Have you ever listened to the sound of your heart? Not in a doctor’s office, that’s too sterile, but when you’re nervous, elated, sad, standing at the edge of the ocean, in the woods, at the precipice of some great decision? There is a quote from Sylvia Plath, author of "The Bell Jar," which states, “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart; I am, I am, I am.”
Your heart, for all intents and purposes, never fails you; it can’t leave you, it can’t suddenly break from your chest and waltz away, never to be seen, or more importantly, heard from, again. Your heart beat is constant. Your first to your last moments, your heart echoes in your chest. At a junior internship last year, I understood just how comforting hearing your heartbeat could be.
Interning at the Pediatric Oncology and Hematology unit at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children was an amazing experience. I was able to understand the ins and outs of the unit, seeing all aspects--good and bad--of the career that I have had an interest in possibly pursuing since I was young. On my second day, however, I saw a side of the career that I hadn’t thought about: the procedural aspect.
A boy, no older than 9, was crying on an operating table. His backless gown exposed his spine, while his mother stood next to him, holding his hand, while they put him under light anesthesia. He and his mother spoke broken English, understanding only the basics--that the boy was sick and was receiving medicine in the form of spinal chemotherapy.
The boy cried and vomited; his mother becoming more and more distressed as they tried to find the space between the lower two vertebrae of the spine. His mother looked to me, eyes filled with tears, before leaning against my shoulder. I felt helpless--the boy needed the medicine, but he was so distraught. I can’t begin to imagine how his mother felt. I looked to her, and in what little Spanish I knew, I said that her son had a strong heart and he would be fine. She looked to me, nodded, and gave me a watery smile.
Watching the procedure was difficult, but I looked to the woman and knew I had to be strong for her and her son. The procedure finished, with the boy sobbing and his mother rushing to his side. The doctor who I had been shadowing for the day smiled at me, leading me into the hall. “You did a wonderful job,” he said, touching my shoulder. I told him I felt like I had done nothing, but he shook his head in response. “Sometimes we forget that the strongest part of us is the heart, physically and emotionally. You reminded her that the heart is strong,” he said smiling.
In those moments and for a few hours after, I understood a lesson that will never leave me. Human beings are resilient--we are social, relying on each other in our greatest times of need. Comfort, of any kind, can mean the world. The hearts that thump inside of us, pumping with passion and life in each beat, are strong, and the beat of a heart reminds us never to give up.