Book Review: History of heart explored like never before, it’s bold and beautiful!

By: | Published: December 6, 2018 11:57 AM

In today's fast paced, tech-savvy world, we talk about broken hearts, sing and even tweet about it but we know so little about this major organ of the human body that keeps ticking.

Published by Penguin Random House India, Dr. Sandeep Jauhar’s book

Published by Penguin Random House India, Dr. Sandeep Jauhar’s book, “Heart: A History” is a gripping and fascinating account of the history of the human heart. In today’s fast paced, tech-savvy world, we talk about broken hearts, sing and even tweet about it but we know so little about this major organ of the human body that keeps ticking. Several reports cite that many young Indians are increasingly being diagnosed with heart-related ailments. Yet we know so little about the history of the heart or its functioning.

The heart is the first major organ to develop in the human body as it starts functioning three weeks into fetal life. Simply put, the heart swings into action even before there is blood to pump and it is also the last major organ to stop working.

In 1968, a surgeon named Donald Effler wrote in Scientific American, “The heart attack is so common among professional people, executives and men in public office that it has almost become a status symbol.”

History of Your Heart: What makes the heart tick?

In his book, “Heart: A History,” Dr. Sandeep Jauhar beautifully describes the history of cardiology which encompasses daring acts of experimentation on animals and patients, sometimes the passion and boldness crosses all limits, to the extent that some doctors experiment on themselves.

The book provides a gripping account that begins with the story of a patient we have no reason to disbelieve — himself. Shortness of breath is something we tend to take in our stride, but not Jauhar, who knows exactly how the human heart works. He decided to probe his ‘shortness of breath’ by revisiting everything he knows about the heart. For instance, according to the renowned cardiologist-turned-author, the amount of blood that passes through an adult’s heart in a week could fill an entire swimming pool.

Alarmed by shortness of breath, Jauhar goes forward with further investigations that lead to the discovery of a blockage in an artery. This propels Jauhar to delve deeper into what makes the heart tick.

Fear and grief can cause myocardial injury

Rewind to 1953. The author shares the story of how his paternal grandfather may have died out of shock or fear when neighbors who showed him a dead snake and told him that it had bitten him. One look at the snake, his grandfather was gone but the interpretations around his death were many. Some believed that the snake bite had killed him, others believed that the shock and fear had killed him. Jauhar, however, saw it as a heart attack. This is where his emotional bonding and a personal journey with unraveling the complexities of the human heart personally begins. For instance, he tells us that fear and grief can cause myocardial injury.

Ever heard of Cadaver Stories?
One of the interesting aspects of Jauhar’s book also covers ‘cadaver’ stories. Much discussed among doctors years after they pass out of medical college, the cadavers are known to ‘inspire’ the ‘making’ of doctors and Jauhar is no different as he shares how his first ‘cadaver’ inspired him and shaped his professional values. For the layperson, a ‘cadaver’ refers to the dead body on which young medical students are introduced to the basics of the human body and how it functions usually during their first year at medical college.

The young, determined Jauhar reminds himself after acquainting himself with his first cadaver when he was 27 years old, “From that point on, I thought, every careless mistake I might make in the hospital would be a slap in his face, every success a tribute to him, my first patient.”

Path breaking innovations in heart surgery
In recent decades, medical science has moved to path breaking innovations. For instance, the heart lung machine has been indispensable in the field of heart surgery over half a century and more than 1 million cardiac operations are performed annually worldwide with the heart lung machine. Funky and minimalist as this may sound, today’s heart lung machines are barely the size of a small refrigerator. Yet in one of the later chapters, the author admits, “Despite our best efforts, cardiac patients still die.”

Watch your feelings: Your Heart Rhythm is influenced by your emotions

Watch your feelings because it affects your heart. The cardiologist author reminds us gently that our heart rhythms are influenced by emotional states and this is a proven fact. Bernard Lown, co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, performed some studies to explore this question and investigate it through experiments. Lown’s research proved that emotional stress can initiate life threatening arrhythmia.

A cardiologist’s eye for detail

With a cardiologist’s eye for detail of the workings of the human heart, Dr. Sandeep Jauhar shows us that the biological heart is extraordinarily sensitive to our emotional system. ‘Emotional’ deaths have been observed for at least a century. For the same reason, our mindset, coping strategies, how we navigate the challenges that come our way, our capacity to love, among others, are some essential aspects that can define the ‘matter of life and death’ and our heart’s health, of course.

To prove this scientifically, Dr. Jauhar takes readers through parallel journeys, from the lesser known tales of the medical fraternity to the metaphorical heart to investigating the scientific “pump” to the path breaking innovations in cardiac procedures that have saved thousands of lives and continue to hold hope for humanity. Summing up in one of the chapters, Jauhar writes, “For much of my life, I feared the heart’s power, but I don’t see it as I once did. Yes, the heart can snuff out your life, but when the pressure of existence builds up, this organ, prime mover and citadel, is also a safety valve that can facilitate a quick and humane end.”

A fascinating, gripping book on the history of the human heart that will bring you closer to your heart than ever before – this is truly a bold and beautiful book on cardiology.

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