The first time I heard my heart “speak” was in 1977. I figured that it couldn’t speak English, but I knew that it made some type of sound that an expert could understand. I mean, every time I had ever been to see a doctor, one or more people has placed a stethoscope against my chest. Something’s got to be ratting around in there, right?
On my first full day at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Hospital my Cardiologist, Dr. Lionel Barjaron, asked if he could “tape” my heart. I was sort of expecting something to do with medical tape, but they lay me on a table and did the usual Stethoscope against the chest routine. But this stethoscope was attached to a microphone, and that was attached to a tape recorder. They thanked me half a dozen times, and told me that the tape would go to the medical school for the doctors-in-training to listen to. My strange plumbing gave off sounds that would tip a doctor to a problem, and obviously the vast majority of hearts are healthy and don’t produce the sounds they were looking for.
“You want to hear what it sounds like?” Dr. Barjaron asked, and turned on a speaker. “WOMB-too,” it kept repeating over and over, the first sound exactly like the word womb and the second sound like the word tooth with the th left off.
And though I hadn’t realized it, this was not the first time I had ever heard my heart speak. I was told that the heart beat – the “lub-dub” sound we are all familiar with – is caused by the valves slamming shut after the heart chambers fill with blood.
A week later it was the same room, and the same stethoscope/microphone.
“We have to do this again?” I asked. It hadn’t hurt, but I figured the recording had been a one time event.
“You’ve had surgery, and now your heart is making different sounds,” Dr. Barjaron responded. “We’d like to record those, too.” As proof he turned the speaker on again. “You hear the difference?”
“Not really,” I said. To me, it was the same “WOMB-too” as before.
“You just haven’t had any lessons on what to listen for, but to me it sounds a lot different from a week ago,” the Cardiologist assured me. “You’ll just have to trust me on that one.”
Maybe it picked up Dr. Pacifico’s accent, I thought, thinking about my surgeon’s Brooklyn born voice.
So for a while my heart’s voice lived in my body, but also on a tape at the UAB Medical School. It’s probably gone now; that was 1977, after all. And while I own a stethoscope and have heard both healthy and sick hearts speak, I don’t know what they are saying. It’s a subtle language, the language of the heart, and can be easily misinterpreted.
But my heart can say whatever it wants, as long as it just keeps on talking.