Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I've recently been reading Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides. The story is about Calliope Stephanides and three generations of his/her Greek-American family, who travel from a tiny village in Greece to Prohibition-era Detroit. I got to page 20 and nearly fell out of my chair. Here it was. A perfect description of a woman living in fear of her heart. It had me written all over it.

In the late summer of 1922, my grandmother Desdemona Stephanides wasn't predicting births but deaths, specifically, her own. She was in her silkworm cocoonery, high on the slope of Mount Olympus in Asia Minor, when her heart, without warning, missed a beat. It was a distinct sensation: she felt her heart stop and squeeze into a ball. Then, as she stiffened, it began to race, thumping against her ribs. She let out a small astonished cry. Her twenty thousand silkworms, sensitive to human emotion, stopped spinning cocoons. Squinting in the dim light, my grandmother looked down to see the front of her tunic visibly fluttering; and in that instant, as she recognized the insurrection inside her, Desdemona became what she'd remain for the rest of her life: a sick person imprisoned in a healthy body. Nevertheless, unable to believe in her own endurance, despite her already quieting heart, she stepped out of the cocoonery to take a last look at the world she wouldn't be leaving for another fifty-eight years.

Every time I read this, it makes me want to cry. How many times have I not fully lived because I thought I was about to die. And if I am fortunate to live another fifty-eight years, when I do die will I laugh to myself and think "Gosh, I was healthy all along. Why did I give all those heart palpitations so much power?" Interestingly, after a recent conversation with my mother, she said that her grandmother always complained about her heart and feared it was going to kill her. She lived well into her 80's. So were we all crazy? I think not. It's just that when your life organ is awry it's only natural to fear. And when norepinephrine is being released, it's doing what it's suppose to be doing. Fight or flight kicks in. Fighting and stressing over your heart makes it worse, and it's awfully hard to flee from your own body. So the only thing you can do is counter intuitive. You have to relax and accept. So no wander it's so darn hard not to care about those pesky misbeats. You literally have to turn off the protective mechanism your body was designed to do. But you have to if you want to live a full and happy life. I'm working on it.