A Slow Heart

I have a slow heart. That’s better than having no heart at all, which I’ve been accused of a few times in my life, but that’s another story. Who told me I have a slow heart? People in white lab coats at the hospital and, later, at my doctor’s office.

“You’re suffering from bradycardia,” they informed me. “You mean the third baseman for the Saint Louis Cardinals?” They looked at me. “Just kidding,” I said. “But tell me something I don’t already know.” More staring. Then I explained that bradycardia is from the Greek and means “slow heart,” proving, yet again, that the 8:00 am Homer class I took with Professor Wickersham my senior year at Ursinus College was worth it.

That may have been bratty on my part, but that’s me. As I approach retirement, I have discovered that even though I am less of a brat, I am also less inclined to apologize for the odd comment or action. My brattiness seems to have mellowed over the years from the inappropriate to the questionable to the quirky. And most people, even those on the receiving end of a quirky comment, chalk it up to “character.” Of course, you have to be cautious and follow the unwritten rules. You can’t act like a twenty something at sixty. You’ll lose the age advantage. Neither can you disrespect a guy with cauliflower ears or the neck circumference of Mike Tyson. Character may not save you.

“Oh, so you box?” the lab coats asked. “That may account for the low pulse rate, but a rate in the thirties is concerning.” First of all, I don’t like it when people use the word “concerning.” It’s pretentious and not at all accurate. And which part of speech is it, anyway? A gerund? Second, I have had a low pulse rate and blood pressure my entire life, so maybe this wasn’t as bad as they thought. Still, they were right to be concerned.

I had gone to the ER because of nausea, lightheadedness, and what felt like a fluttering heart. All of the tests, including a CT scan, came back negative. In the end, the reason for my condition may be nothing more than dehydration. They filled me with enough intravenous fluid to have me peeing every fifteen minutes. We’ll find out for sure once I take off the heart monitor they glued to my shaved chest, which I have to wear for one month. In the meantime, I get to look like Iron Man.

This brings me to my real concern, which, you will be relived to hear, is not medical. After all, listening to a guy go on about his heart condition is about as appealing as watching your coworker’s vacation videos. So, here it is: I want to keep boxing. Call that inappropriate, questionable, or quirky, but I really enjoy the workouts. I just need to find out whether or not I will keel over from my heart exploding, imploding, seizing up, or dying out in a whimper. I came close the other day to getting hit square in the heart monitor, but I figure that’s another reminder to keep my guard up.

I used to poke fun at people who suck on crunchy, plastic bottles of water all day long as if they were stranded in Death Valley, where the temperature can top 120 degrees this time of year. I don’t do that anymore. It’s undignified as well as unhealthy for a guy with a slow heart. The challenge for me is to keep hydrated without having to rush to a restroom, urinal, or tree every fifteen minutes. But I also don’t want to piss my pants. I could try W.C. Field’s solution and drink a quart of gin every morning. Maybe that’s something to look forward to in retirement.

Honestly, though, it’s not all bad. I’m hoping a slow heart means a slow hand. Finally, a break. Who knew?

“Slow Hand,” (1981) by Michael Clark and John Bettis. Performed by Pointer Sisters.

Image credits: feature by Nick Fewings; IV drip by Samuel Ramos. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes โ€œalternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.โ€ 


  1. Thanks for the reference to Professor of Classics John Wickersham. I knew him as a faculty colleague during my time at Ursinus, still bump into him from time to time, and he appears to be in excellent health.

    To paraphrase what one wag said about Alabama Senator Howell Heflin: If they did not have liberal arts colleges, they would have to invent one for John Wickersham! Clearly, he made an impression on at least two students.

  2. At 93, my dad also had a slow heart rate which a cardiologist called “below average.” “Actually,” I corrected her, “93 years after birth, any heart rate is above average.” Speaking of slow, in our last month at Ursinus, May of 78′, after I wrote a philosophy honors paper on what I have later called “the Singularity Archetype” (I published a book on the subject in 2012) I formed a goal that remained at the top of my bucket list ever since—to write a fantasy/sci-fi epic based on those ideas. It took exactly forty-five years to finish and publish it in May of 23′. It can be read free on zaporacle.com or you can find it published in all forms, including Audible, on Amazon, where you can also find the non-fiction book. Speed can be great, and compared to AIs, any of us, including teenaged prodigies on Vyvanse, are thinking and moving with glacial slowness, but as they say in Dune, a universe where organic evolution predominates over “thinking machines,” “It’s the slow blade that penetrates the shield.”

    1. Thanks for this, Jonathan. I agree about organic evolution over the so-called evolution of “thinking machines.” It reminds me of Elon Musk standing up to Larry Page, who accused him of being a “specist.” Congratulations on the book!

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