Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Listening to her heart

My mom visited me here recently. While here,she developed a slight cough and congestion. In order to determine if she might be cooking a pneumonia, I decided to listen to her heart and lungs -- something I do for my patients.

I have listened to thousands (if not tens of thousands) of hearts and lungs by now. Just like other physicians who do this, I am listening for certain sounds, characterizing what I hear into abnormal and normal and building a differential diagnosis based on what I hear. Listening to a heart or to lung sounds is not the same as listening to a song in iTunes or on your phone or music player. One usually isn't appreciating some asthetic.

All this said, when I put my stethoscope on my mother's chest and heard her heart, I had a strange feeling. It occurred to me that when I was in her womb for 9 months (I was born full term), I heard that sound day and night. I was drawn by the experience to reflect on how my relationship to that sound has changed. As a fetus, I simply heard it. I wonder if fetuses derive comfort from hearing that heart sound as some have suggested. Here I was now listening with a physician's ear. I probably heard the sound of my mother's breathing both inside her womb and thereafter as she held me. Now I was listening for subtle changes in her breath sounds to determine if she had fluid in her lungs, an asthmatic's wheeze or something else.

It was a bit surreal.

No comments: