Saturday, August 14, 2010

Blog Vérité: Missing a Beat

My lack of medical expertise can be so embarrassing at times.

Some twenty years ago when I was working in a fast-food joint, I was sitting in the break room with an attractive young woman--she was about 19 or 20--who by all appearances seemed to be in perfect health.

She had just inserted a straw into her soft-drink and was about to take a sip, when she suddenly said, "Oops, almost forgot to take my pills."

From out of her purse she produced a little bottle of prescription pills, shook two of the minuscule tablets onto her palm, popped them into her mouth, and then proceeded with her previously postponed sip.

Afterwards, she smiled at me and said, "Good thing I remembered."

Since she had initiated the topic, I didn't feel it was too nosy to ask, "What are the pills for?"

"I was born with half a heart."

"Half a heart?!"

"Uh, huh."

"So you have only two ventricles?"

"I don't know what you mean"

"A heart has four ventricles."

Had I access to both a computer and the Internet in that break room of two decades ago, or just a much better memory of my high school biology class, I could have told her that the heart actually has four chambers. But only two (right and left) are called ventricles. These pump blood out of the heart. The other two chambers (right and left) are called the atria, which is plural for atrium. The atriums, I mean atria, holds the blood coming into the heart for a moment, before releasing it into the right and left ventricles at just the right moment.

Instead, I told her the heart has four ventricles.

"I have half of whatever I'm supposed to have," she replied.

"Two ventricles," I said, confidentially.

A silence hung over the break room.

I broke the silence. "Must be hard to have only half a heart."

"Not as long as I take my pills."

"What happens if you don't take them?"

She laughed, hit me in the arm, and said, "I'll have a heart attack, silly!"

Of course. How embarrassing.

But imagine how much more embarrassing had she found out I was wrong about the ventricles.


  1. At least you remembered about the ventricles. Had someone told me what she told you, my mental image would have been of half a Valentine heart.

  2. I'm with El Postino on the half heart image. I can see it too, bright red and cut down the middle with a jagged line.

    What an extraordinary thing, but it sounds as though she might have been as ignorant about her condition as you were then, not now though, it seems.

    Fascinating story.

  3. "I'll have a heart attack" .... she said half heartedly.

  4. @El Postino--I wouldn't be surprised if that wasn't also her mental image when she told me about it.

    @Elisabeth--You're right, Elisabeth, it does sound like she was ignorant, and that's what really motivated me to write about this conversation after mulling it over on and off for the last 22 years (yeah, I know, I need a life). I've looked it up, and in fact there is a medical condition informally known as "half a heart" but the heart is more deformed than actual 50% split. Whatever it is she had (she actually did take pills) I imagine she exagerrated it to make her life seem more interesting. Hey, it must have worked since I chose to write about it!

  5. @Kass--I can hear furiously clicking away at the keyboard a half a continent away.


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