Heart echo

Katie Herman
Med J Aust 2015; 202 (3): 159. || doi: 10.5694/mja14.01329
Published online: 16 February 2015

Over the slosh and suck, the echo-
distorted sound as she shifts the probe,
she intones, This is your pulmonary artery,
your vena cava, your tricuspid valve,
as the noise that fills the exam room
is wrecking my sense of a river system
inside my body fanning out to water
clumps of grasses, stands of trees,
feeding silt onto fields, the seasonal pulse
of ebb and flood. But this is a factory.
This is the boiler room where the steam
rushes through the pipes so loudly you can't
believe the ship can hold it. The technician
slides the cold metal across my ribs.
Lift your left arm, your left breast, she says.
This is amplified many times, and it'll sound
even stranger with your heart rate so high.
I'm thinking, I just don't want to have to
tell my mother I have heart disease at twenty-eight,
the sound waves passing through my chest,
seeking out some defect in the shape
that makes the sounds I shouldn't hear,
hearing them doing nothing to slow them,
though really it's almost cosy in here,
the lights dimmed, a blanket draped across
my gown, and lying back, I don't feel
like my heart is beating at the rate
the monitor says, but there's its sound
broadcast through the room. Whitman called
the body electric, a perfect system, a thing
to celebrate, but what was known then
of the pulses inside? How sometimes
neurons over-fire. Electric storms
run wild. I try to slow my breath to make
the thing inside me match it, think
of the steadiness of waves against a shore,
a flock of swallows contracting and wheeling,
but now on the screen, sound waves revealing
shape, my heart is forming a Rorschach,
and I don't want to see what I'll see.

  • Katie Herman

  • Brooklyn, NY, USA.



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