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Creativity & Connection

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.

It shudders,

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."

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