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Valentine’s Heart

The heart as a symbol has been rendered by artists as diverse as Leonardo da Vinci to Jim Dine. I thought what follows in this blog was apropos for today since it is Valentine’s Day. Today there will be many symbolic images of the heart that will be received through cards, social media and in many other ways.

The story below is from “How to Hold a Heart” by Malia Wollan a frequent columnist for the New York Times Magazine. (January 10, 2016, on page MM25 of the Sunday Magazine) It was such a different way to think of the heart. This is from the viewpoint of a surgeon instructing her students.

 “There is an adage that says a good surgeon needs a lion’s heart, an eagle’s eye and a lady’s hands. Kathy Magliato, the director of women’s cardiac services at Providence St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., explains what happens during a heart transplant. ‘Don’t worry about the size of your hands.’ Instead, concentrate on not dropping it; a heart covered with blood is very slippery.

Don’t just reach into the chest cavity and grab it as you would an apple: It will slip between your fingers, bruise, even tear. Slide your hand behind the heart until you can feel your knuckles graze the smooth pericardial sac encasing it. Once the organ is centered in your palm, lift up. Always cradle it in two hands. Squeeze the pinkie sides of your palms together, overlapping your fingers as if you are scooping up water to drink.

Magliato first encountered an exposed heart as a 20-something surgical resident and despite the bloodiness and chaos was enthralled by the muscle’s magnetism. As soon as she wrapped her hands around it, she felt calmer. ‘It’s different than holding a kidney or a spleen,’ she says.

Be in the right frame of mind: gentle but not afraid, self-assured but not cocky. A flaccid heart is so fragile that you can put a finger through it. Pumping, it is a workhorse. ‘It beats with such vigor – its strength is astounding,’ Magliato says. Don’t expect all hearts to look and feel the same. A healthy adult heart weighs roughly 10 ounces, but it will seem heavier. (A diseased heart, especially one with dilated cardiomyopathy, can be much larger.) A newborn’s heart is tiny – no bigger than a half-dollar coin – and is the only size heart that can be safely held in one hand.

During transplant surgery, doctors cut out the heart to be replaced and put it in a stainless steel basin, where it will often continue beating for a few minutes. Magliato always asks the nurses not to take it away until it is still. ‘Give the heart the reverence it deserves,’ she says.”

Today is Valentine’s Day, a time when all hearts come to life in another way. I write with reverence to my and your Valentine heart.

Thanks for reading!