Echocardiogram by Gloria DeVidas Kirchheimer

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heartbeat reading against black background

A device called a transducer picks up echoes of sound waves as they bounce off the different parts of the heart. The echoes transform into a moving picture of the heart which can be seen as a video.

I’m inside a volcano, surrounded by molten lava. But it doesn’t burn me. I’m in his heart. I’m his heart throb. The machine is throbbing. I hear screeches and scratches like the ones in old films. This is a video of his heart. The sound waves are bouncing off the different parts of his heart, with the echoes creating the images, the peaks and valleys, the highs and lows, like our marriage. I see it all before me. It’s a movie with grating voices, no music, the latest in high-definition video, sometimes black and white, a film noir, or glorious color. He told me he dreams in black and white while my dreams are always in color. This is an amalgam of our dreams. It shows how much we are in sync.

But what if the waves flatten out and the machine starts to beep? Is it the end of the movie, the end of the life?

We were at a wedding celebration and he fell from a platform. I didn’t see it happen because I was changing into my party shoes. He lay unconscious for a couple of minutes, encircled by solicitous guests. By the time the ambulance arrived he had regained consciousness but didn’t know what had happened. Was it a heart attack, or just his weak peripheral vision, or sheer distraction because the view of the Hudson River was so spectacular and he was trying to take a photo? The emergency people put a collar around his neck, did some tests with portable beeping machines, and strapped him to a gurney, but not before he asked our friends to keep an eye on me because I have a tendency to faint. One friend was hovering over me, telling me repeatedly that my dress was the most beautiful one at the party. I had already entered a fantasy realm.

They would send him home from the emergency room after many hours, minus his red suspenders, which they cut after his fall, and the little pin he was fond of sporting on festive occasions, a perfect reproduction of the Titanic which he wore on his jacket, with the ship’s bow tilted down, just inside the breast pocket. I didn’t know it then, but we were in the first stage, the first circle—hello, Dante; I didn’t have a guide like you did.

It was the beginning of an endless, convoluted series of tests, procedures, mystifications.

One time he went to have fluid extracted from the area around his lungs. He told the gorgon women behind the reception desk that he was there for an effusion, so they sent him to the transfusion department. To get there, we had to descend to the bowels of the hospital, follow the green line, as instructed, beneath a twisted conglomeration of pipes, the kind we saw on the outside of the Centre Pompidou in Paris—ah Paris, will we ever see it again? Then we entered what appeared to be a freight elevator filled with dirty linen, only to find when we got out that we had been sent to the wrong department.    .

Now I’ve gone from the volcano to the cave with stalactites. I expect to see prehistoric paintings here, though because of my claustrophobia I never went spelunking, never went to Howe’s caverns, so he went alone. I didn’t mind. We often went places separately. I sometimes wondered whether he found women at those conferences and work retreats.

I’m looking at an amusement park, with whirling lights and ghostly figures gesticulating, admonishing, calling, summoning. His heart is full of life and danger. But now his life has gone backwards, like the end of that sci-fi film 2001 where the man has gone back to his fetal state. This looks like a sonogram of a fetus, but the fetus, our child, was inside me, not inside him. Can technology do this?

Movies can do anything. We’re on Mars, on the planetary surface with its craters, pockmarks, crevices, dried riverbeds. His heart in its infinite variety, beating for me.    Which image is me? Maybe the wild figure in the amusement park, receding, expanding, disappearing. Is that how he sees me sometimes? We used to go to the fun house on Coney Island where we looked at ourselves in distorted mirrors, just like what I’m seeing now.

Look at that graph going crazy, the irregular zigzagging that doesn’t bode well. Shouldn’t there be music for this video? Perry Como singing, “You belong to my heart, now and forever…” Or else something like the theremin, whoooeee, creepy, otherworldly, like in Spellbound, where Gregory Peck is trying desperately to recall a trauma, with Ingrid Bergman gently encouraging him. My husband is not Gregory Peck, nor am I faintly like Ingrid Bergman. But ours has been a great passion also, never depicted on a screen until this moment, but in this version it does need interpretation, which I am trying to provide in order to keep my fear at bay.

Video has a long life, digitization is preservation. Let all this be translated into flesh and blood. Let the sound waves echo with hosannas so I can take him home. Amen.


Gloria DeVidas Kirchheimer Headshot Gloria DeVidas Kirchheimer is the author of a novel, Amalie in Orbit, and a short story collection, Goodbye, Evil Eye (finalist, National Jewish Book Awards). Her fiction has appeared in various magazines, including The Antioch Review, Arts & Letters, Kansas Quarterly, New Letters, Carolina Quarterly, Lilith, North American Review, and others. Nonfiction has been published in Music & Vision, Persimmon Tree, The Yale Journal for the Humanities in Medicine, Women’s International Perspective, and Perceptive Travel. She is also co-author of the nonfiction book, We Were So Beloved: Autobiography of a German Jewish Community.


STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Alesa Dam

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