MedCity Influencers

On Valentine’s Day, the heart keeps both its cultural and medical meaning

The cultural and metaphorical meaning of the heart remains strong on Valentine’s Day, despite the advances made in cardiology.

Listening to NPR Saturday morning, I caught part of Scott Simoninterview of brothers Stephen Amidon and Thomas Amidon, M.D. discusses their book The Sublime Engine: A Biography of the Human Heart.    The interview touched on the story of the human heart in science/medicine, history, and culture.

It turns out that the classic red heart symbol we see almost everywhere around Valentine’s Day doesn’t look much like a real human heart at all.

“Of all the theories about where that symbol comes from, my favorite is that it is a representation of a sixth century B.C. aphrodisiac from northern Africa,” says Stephen Amidon,….. “And I kind of like that history because it sort of suggests that early on, people sort of understood the connection between love and the heart.”

Words and how we use them were the focus of Dr. Pauline Chen interview by WIHI host Madge Kaplan this past Thursday, February 10th (H/T Paul Levy):  A Legible Prescription for Health

On this edition of WIHI, Dr. Chen wants to spend some time talking about language, especially the words doctors use with one another when describing patients; the unintended barriers created the more doctors and nurses don protective, infection-protecting garb; the mounting weight of patient satisfaction surveys; and more.

Back to the NPR interview on the sublime engine: the human heart.  The authors do not feel that as our advances in surgical techniques become commonplace, that the heart will lose any of its cultural and metaphorical significance.

“One of the things that surprised me during the course of writing this book was how durable the heart’s metaphorical power has been — not just in the past 50 years in the great explosion of cardiology, but in the past 500 years since the great anatomists of the Renaissance began opening up bodies and began looking at the physical heart,” he says.

Even as all this was happening, the heart has retained its metaphorical power.

“So perhaps there will be a day when we no longer touch our chest and kind of nod, and people understand we’re talking about qualities that can’t be explained by medicine — we’re talking about courage or devotion or inspiration,” he says. “You can have a situation where someone receives an artificial heart, and afterward goes to their surgeon and says, ‘I thank you for this from the bottom of my heart.’ This will make complete sense to us.”

On this Valentine’s Day, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for spending part of your day with me.

Dr. Ramona Bates is a plastic surgeon in Little Rock, Arkansas, who writes regularly at Suture for a Living.

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