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.
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?