By Richard P. Holm, MD
Mr. AB was a perfect specimen of health. A mid-fifties-aged man, he was physically fit because of rigorous farm work, and lots of physical activity involved with hunting, and fishing. This morning, he awoke with an uncomfortable chest pressure going into his neck and jaw. He arose to find no relief with stretching, drinking a glass of milk, taking a deep breath, or even laying down again. Finally, after rousing his wife, they made their way to an emergency room (ER) where he was given merciful pain relief and was immediately tested to define if it was his heart that was causing the pain.
Not long after arriving to the ER, while talking with his wife, he suddenly slipped into unconsciousness. The ER crew immediately ran into his room and started resuscitation efforts, but it was there in that cold, mid-winter, South Dakota, pre-dawn-hour that he died, despite their doing all the right things. Likely due to arterial blockage and irritable heart muscle, the symmetry of his heart rhythm had changed into one of pure chaos that wasn't effectively pumping blood. He just couldn't be converted back to a normal rhythm again. The value of rhythm is never more evident than during a cardiac arrest.
The definition of rhythm comes the from Greek roots of rhuthmos (to flow) and rhyme; meaning any regular, recurring, pulsing; a succession of contrasting beats occurring over various periods of time. Think of the rhythmic experience from speech and verse, rhyme and song, or drum and dance. There is something about rhythm that calls for symmetry, and when it is out of sync, there is a part of us that becomes uncomfortable, and we want to make it right again.
The rhythm of life is regular, recurring, pulsing; a succession of surges over time, like the flow of seawater and fish meeting the shore on an estuarial tide; the seasonal swim of salmon up a freshwater river looking for a place to spawn; the birth of lambs and calves, bursting forth on an early springtime prairie pasture; or even the 70 to 90-year life-cycle of humans, moving with joy, sorrow, and grace, from birth to natural death.
When humans die too early, the symmetry is out of sync, the rhythm is disturbed, and we are left wanting to make it right again.