Heart du coeur del corazón

“Peaceful Heart Doctor” by the street artist Banksy (PHOTO: Eva Blue, Flickr CC-BY)

Years ago, my wife and I experienced magical moments when we heard our babies’ heartbeats for the first time in the ultrasound room. Even though a flickering pulse sounds like an old dishwasher through a walkie-talkie, we were moved by the hopeful cadence of new life.

However, when I sat in the same room almost 20 years later for a series of heart tests, the magic was lacking. It’s pretty much the same sound, but less about the fresh product rolling off the assembly line. It’s more like a mechanic saying, “Go ahead and get new tires; you’ve got maybe 60,000 miles left on this transmission.”

I’ve reached the age where, if you say the wrong thing to a medical professional, they slick you up like a pig at the county fair to take pictures of your insides. Maybe they’re looking for bacon.

I don’t know why I’m talking about bacon all of a sudden. Bacon got me into this mess. I was feeling a little lightheaded a few days before my physical a couple months ago. Given a family history of gummed-up hearts and strokes, it was enough to merit heart tests. 

Some folks don’t go for extra poking and prodding like this. They prefer to retain an illusion of invincibility more befitting an immature teenager or Packers fan. But me, I’m a Vikings fan with poor motor skills and near constant thoughts of death. Light up the screens, Doc. Tell me my fears are real.

First, I learned that my aorta is completely normal. But the aorta is just the Level 1 boss. Next came the EKG, which I think stands for Elephant Karb Goblin. Then I had an echo cardiogram, which is like a fashion shoot for your heart. They took 98 pictures, but the package I bought only gets me four wallet sized prints, a glossy 8 by 10, and a co-pay.

The big finish was the stress test. These are the high tech treadmill exercises you see in TV shows and movies sometimes, like when Ivan Drago is training to fight Rocky Balboa in “Rocky IV.” It was pretty much like that for me, too, except instead of saying “I must break you,” I said “Make mine with mustard.”

Despite the challenge, my heart held up to the aforementioned stress. In fact, my ticker is like the Greek titan Atlas, holding up the weight of the universe through faithful toil. A heart like mine might last long enough for something else to go wrong.

I kid, I kid! Times like this, one must practice gratitude. I’m glad everything is OK, that my insurance covers preventative care, and that I didn’t slip and fall on the ultrasound goo. 

And yet, it’s a time for reflection. I don’t often look directly at my heart on a tiny little screen. Sure, I can feel my pulse and hear the blood rushing through my ears in the dark of a silent night. But now I’ve gazed upon Thumper in all his glory. He still works! Ah, but just like Thumper the rabbit from “Bambi,” he is a small and vulnerable forest creature, stalked by death for all his days.

Imagine my parents’ joy during my heady prenatal days, hearing that heart fire up for the first time. Now their bouncing baby boy vents oat breath from eating Honey Nut Cheerios in the vain hopes that doing so will cure four decades of benign neglect. 

Here are the important details: I’m fine! (Is anyone fine?) I’m not dying! (We’re all dying). I have the heart function of a much younger man! (And the body of a much older sea lion). 

The best part is, next year, I’m due for my first colonoscopy. Here’s hoping those pictures turn out just as well … and that I never have to look at them.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Saturday, May 18, 2024 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.


  1. Carolyn Wilhelm says

    Well said and enjoyable to read, thanks

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