I was at dinner with my family in 2001 when my heart started beating rapidly. No, it wasn't because we were having meat loaf for dinner. It turned out that I was experiencing an episode of atrial fibrillation, which is defined by the American Heart Association as follows:
Atrial fibrillation is a disorder found in about 2.2 million Americans. During atrial fibrillation, the heart's two small upper chambers (the atria) quiver instead of beating effectively. Blood isn't pumped completely out of them, so it may pool and clot. If a piece of a blood clot in the atria leaves the heart and becomes lodged in an artery in the brain, a stroke results. About 15 percent of strokes occur in people with atrial fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation, or "afib", is more likely to occur in the elderly, or in patients whose heart has been compromised by illness or surgery. I don't fit any of the regular profiles, and as my cardiologist said, other than the afib, I have the heart of an eighteen-year-old (the bad news is he wants it back!)
Since that initial episode, I have taken a variety of medications in an attempt to control my afib episodes and I have undergone two cardiac ablations:
Radiofrequency ablation may be effective in some patients when medications don't work. In this procedure, thin and flexible tubes are introduced through a blood vessel and directed to the heart muscle. Then a burst of radiofrequency energy is delivered to destroy tissue that triggers abnormal electrical signals or to block abnormal electrical pathways.After my second ablation failed to completely curtail my heart's fibrillation, my perplexed cardiologist suggested that I have a "mutant" heart. I'm waiting for the super powers. As these two "non-invasive" procedures have only been partly successful, I remain on beta blockers and blood thinners to control the worst of the symptoms.
I relate this information, not to solicit sympathy (although I am accepting any and all donations), but rather as an introduction to a piece I wrote concerning the heart as a metaphor that I presented at the 2005 Media Ecology Association Convention, and a version of which I have posted at a new blog, The Heart of the Matter.
As I was lying on my back after my first ablation (you must remain still for eight hours after the procedure), I began to think about the heart, an organ which most of us take for granted. That didn't help me get to sleep, so I began to think about the heart as a metaphor. It occurred to me that the heart, as related in popular culture, performs functions other than the pumping of blood. To quote from my paper:
The metaphor of the heart is not about the circulation of blood or the regulation of physical health. As portrayed in popular culture, the heart is the site of emotions, of certain deep thoughts that correspond to the true beliefs of an individual. The heart is also portrayed as a source of wisdom that can be tapped if we pay attention to it.This did succeed in making me drowsy, but I was able to begin a line of thought about the reason why conceptual metaphors, like that of the heart, persist in our culture, despite changes in dominant media forms, social structures and languages. The results can be found at the link above, and I welcome comments.