Science of the Heart

credit: Dale Mathis
credit: Dale Mathis

My father suffered his first heart attack at the still young age of 36. He had six young daughters, and a wife who loved him. Well, his wife loved him. His six daughters were conflicted. He was a difficult man to love.

His cardiologist advised that he quit smoking, change his diet, and stop drinking. He managed one of the three, smoking.

He was not fat, but not fit either. He had a bit of a beer gut, skinny legs, and bushy eyebrows. Bushy eyebrows have nothing to do with his health that I’m aware of, but were such a prominent feature of his face, as if two furry creatures hitched a ride on his forehead, that I feel compelled to mention them.

Smacked hard in the chest with a reminder of his mortality he let off steam by drinking himself into a nightly stupor. This caused his wife untold agony. I would wake to the sound of her soft-spoken voice on the phone politely inquiring if anyone answering to the name of her husband had been admitted to the hospital.

It would take another heart attack, and two open-heart surgeries across the span of twenty years before he succeeded in combusting his marriage. But combust it he finally did. He was an engineer, and could do anything he set his mind to, whether he realized he’d set his mind to it or not.

During these years he began to study the science of the heart. It might have served him better had he studied the emotion of the heart rather than the science. But that is what he did, researched everything there was to learn about how the heart functions in the body, what pharmaceuticals enhanced the highways and byways of blood flow, what mechanisms shocked the muscle back into a normal sinus rhythm.

By the time the final heart attack felled him at 73 he could have led seminars for practicing cardiologists on the latest research and treatment. Had he practiced more of that science he may have lived longer still. I never saw him spear a vegetable of any color with his fork, and he drank every night. Had he practiced what he preached who knows what wonders he may have gleaned from those he loved, but with whom he failed to communicate that love, out of the depths of that damaged heart.

The word Science is from the Latin, “Scientia,” which means knowledge.

What draws us toward investigation? In my father’s case it was his heartfelt mortality, and his wish to extend it. I’ve written before of Katherine Bomkamp, whose time spent in hospitals with her father prompted her, as a teenager, to invent a prosthetic device to ease the mysterious phantom pain experienced by veterans with lost limbs.

Back in 1893 Henrietta Swan Leavitt signed on to an astronomy class in her last year at Radcliffe. Thus an ardor for the stars was ignited. Though she had the smarts, women were not held in high scientific regard in those times, and Harvard College hired her in a menial capacity to count photographic images of stars. That 30-cent an hour position led her to the innovation of period-luminosity. Long story short Henrietta’s stealth research paved the way for Edwin Hubble’s revolutionary discovery of our expanding  universe. And yet who has heard of Henrietta? Eddie gets all the credit.

Henrietta Swan Leavitt
Henrietta Swan Leavitt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today our feckless politicians cut and cut some more, and public schools give up at basic arithmetic and elementary science. Science and math scores in the U.S. lag far behind not only other industrialized countries, but some third world countries.

It’s up to us, isn’t it, to tutor our youth. Encourage the study of biology with the kids in your life by dissecting the cat. Ok, not really. Young Scientist  is a free online journal for kids 12-20 that encourages submissions on any science topic they choose. This Scoop It site offers a wealth of science fun and games for kids. And here’s a cool science blog, written by a woman, for us. And by us I mean the adults in the room. Though the games on the kid’s site are more my capacity in understanding science. There’s so much I don’t know, but want to learn. How about you?


64 thoughts on “Science of the Heart

  1. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I’ve truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again very soon!

  2. Hello there, was happy to discover the blog. Really only just found it with aol. Wasn’t looking for anything at all. I really enjoyed reading through the particular things you had to state. Regards!

  3. I love how you wove a personal story with history, and then ended it with the importance of science and what is happening to our educational system! My mom worked full time to raise me, but education was always the top priority in our house, and goodness forbid when I strayed from that goal (got a bad grade, cut class, et al.). Now that I’m almost 50 I’m grateful for that and am passing it along, albeit in a modified way, for my son who has Down syndrome (and who loves to learn!). That’s what we need to keep alive for children, a love of learning. Sadly, it’s more about the Star testing, and budget cuts. I’ll stop there! Great post, first time here! I’ll be back!
    Lisa Nolan recently posted..The Lights Are OutMy Profile

    1. Hi Lisa. Thanks for the nice words and very thoughtful comment. Great mom you had to stress the importance of education. My parents, thankfully, were the same, in that regard. I have a friend with a Down syndrome child and he too loves to learn. He’s fascinated by many things we take for granted. I sometimes look to him to offer perspective on what small thing might be worth a second look, what’s really important. Thank you for reading. I look forward to your return!

  4. My heart broke for your mom calling those hospitals. Sigh…
    This was a thought provoking post! Great job.

    My kids LOVE science. I will have to check out those links!
    Adrienne recently posted..Why Homeschool?My Profile

    1. I’m glad to hear your kids like science. How cool is that! You’ve got your work cut out for you then to keep that interest heightened! Thanks for the comment, Adrienne.

