February 9 - February 15, 1995

[Eighth Day]

aHEART BEAT: While waiting to work on a patient in a New Orleans hospital where I was an EKG technician, a well-respected cardiologist saw me reading the classified ads. "Looking for a part-time lover?" he queried, settling in next to me. "Full-time lover, part-time job," drawled my 20-year-old mouth. He limped away, hopefully to call his very pregnant wife, and tell her what a good boy he was.

That was probably the smallest of the affairs of the heart I experienced while I worked at the well-known heart center. And although that surgeon treated me like dead tissue for as long as I worked there, I learned the heart was a more important organ to worry about. As a technician in the clinic, I got a look at hearts in action. My job was to stick small metal cups on the chests and limbs of dozens of people every day, recording their heart waves, up and down. One time there was a man whose cardiogram looked odd--he'd had a heart attack but didn't know it--and within 10 minutes was booked into the hospital. I saw more naked chests there than I care to think about; there were transvestites with scars and implants, men with big breasts, women with none. The really hairy chests were tough because the cups wouldn't stick. Many of these patients had stories to tell and all of them had hearts, beating in one manner or another.

Then they asked me to leave the clinic and move into the more agitated world of the hospital with its emergencies, surgeries and traumas. I had to check the heartbeats of sick infants with tiny blinking hearts. One baby, his head filled with fluid, had his heart on the wrong side. There were people in intensive care fresh out of heart surgery, valves cleaned, their chests sewn up in neat lines, bypassing death one more time.

But it was in the emergency room where I experienced just how fast a heart can beat, including my own. Doing the night shift one Valentine's Day, I got called on a code blue to the ER. A big bearded man, around six-feet-five, had been brought in off the streets of New Orleans, a gun wound close to the center of his chest. He was stretched out on the gurney, the toes of his black cowboy boots turned gently out. "Never mind," a nurse told me, he's dead."

But a doctor disagreed, saying, "I want a line on him in case we need it," perhaps for legal reasons.

Touching my first dead body, I removed his large, warm boots and strapped leads to his wrists and his ankles, and I saw the heartbeat of a dead man looks like a long, flat, black line.

Inside my chest, I felt the sinewy breeze of change blowing through the unprotected chambers of my heart.

Keep your hearts on the lee side this Valentine's Day, warriors.

--Hannah Glasston

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February 9 - February 15, 1995

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