. My previous job was, I thought, at just about the right distance for cycling to work. I could tolerate a further kilometre or so but scarcely more. So when I began at the new place the bike never really figured. I would see it in the garage, and I'd often feel a faint nostalgia for it. The crisp mornings, the extra adrenalin from getting moving in the morning, the passing of motorists stuck in traffic. Though never far behind was the wet gear, the dark, damp winter mornings, the puncture. So in the end I found it easy enough to let the bike slip back, to let my cycling days drift back in memory, to shuffle all that back from a part of me that I still possess to a chapter of my history.

Then came the swollen heart. There it was live on TV, open heart surgery. By the time I joined the spectacle, the whole chest had been cut open. There was nothing but a red-raw, rather unreal cavity which contained a rather large and shapeless pulsating muscle.

They were about to repair a valve it seems, but in order to do so they had to drain and stop, yes stop the heart. When the artificial pump had been plumbed in they sucked out the remaining blood from the chambers of the heart and then the surgeon announced, in a way that someone would normally speak of a farm animal, that he was now going to put it to sleep. They poured a large jug of ice-cold saline solution over the heart, then poured and poured again. And all the while the vigour just ebbed away from the once impressive throbbing. Slower, slower and weaker until it just lay there like a fresh steak. Then they drained off the saline solution and proceded to repair the heart. (I didn't, perhaps couldn't, watch the nitty-gritty of that part of the episode but I heard later that they restarted the heart by simply letting it warm up, but that occasionally they have to give it a squeeze or two. At its most basic the life force is as mechanical as a coiled spring).

But it was the fat around the heart that shook me. This gentleman's heart was wrapped in a swathe of fat, big soft, globular, sinister fat. And I remembered I had put on several kilograms since I had put aside my bike, so I thought of my own heart, and I imagined that it too had become choked in fat. I could see it in my chest, tired, squelching in that same horrid fat, struggling to press the next beat-full of blood around my body. There it was, my life-force, straining to keep going, but not even getting a chance. I had to do something to help it.

And that's what made me return to my bike and make that first exhausting journey today, the first I hope of many. And by this I hope to support and fortify my own beating heart, to tell it, O great indomitable life-force, be strong, keep going, beat on.

1 comment:

Mise said...

And good luck to the resurgent cyclist. A person can look dignified and carefree on a bike, whereas jogging, that other traditional exercise, gives the appearance of trying too hard.