Take a Breather, My Heart

A preface: Over the summer I grew a little obsessed with an idea that I've harbored for some years now. Namely, getting a tattoo. I've known what I want for a while now, though don't have a specific design yet (damn but I should have stuck with my art classes) and over the summer I figured out where I would get it. That, combined with a certain rediscovered penchant for irresponsible decisions very nearly drove me into tattoo parlors in both Florence and Scranton. Now, anyone who knows me knows that:

tattoo : me :: lace apron : Godzilla

That was part of the appeal, to be honest.

Cut to now (

the ever-glorious now, the ever-present...now,

to quote the late, great Mark Sandman) and my first doctor's visit on the new health insurance. It had been a little over a year since meeting with Ellen Mellow, M.D (and my first meeting [during the second day of last year's subway strike] was my first insured doctor's appointment of my adult life), and we had a lot of ground to cover (see Dec. 2 entry for details). Doctor M. specializes in heart health, and during my check-up she spent a good deal of time listening with her stethoscope. This seemed a little odd to me, but I told myself to relax and let time slip by. Then she asked me to lie down while she did more of the same, listening to my heart from multiple angles. That request put me even more in a "huh?" place. Then she terrified me.

"You have the most amazing arrhythmic heart variations."

Actually, she said a lot more, all in indecipherable medical jargon, but that's the dumbed-down version. As I came to understand, I have what Dr. Mellow considers to be a rarefied variety of regularly changing heart rhythms. She even went so far as to say that it could simply be due to my being an actor, due to emotional versatility/extremism, but that we'd better take an echo scan just to be sure.

And like in a bizarre old movie, she opened a side door from the examining room and there was a darker room with a big machine in it being operated by a man of Asiatic heritage who wasn't much for bedside manner. In the tersest terms he instructed me to lie on my side, close to him and the machine, and rest my left arm under my head. As I maintained my reclining-Venus pose, he attached three disposable electrodes to my chest, triangulating signals on my heart, then smeared a glob of teal gel on what looked like a bladeless electric razor and pressed it into my lower left pectoral muscle.

Bing! Just like that on the computer screen was a grainy, black-and-white image of my beating heart. I saw valve. And for the rest of the examination, at least ten minutes, I was rapt. He pushed the not-an-electric-razor with its not-entirely-warm gel in all different angles off my torso, and I saw live images of my heart switching from cha-cha to two-step, to waltz, to west-coast swing. I thought, as I lay there being prodded, how remarkable it was that we got something so right in ancient times as associating emotion with our hearts. They're not the source, nor a depository, but damned if they don't tie together the whole experience in a visceral way.

It makes perfect sense to me that my heart doesn't, and may never have, kept metronomic time. I don't know if I'll ever get that inking of a great black bird in mid-flap over my left breast. But if I do, it will have good company. Something wild, something of a scavenger, an improviser, itself.