Sports Heart

All of a sudden I am following the course “house emergency” and I am going to be sharing responsibility for the granting of first aid, guiding an eviction and combating a starting fire, because I am, during a meeting at the beginning of the business day, just too late to step back when they asked for such a volunteer.

The first lesson in the conference room on the fourth floor of our regional office in Groningen has a surprising discovery for me in store. With eleven other intended aid workers from our northern branch network I am sitting in a ring around our leader, a real GP. “Now we are going to work out our first practical exercise”, he decides, after having held an enthusiastic, but theoretical first aid-in-general-chat for almost an hour. “For this case I need three “victims” ”, he continues, looking around the class. “Would you like to be one of them?”, he asks me and two female colleagues. We have to lie side by side -with adequate interspace- on our backs in the free area inside the ring on the floor and after the first sharp-witted comments, laughter and giggles of the seated students have ebbed away, the doctor explains, while imposing me with a hand gesture “not to move and not to talk”, that a victim firstly must be invoked. He adds the action to the word and calls, bowing over to me, twice emphatically in my direction, but I remain lying as if petrified. He looks around the circle of future aid workers and says: “Now you must feel if the victim is still alive! It goes like this: You push the index- and middle finger just beside the Adam’s apple as it were into the neck of the victim.” He demonstrates it, kneeling beside me and pushing my head aside, pressing these two fingers in my neck and asks the other students: “Is everybody in a position to have a close look at what I am doing?” But then, alarmed, he starts counting loud while carefully looking on his watch: “Hey, you’ve got a very low heart rate! Are you a fanatic sportsman?” I explain that I am a runner and that I annually -depending on entirely variably injuries- do over 150 workouts in a year. “Oh,” he concludes, reassured, “then you have a sports heart!”[1]

Three weeks later, just after my fortieth birthday, I receive a personal convocation for a medical examination, which will now take place every second year. It seems to me -in the knowledge that I am a runner with cardiac enlargement now- a good way to undergo such a health check more regularly. Scheduling an appointment with a nurse (by the name of Alice) in Zwolle is easy: Two days later, at eight o’clock in the morning.

First I have to answer a questionnaire with seventy “do you suffer from… items” with “yes” or “no”, soon followed by the practical part as Alice requests: “Will you uncover your torso, please?” Successively Alice takes my size, sets my weight, fixes my waist- and breast size (“Well, you definitely have no overweight”) and I have to undergo an eye- and hearing test. In this first test I have to cover one eye with my hand and with the other eye I have to look at and mention the letters she indicates with a pointer until they get unreadable for me. Same test for the other eye. At the beginning of the hearing test, she says: “Now you may close your eyes and then I will whisper a word. You have to repeat it, if you can hear of course!”

“So! Now we are going to do our last test,” Alice sighs, while subtracting a hefty strip from a long paper roll and covering it over a large black examination couch. “You may lay on your back on the couch now, with your head to that side.” Preceded by six dollops of cold gel she attaches just as many censors at those places on my chest and asks me to lie still: “There is now a heart film going to be made​​. Well, it is not exactly a film, it rattles as a paper with a graph of your heart rate from that device there.”

Then in the front room -an unmanned administration desk- a phone rings. Alice rushes with large steps in that direction to answer it, asking me on her way: “Do you have a minute?”

I have got all the time and I am, because I got up very early -my train from Heerenveen to Zwolle already departed at 6:59 hours- wonderfully sleepy. Therefore the typical girlfriends talk urges less and less on me. For the first time in my life I fall, completely relaxed, asleep in my boss’s time. In this rest position my sports heartbeat, as I know now, slows down even further. Thus I sink through the lowest registration limit of the cardiac monitor: It therefore gives an alarm tone in the form of a long, continuous “beep”, which roughly wakes me up. From my lazy position I succeed in getting my startled nurse back to work immediately: “I am gonna hang up, there’s something wrong with my patient!”

(January 1991)

[1] An enlarged heart, which occurs after many years of sport(s) activities. A “normal” person has a resting heart rate of 60-100 per minute. The number of beats per minute of a sports heart, however,  is  between 40-60.

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