  5. hear hear hear…I asked my dad once how he felt about something and he said “well, I think that…” I reminded him that “think” and “feel” are not synonyms. He didn’t know how to reply. He knows the science of his heart but not the other ways a heart can function, poor guy. Your story about your dad suggests that there are LOTS of other stories there…but the science point bears scrutiny too – why do we think it’s okay to raise scientific ignoramuses? We sort of laugh at the lack of scientific knowledge we all have…but if we all giggled at the fact that “oh, yeah, well, he doesn’t know how to read” … people would be appalled. So here’s to a summer of science literacy! Thanks.
    deborah l quinn recently posted..monday’s listicle: a list for husbandsMy Profile

    1. Hi Deborah. Thank you for that insightful comment. Why do we think it’s ok to raise our young without sufficient knowledge? We are told how to think these days. We are not encouraged to think for ourselves. In my opinion that is where our efforts should be focused. Turn away from the pundits, gather the information yourself and determine how it all works. Thanks again, Deborah. Great comment.

  6. Wow. There is so much that I love about this. I too lost my father. I too am from a family of sisters. I feel things as I read your words and that is the highest compliment, I think.

    Thrilled to have found you in the ether.

    1. Thank you Aidan. We have much in common. That’s what I love about this great community of bloggers at yeahwrite. I’m happy to hear that the emotion comes through in the post. It was certainly there during the writing. I appreciate the comment. I need to delve into your world at ivyleague..

    1. Thanks Paula, I appreciate the nice comment. I hope you find some interesting tidbits as you peruse. I’ll do the same at journey to 42.

  7. I love this post so much. Thanks for bringing Bomkamp and Leavitt to my attention, and also the website sources for learning. I will certainly explore them as I am creating a summer academic program for the kids. I only have 10 more days to do so. Can you believe it? I haven’t told them about the “program” as of yet for I am sure it will be met with groaning.

    I have always loved the meaning of the word ‘science’. Knowledge and/or information allows for empowerment. I firmly believe in sharing as much info as I can–everyday. Not sure my loved ones appreciate the barrage of emails I send containing links to articles or media they “may be interested” in…someday they will. I hope.

    And the story of your father…poignant. Funny how knowledge can be a double-edged sword, bringing empowerment but also providing a device for hiding our emotions….a fine and noble excuse to be rational, to prove the nonsense of sentiment. I am sorry for the grief his choices brought you.

    I sometimes wonder if my obsession for seeking information is for my own empowerment or for protecting my figurative heart. Thanks for giving me much to ponder.
    Kimberly S. (Sperk*) recently posted..Wednesday’s Woman: You’re a LifesaverMy Profile

    1. Hey Sperk. Wow, thanks for taking the time to write this comment. Your kids are lucky to have such a proactive mom. They will certainly recognize that at some point, if they don’t already. Schools are already out here in CA. Or some, anyway. Maybe that has to do with budget cutbacks, I’m not sure. I like your comment about a fine and noble excuse to be rational – to prove the nonsense of sentiment. That is a fine description of my logical-engineer father. I think we all protect our figurative and real heart in whatever way we can… Thanks again for the great comment.

    1. Thanks Erin. I hope the links provide some science summer fun for your collection of kids. I’m including Ellen’s in there as well. Thanks for the nice comment!

  8. Argh. I think it ate my comment.

    Well I said how much I LOVE the way you combine and transition between your personal narrative (which you tell beautifully) and information and education. You are a teacher by nature, at heart.

    I said I feel for you and your mother, and sisters, because I know what it is like to check hospitals and jails cells. That must have been hard, and very scary. And from the comments above it sounds like you all loved him, and he loved you.

    And I said no one could agree with you more that we are failing our youth in our education than teachers – this has got to stop; we have got to do better.
    Pish Posh recently posted..Pour Your Heart Out: Metaphysical ConstipationMy Profile

    1. Hi Pish. My college degree is actually in Early Childhood Education, so it’s funny that you should say I’m a teacher by nature. I never used that degree, never taught school. I didn’t know it at the time but I wasn’t cut out to stand in front of a classroom. In other ways I try to use whatever limited skills I possess. As far as my father goes, we learned to love him much later in his life, and he did his best to show his love. But it was a long long road. Thanks for the comment, Pish.

  9. The transition is fantastic here, and the build-up is almost unbearable. You’re absolutely right about our need to be active in encouraging interest in science and critical thinking.
    Kristin recently posted..Working Class DogMy Profile

    1. Hi Kristin. Wow, nice comment that the build-up is almost unbearable. The emotion was felt so I’m glad I got it across. Thank you.

    1. Hey Susan, thanks for the thoughtful comment. It’s true, isn’t it, that our most important relationships turn out to be the most complicated. I suppose that indicates they are worth the effort.

    1. Hi Emma. Thanks for the nice comment. I’m sure we all suffer something as kids or adults. It’s part of the landscape of our lives. I appreciate the kind thought.

    1. Hi Kin. Thank you for the nice comment. Music to my ears that the emotion was there, as it was certainly felt.

    1. Thanks Kathy for reading and commenting. We do have to take matters into our own hands when it comes to the welfare of our youth. Yes, and watching someone make bad choices is difficult to say the least.

