In the evening, as the long rain fell and we watched, I thought of something beautiful and profound that The Cardiologist had said to a young doctor-to-be earlier in the day.
He had said to her, “You won’t find this in many textbooks, but many years ago, I discovered this: the water-filled vessels of the bowel transmit heart sounds. Just in the background, but if you listen hard enough and patiently enough, you’ll hear the faint poom-poom-POOM. It’s primal, and if you stay with the sound long enough, you’ll find your own heart in there somewhere, in your patient.”
I remember one late autumn in the New Forest, when he taught me similar beauty and humanity. We had been collecting mushrooms with my parents, and in a fit of playfulness, he began to chase me. I ran into the bog and my feet got slowed down by the wet mud as the earth beneath me sank by a few inches. But valiantly, I ran on, sinking deeper each time, my boots making that squelching noise as gravity and the wet earth sucked me in.
“Corrigan’s water hammer pulse! Can you hear it?” He had said loudly with a smile in his voice. The sun shone down fiercely on him. I wasn’t sure if he was speaking to me or my father. Then turning to me, he asked, “You remember it, Noggin, from your medical textbooks?”
I was annoyed that he dared to use the nickname that my brother gave me, that only my brother used, and most of all, I was annoyed that though he was younger, he knew so much more than I. That had always been a sore point between us in our private arena when we are our less-than-perfect selves.
“Oooh, tell us about it.” That was my mother, with a bright beaming smile on her face.
And so The Cardiologist told us this story about a recent young patient of his, and it was a story of learning about love:
In the heart, blood shoots upwards via the aorta. Right at the exit of the heart, there is a valve. In the normal functioning heart, the valve closes after the heart contracts, so that blood doesn’t fall back into the heart when it relaxes again. But in a faulty heart, the valve doesn’t close properly and half the volume of blood falls straight back into the heart. He had a young patient, a six-year-old girl. He put his stethoscope on her heart and her ears to allow her to listen to the squelching sound that her faulty heart made. He then taught her how to feel her own pulse, so that she understood what he was about to do to her in the operating theatre. And when the little girl woke up, she asked him, “What does my heart say now?”
He grabbed my wrist and grinned. “Yours sounds fine now….and wait a minute, wait a minute, I hear happiness singing to me!”
“It’s amazing that by touching another human being with your fingertips, you can know so much,” my mother marvelled. My mother had been offered a place to study medicine at Aberystwyth (rare for a woman back in those days) but she chose my father instead.
“The most beautiful lesson,” I had to agree.
“Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya,” he said. “In love, you find eternal life, because at the end of this life, there is only love.”
According to the Vedas and Gitas, a man went to the sage Ramakrishna and said, “I don’t know how to love God”. The sage asked the man if there is anything he loved, and the man told the sage that he loved his child. “Ah,” said the sage. “Your child whom you love is the love and service to God.”