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The Heart of Post-Humanity

    During the span of a human life, the heart does more work than any other muscle in the entire body. It powers the body constantly with its powerful contractions for as long as you may be fortunate enough to live. The heart is the essential component to everything from breathing to performing seemingly impossible tasks in a fight or flight situation.  This organ is even more impressive when you consider that of a creature such as a hummingbird. Though its heart is merely as big as a pencil eraser, each one is capable of visiting up to a thousand flowers a day (Doyle 1). Essayist Brian Doyle writes about his captivation by the hummingbird in his work titled “Joyas Voladoras”, noting that their hearts “eat oxygen at an eye popping rate” (Doyle 1). Despite their astounding grace and speed, hummingbirds “fry the machine…[they] melt the engine” (Doyle 2). Unable to maintain their rapid energy, a hummingbird will burn out and die within a couple of years. Although not as aggressive as the hummingbird’s, a single human heart can beat inside a chest for as long as a century.
However, not everyone is fortunate enough to have their precious organ remain intact for that extensive an amount of time. What happens to those of us whose hearts give out before our souls do?  Until 2001, many people were destined to end their journey when their beating heart came to a standstill. That is, until the AbioCor artificial heart was born.

    This major technological advance was introduced to medicine just 15 years ago and is continuously being modified and perfected to save as many lives as possible. It serves as a major breakthrough in the world of medicine and is drastically altering the course of action for so many cardiac patients all over the world. We are in too deep in this post-human era to not take advantage of such a device. I am one of the few people in my generation to express my dislike for the machinery that has invaded every aspect of my day to day life. Seeing as I intend to become a surgeon, however, forces me to recognize that an artificial heart is the tip of the iceberg of technology that is becoming entirely integrated into the medical field. Does implanting such a device contradict my beliefs? Does such an implant violate the authenticity of an unaltered human body? And if I or a family member were to require an artificial heart transplant, does it make me any less of a human?
    I believe there is a lot to be said for such an incredible object. The technology in and of itself is by very definition inauthentic. Every stage, from its conceptualization to its manufacturing, is manipulated and fine-tuned until it is in its most perfect form and suitable for human use. The act of cutting a human being open and implanting a foreign object is inauthentic; it disturbs the carefully balanced inner workings of the simultaneous physiological processes. In essence, a surgeon is intentionally wounding a patient with the confidence that it will do more good than it will harm. So how, then, does something so synthetic have the capability to restore the authenticity of a human being? The beauty of the artificial heart is more than just its sheer ability to keep an individual alive while they await a more permanent solution. Post-recovery, the artificial heart allows its recipient to return to a higher quality of life than they would be able to have with any other treatment. The artificial heart streamlines drug treatments, constant physician visits, and an overall inability to perform everyday tasks.
    Although the artificial heart is a viable alternative to the previously mentioned management techniques, Doyle would likely disagree with my views on this medical advancement. In his essay, he places a strong emphasis on the fragility and finality of life. Doyle provides an analysis of how fragile the human heart can be. He parallels the hearts of a hummingbird and a human seamlessly. When a hummingbird stops to rest, their “hearts grow cold, and they cease to be” (Doyle 1). He the details how humans spend a great deal of their lives building up walls and trying to protect their heart from crippling emotional damage. Rather, they are just delaying the inevitable. Over time, he describes how our hearts eventually become “bruised and scarred, scorned and torn” (Doyle 2) which he argues is more detrimental to our being than any amount of physical damage.
    Doyle believes that humans are in their most authentic form when they succumb to these wounds. He mentions all too familiar situations such as your mom running her fingers through your hair, or “a cat with a broken spine dragging itself into the forest to die” (Doyle 3) that makes us susceptible to heartache and pain. These vulnerabilities are, according to Doyle, what makes us the most raw and authentic version of ourselves. Many of us never truly allow our deepest emotions to  be expressed to loved ones - there is a need for a constant barrier that countless numbers of souls have worked so hard to maintain. Nonetheless, there is still a desire for companionship and emotional attachment.  The implementation of an artificial heart does not make someone any less susceptible to vulnerability. While it may alter a human being physically, but it would still allow a human to experience the heart-wrenching feelings that Doyle focuses on in great detail.
    Take again, for example, the pacemaker. This miniature electrical device is placed just under the left collar bone of its recipient. It regulates the human heartbeat for those whose electrical impulses are erratic. Doyle states that, “Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime” (Doyle 2). Whether or not you are like the hummingbird, who spends their heartbeats very rapidly, is up to you. It doesn’t matter how many heartbeats you are blessed with in your lifetime, it matters how you use them. The pacemaker is used to treat unusually slow heartbeats or arrhythmias, which fascinates me because such a small device is physically bringing a human closer to the end of their two billion heartbeats. That doesn’t matter. The effects of the pacemaker allow the human to use those remaining heartbeats more efficiently, and in a broader range of ways. A slow heartbeat is worthless if you’re at the mercy of your arrhythmia, not knowing when it will finally turn into something much more deadly. A pacemaker might spend your heartbeats a little faster, but they are certainly not wasting away. They’re now able to be used for a greater purpose - to go out and enjoy a walk in the neighborhood or play a round of golf on an autumn afternoon. This piece of technology might come with a small price, but its function is allowing people to be able to live out their most authentic life, They are now able to be the most fulfilled version of themselves, not just another cardiac patient waiting for their next doctor’s appointment.
    While I can agree with Doyle’s work in an emotional sense, I like to focus more on the physical. Let’s briefly revisit the hummingbird. In comparison to humans, the hummingbird’s cardiac walls are much thinner, with stiffer arteries and more mitochondria, “anything to gulp more oxygen “Doyle 2). When paired with such an ambitious lifestyle, it’s not surprising that their life span is so diminished. Hummingbirds are known to have a higher incidence of heart attacks and aneurysms than any other being (Doyle 2). This is not to say, however, that humans do not also suffer from the same tragic occurrences. Decades of research have produced breakthrough technologies (such as the artificial heart and the pacemaker) to provide solutions to an all too common flaw in the complex inner workings of a human body. Let the human race learn a lesson from the poor hummingbird. Those with a minor glitch in the system are no longer destined for a lesser quality of life than any other person, with the help of such innovative technology.  
    No one intends to be born with a weak or irregular heart. No one intends to have a defective or flawed organ. Most importantly, this impairment does not and should not define a person’s lifestyle. Yes, there is an abrupt and final ending when the ventricular walls contract one final time, but that does not mean that everything in between is destined to be miserable. Medical technology still has leaps and bounds to make. That does not mean humans should be considered to be any less mortal for taking advantage of the technology that is currently available to them. Devices are now being streamlined and in some cases, even operated by robots. We can criticize technology for invading every other aspect of our lifestyle, or we can willingly accept it and manipulate it to serve us. By implanting a device such as an artificial heart, people are now able to use these machines to be the most active and animated versions of themselves. They are no longer just a patient. They might be machines, but they are allowing previously ailing people to live a life more authentically human than ever before.




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