I had cause to learn last week about an anatomy difference that was new to me. When I say, Place your hand over your heart,” probably your right hand stretches across your body to rest somewhere near your left breast. So you know where your heart is. But what I didn’t know is that there’s lots of variation about just where it is under the hand that’s resting there. Some of us have hearts right up against our chest walls. Some of us have hearts that are tucked back into the centre of our bodies.
This is physically important because there’s a radiation beam that races towards my left breast every day. The scariest long-term side effects are the way the radiation clips my lungs and my heart. But the heart is the very most dangerous, because it’s not that big, and if the wrong part of it gets damaged, you don’t have to worry that much about dying of cancer.
So my when the doctor pulled out the scan of my body to tell me where my heart was, I imagined my poor heart beating harder, wherever it was. Was it up near the chest wall, in the line of danger? “You have an excellent heart,” he told me. “Very deep and tucked away, well out of danger.”
So of course that is good news. I love that my heart is not getting radiated with my breast, love that the damage I see and feel does not extend down to the muscle pumping blood through my veins.
I started to wonder, though, about the metaphoric implications of this deep heart of mine. We don’t just think about the heart as the organ that keeps us alive; we think about it as our emotional centre, as the place from which love arises. What if our physiology could teach us something about how we engaged with the world? Perhaps in that world, before a first date, you could exchange MRIs and determine that your heart is so close to the chest wall and his is so deep that it will never work. Or maybe that it will work so well because of that difference—you know how opposites attract.
I have been puzzling away at this question.
What does it mean to have a heart that’s tucked away? Is it protected, walled off, unreachable? Or is it at the centre of my body and being? And if you had asked me where I experienced my heart, would I have said so close to the surface? (You know, Gentle Reader, that I am not shy about expressing my emotions.) Or would I have said deeply tucked away?
And where do you think yours is? And where would you choose for it to be?
Physically, my heart is in the perfect place, tucked away from the magic machine that burns through quite a lot of territory in its search for cancer cells.
Metaphorically? I guess my heart is a little sore these days, no matter how well tucked. The treatments are making me increasingly weary, and now I’m in pain too, a strange inside out pain of burning deep inside the skin, like nothing I’ve ever felt before. I have negotiated with my doctor to drop one session, so the back end of the 24 sessions is speeding toward me. Twenty down. Four more days of the “Good morning, Dearie, head on through,” from the kind receptionist. Four more days of changing into my blue flowered gown. Four more times to watch the x-ray machines dance. Four more times with my hands outstretched, the cold burning eye, the pen marks on my skin.
And then two weeks after that to watch the skin get worse, and then, each day after (hopefully hopefully) better. The short term effects begin to dissipate quickly. The longer term ones don’t show up for a while. In between there’s just deep-hearted me, healing, hoping, and loving each dawn.