Wednesday, February 21, 2007

this fortress around your heart

Your brain can do quite a bit. A strong sense of will gets you places, because the brain, well, it's electric. It's an interesting thing to consider, that outwardly, we all seem so neutral, but internally, we're building up all kinds of charges, all sorts of negativity and positivity, we are that polarized. The brain, the central nervous system, more often than not, is where things begin.

Still, there is the matter of your heart. Your heart wants what it wants. Your heart is your heart- if your brain should forget, your heart just might remember. Your heart is really the only other place that generates its own signal (okay, technically, your digestive system has its own nervous system, but dude, that's so not a fun analogy to meditate upon). Don't get me wrong. The brain, ultimately, is the boss. It still exerts its will on the heart- the brain can work you up into a lather to make your heart beat faster or douse you in cold water to make your heart beat calm down. But the brain is not the origin. When you talk, when you walk, when you type these words, your brain is calling the shots, your brain began the motion. But the heart begins on its own.

The heart has, for something so small, a complex little system to keep it beating, delivering it the appropriate jolt it needs with steadfast dedication. And though it's romantic, thinking of how the heart is so independent, how there's only so much the brain can do to influence its movement- well, ultimately, there's only so much the brain can do to influence its movement. You can have the strongest willpower in the world, but that does not mean you can will your heart to beat.

My grandfather's heart, the doctors determined yesterday, was losing its spark. Now, my grandfather is someone who has willpower in abundant supply. He yells, he laughs, he is stubborn, he is cheerful, he walks two miles every day, he ignores it when you tell him to turn the volume down on whatever he is watching on ZTV. But his brain can only do so much. He has a good heart, a big heart even, but it gets tired having seen so many years. Tired from the constant demands, the incessant need to beat, the impulse sometimes just diminishes. And so, the doctors decided, my grandfather's heart was fine, but it wanted some help with the business of charging.

I spoke to my grandfather this morning in my frustrating, garbled Gujarati, twelve hours after he'd had a permanent pacemaker put into his heart. The pacemaker: I like to think of it as a miniature set of hands with a miniature set of paddles installed against the heart, yelling "Clear!" with determined consistency, and giving that heart the charge it needs to beat over and over again. And honestly, I love the pacemaker. I love that the pacemaker is watching over my grandfather's heart, governing over it. I trust my grandfather's brain, but the heart needs something else to keep it beating, something more than love and willpower.

But I do get the distinct urge to punch the broseph in the face. He cannot admit that he is freaked out by my grandfather's hospitalization. I guess that is fair, because if he were a real man, he would have to overcome that fear. Instead, he has thrown every excuse at the book at me. "He's probably resting, so I don't want to wake him," "I'm sure he's tired of everyone calling", "I don't know if I'll get home in time to call him." I know it's natural to avoid the sick- it's uncomfortable, and awkward, and most of all, frightening. But at some point (and seriously, the age of 31 is at least that point), you need to put on the big-boy pants and call your grandfather. There's nothing he savors more than hearing from his grandchildren. So far, I am doing a bang up job of bucking the older sister inclination to chide him, take a deep breath, and just be grateful that my grandfather is doing surprisingly well.

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