    1. Hey Lemon Lady, thanks for reading and commenting. Especially the engage kids with science link is a good one.

  10. More time on the emotions than the mechanics indeed. I can relate to that on many levels. I must admit I’m fascinated by science but not to the point of researching anything to any depth.

    The charter school my grandsons go to has a very strong science program and it’s very hands on. I think introducing young children to it almost as play can be a great way to keep their interest down the road.

    Beautifully written Steph! Thanks.
    Barbara recently posted..Georgia on My Mind/ 4My Profile

    1. Hi Barbara. I can always count on you for a thoughtful comment. I appreciate that. And I agree, introducing science, particularly as fun and games, to kids is the way to get them interested. Thanks for reading.

  11. I really love your writing – it’s effortlessly poetic. In my mind, there isn’t just a lack of interest/expertise in science these days, there is a complete movement against science. I think teaching our children to respect the scientific method and to value the importance of increasing our scientific understanding is key to the future. I really appreciate the links.

    And, I so relate to your story of your dad. You could have been writing about mine.
    Shannon recently posted..What to Really Expect When You Are ExpectingMy Profile

    1. Hi Shannon. Thanks for the nice words on the writing. Always nice to hear. Agreed also on the movement against science. What’s up with that? The U.S. was the leader at one time. Not anymore. We outsource even our intelligence these days.. Thanks for the comment.

  12. I sympathize with that frustration of watching someone you care about make the wrong choices over and over again. I often asked myself “doesn’t he love us enough to want to be around us longer?” I don’t understand how people knowingly choose to cut their lives short. Maybe it’s something that comes with age. I hope I will do everything I can, kicking and screaming to be here for as much of my childrens’ lives as possible.
    Jennifer – Treading Water in the Kiddie Pool recently posted..The Snotty SchnozMy Profile

    1. I’m not sure it’s something that comes with age. I think it’s more emotional damage, which is unique to everyone. Something that may bother one person another won’t think twice about. It’s all about our general makeup and how we were raised. My two cents. Thanks, Jennifer for the comment.

  13. Another brilliant post. I love how you usually start with a personal anecdote and then tie it in with a lesson learned or a brilliant cause.

    The following line really spoke to me and hurt my heart…

    “I would wake to the sound of her soft-spoken voice on the phone politely inquiring if anyone answering to the name of her husband had been admitted to the hospital.”
    Katie @ Chicken Noodle Gravy recently posted..We Are YoungMy Profile

  14. “Had he practiced what he preached who knows what wonders he may have gleaned from those he loved, but with whom he failed to communicate that love, out of the depths of that damaged heart.” This really resonated with me, with my family history.

    So well said, Stephanie – all of it. I’m so thankful for YeahWrite which brought me to your powerful writing and your generous heart.
    heidi recently generousMy Profile

    1. Thanks, Heidi. Your comments always brighten my day. I agree, the YeahWrite community is awesome. I’m glad to be but a small part.

    1. Hi Delilah. Wow, 21 for the first. What a life he’s endured. Funny, isn’t it, how reminders of our mortality either make us drastically change our lifestyle to prolong it or just the opposite, say what the hell, I’m going to die anyway, might as well live it up. Sad for those of us who love the live it up people. Thanks for your story. It’s nice to know we are understood by others with similar trials.

    1. Thanks, Robbie. As you have much going on right now, it was particularly generous of you to read the posts. Much appreciated and good luck on your travels.

  15. I’m sorry your father couldn’t see the life he possessed through the haze he was in. That being said I understand the thirst for knowledge you speak of. I went nuts with researching and studying the heart after my son was born with a congenital heart defect. I learned so much. But to put it to practise, to look into a families eyes and give them hope or take it away – would just be too much.

    Lovely post.
    Carrie recently posted..Gabriel, My Wayward Son.My Profile

    1. Hi Carrie. Wow, I would certainly have done the same, read all I could get my hands on if I had a child with a congenital heart defect. I’ve read your blog and know what you endured. A story well told. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

  16. Its so scary to me that something like this can happen to someone when they are young as 36, I am not far from that age and feel like I am only just starting to figure things out for myself – if one of my friends who I grew up with now was the victim of an attack it would be tragic.
    Laura recently posted..Payout LimitsMy Profile

    1. Hi Laura. Agreed. It is tragic. Looking back from the other side of 36 it is sooo young. And I cannot imagine, at all, having 6 young children at such an age. Thanks for the comment.

  17. I just love your writing. It’s poetic really. I remember the first heart attack, and mother trying to change his diet. That’s when we were introduced to the dreaded stewed tomato! To this day I can’t eat them, UGH!! It’s too bad he didn’t take to heart the important things in life, like family, but in the end I accepted what little he was willing to give and didn’t worry so much about what he wasn’t. It’s been five years now since that middle of the night phone call. Never a good call.

    1. Hi Pin. Thanks for the nice comment and the added memory. I had forgotten about the stewed tomatoes. Most likely blocked them out.

    2. Actually, I remember the introduction to skim milk during that era. We all remember things differently. I think that I was closer to it than most, but during the last several years of Dad’s life, he was very focused on family. He loved his family more than most of us will ever understand. RIP, Dad!

Comments are closed.