by Michael Hearne
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am not without it(anywhere
i go you go…
—E. E. Cummings
One of my cardiology associates named his horse Consultation. Then when a call looking for him came to his house, his wife could say in all honesty that he was out on consultation.
Consultations come in all sorts of variations. Physicians seek the advice of specialists. Patients consult their doctors for a cure. Some consults are simple, some are complex. Consultation can be life saving or inconsequential. The consultant can find the exercise rewarding or aggravating.
The call for a particular consultation was one that I did not like to hear. “Would you please come in and evaluate this patient as a cardiac donor.” A patient had been deemed to be a potential donor and a transplant center had been contacted. The transplant team nurse had been dispatched and had performed the initial evaluation. Now all that was needed was for a cardiologist to render his opinion that the donor heart was free of disease. Then the transplant nurse could contact the transplant surgeons and the process could begin.
The request for this kind of consultation would always make me feel like a technician. I was asked to evaluate an organ and not a patient. The neurologist would have come and gone and declared the brain, the organ of his concern, dead; the soul or whatever you choose to call it had left the body. All I had to do was review an echocardiogram and make sure that the heart was beating normally.
Perhaps one of the reasons for my dislike of the cardiac donor consult was that I found it an occasion to easily become judgmental. Some potential donors were heavily tattooed bikers who had chosen not to wear a motorcycle helmet; others were suicides. Occasionally, however, an otherwise healthy young person would present as a possible donor following a devastating stroke.
My telephone rang in the middle of a cold, snowy February night. The ICU nurse spoke those unwelcome words, cardiac donor consult. I asked if the consult could wait until morning. She handed the telephone to the transplant nurse who said that the transplant team was on standby and that they were quite anxious to proceed. Aggravation rode with me down the hill to the hospital. I was not a cardiologist on my way to care for a patient. Once again I was the technician on call.
When I arrived, the lighting in the ICU was subdued. The only sounds were the swoosh of the respirators and the beep of the monitors. An ICU can be so hectic during the day but can seem so peaceful in the middle of the night.
I asked her nurse about the patient and what had made her a potential donor. The patient was a thirty-four-year-old wife and mother who had experienced a subarachnoid hemorrhage resulting in a massive stroke. A neurologist had evaluated her and had declared her brain dead. Her priest had anointed her. The family had said their last goodbyes and had left. I reviewed her medical record for evidence of heart disease. There was none. I reviewed the normal echocardiogram. Her nurse then directed me to cubicle three.
When I pulled back the curtain, I saw that the room was dark except for a solitary exam light focused on the patient’s left hand. The hand, pale and still, held a single rose of the purest crimson that I had ever seen. A ring with a single diamond, which could have weighed only a fraction of a carat, was on her fourth finger. In spite of the stone’s small size, the sparkle was brilliant. Perhaps what I saw was spontaneous, but I want to believe that it was created. I see her husband placing the rose and focusing the light on her hand. I see his hand touching hers and sense the love flowing from his heart to hers. I hope her children can still see the hand, the ring and the rose.
Driving up the hill on my way home, I began to see the task which I had performed in a different light. I had been the one to say let it be done. I was the one who said that an organ of life could be transferred from one human to another. In some way the act verged on the sacramental, almost like the act of a priest.
Weeks later at Sunday Mass, I heard the woman’s name read during the prayers for the dead. I never really saw her face, but I remember that she was called Kim. Even now I can see that still life—the hand, the ring, and the rose—painted on my memory. I saw the love that was placed in her heart before it was given to another. I hope that this love continues to dwell in the one who received Kim’s gift. Never again would consultation for donation aggravate me.
The epigraph is from the poem titled, “[I carry your heart with me(I carry it in]” by E. E. Cummings.
Michael Hearne and his wife Kathleen have lived on a small horse farm in New Boston, New Hampshire, for the past thirty years. Michael says, “By the standards of small town New England, this qualifies us as newcomers.” He is still amazed at the beauty of the New Hampshire countryside, especially each fall when he drives down Chestnut Hill Road. Michael has practiced as a cardiologist for twenty five years, primarily in Manchester. Since retirement, Michael has taken up writing as an avocation. He credits Pam Bernard’s classes in poetry and memoir at the Sharon Arts Center for getting him started and keeping him going.