Open Heart - Karen Wang
Burnt sternum smells like going to the dentist.
I wonder if open heart surgery feels like going to the dentist:
lying with your chest agape, aware of nothing
but the scent of cauterized bone and a sense
of foreign metal working inside you.
Have you ever felt someone breathe?
I don't mean your hand on their chest,
but splayed ribs against your palm,
the tidal push of lungs under gloved fingers
peeking out with every breath like a groundhog
wondering if spring has come.
The float nurse sits at the computer
intent on an online clothing catalogue.
I wonder how many hearts she's seen.
The surgeon checks the slate.
"It's just another CABG" he says,
like the way the anesthesiologist
tells me "I'm beyond that" when
I asked if he's tired of seeing babies yet.
Imagine seeing so many births you lose count,
so many first breaths that the miracle of life
becomes a fact.
The scalpel unveils another layer
and the surgeon and anesthesiologist make lunch plans.
Cardiopulmonary bypass is the procedure
in which a machine temporarily takes over
the body's circulatory function.
A chemical is injected to induce cardioplegia,
and the heart stops.
The heart does not stop.
whimpering instead of pulsing,
the contour of its vessels more beautiful up close
than Netter could convey.
The lungs sigh.
I was never a stickler for meter,
but my favourite love poem is written in iambs.
It goes: lub dub, lub dub, lub dub,
the rhythm of the heart contracting and filling
with so much passion you can feel
earthquakes in your wrists.
And the lungs: there is something
beautiful about the way
the lungs surround the heart.
The heart beats faster
than the second hand of a clock,
and the lungs envelope the organ
in a gentle embrace.
Maybe this is the ultimate love metaphor:
no matter how wild or erratic the electrical rhythm,
how it seems to want to beat out of the chest,
the lungs wrap their wings around this fist sized pump
like an ever present guardian angel.
They ask only for air and space;
with every beat, the heart cries "I am"
and with every breath, the lungs reply "I'm here."