I Have Heard Hearts Beating, and I Have Heard Them Stop


“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.”

Edgar Allan Poe

Sound. How ever could one count the amount they hear, or dive into choosing their most favorite one? My ears have been given great symphonies and sweet nothings as gifts for merely living — and I think there is not a single intonation that has led me astray.

Fire. Breath. Water trickling down glossy rocks. The notes that, to me, mean life are no doubt some of my most cherished sounds. But there is one melody in particular that just may be the most moving of all: the heartbeat.

Thump-thump. Harden, soften. A radiant creation that leaves no chances. No room for thought. A heartbeat simply is, and requires no questions.

I have heard numerous heartbeats. As a child, I rested my ear on many a chest to hear the thunderous pounding of my loved ones inner workings. I counted them steadily, fascinated by their rhythmic genius. I did not know at that time of the hearts mortality.

Once Upon A Time ended, and somehow I grew up. As I entered training in the medical field, I began to quickly realize how serious a heartbeat must be taken. It was no longer just a song, it was life and death. One beat could turn to none in an instant. And as I studied and practiced listening and counting the beats, nothing could prepare me for when I would hear my first heart stop beating.

I was in a room, helping care for a grumpy old man that had grown on me. His lust for innocent mischief and general loathing of life were the ingredients that brought us to be good friends. On a warm sunny day, a day like all others before, I entered his room. I brought him his breakfast, which he refused as always (except for the hot coffee), and then proceeded to sneak in to get his vitals. Pulse, thump-thump, slow but in normal range. Nothing to be concerned about. I left his room with the tray full of untouched food.

Instant. One is all it takes to change everything. I reentered the room not twenty minutes later, to find him lifeless on the bed. I placed my hand on his wrist: no pulse. I called for a nurse and she had me place my stethoscope on his chest. I waited. Waited in vain for something I knew would no longer come.

There was only silence. An eery quiet that meant death. No more life. The kind of silence that I would ‘hear’ throughout working that job, and one that would never get easier.

Years later, long gone from listening to the thump-thump in peoples chests for work, I realize that allowing the sound to lose its magic is a mistake.

Heartbeat is mortality. Sure. It means you are alive, and reminds you that you will not be forever. So easy it is to lose sight of the miracle. But life itself is a fluke chance, and one that means more than just counting down your days.

As a child, I rested my ear on many a chest to hear the thunderous pounding of my loved ones inner workings. As an adult I have laid my head on the chests of friends and lovers, to listen to their unique melody. Thump-thump. Magic. My favorite thing to hear.



12 thoughts on “I Have Heard Hearts Beating, and I Have Heard Them Stop

  1. Very moving. I heard my baby’s heartbeat for the first time 8 weeks after he’d been conceived, when he just looked like a squiggly line in the middle of the ultrasound image. It was the most amazing thing.

  2. Love this post. It made me think of the quote by Richard Dawkins, which I think you might like too – “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.”


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