When a Cardiologist Becomes a Heart Patient: Dr. Paul C. Ho

Today, Redwood’s Fans, I have a special guest blogger for you. Dr. Paul C. Ho is a cardiologist who suffered a heart attack which led him on a journey of self discovery. Today, he shares his thoughts here and I hope you’ll check out his book, Art on the Human Heart.

Welcome, Paul!

I’m a board-certified cardiologist and a cardiac arrest survivor—a heart doctor who became a heart patient. I believe these experiences make me somewhat of an expert storyteller from both a doctor’s and a patient’s point of view. As I reflected on playing these dichotomous roles in the health-care arena, the story of my autobiographical novel, Art on the Human Heart, came to be.

Aside from its anatomy and physiology, are there other functions or meanings to the human heart? The ancient Egyptians and the ancient Greeks considered it to be the seat of emotions. The Bible says, “In the heart dwells feelings and emotions, desires and passions. . . . The heart is the seat of the will and understanding.” For millennia, this centrally located organ has been implicated in our perception of the outside world and capable of generating a behavioral response to our feelings—the very essence of our presence, our being.

But which is the chicken or the egg? The age-old question applies here to the “emotional” aspect of the heart. When we are happy, the heart feels a sense of openness and a certain lightness. Conversely, anger can bring troubling heart palpitations and chest tightness. There is no doubt that “heart emotions” can be influenced by outside stimuli—whatever makes us happy or angry. But could the heart itself be the originator of feelings that may alter behavior and outcome? Is there then a true nature of the human heart?

As a cardiologist, my professional focus is on the physical nature of the human heart. As we all know, unhealthy life habits, such as cigarette smoking, eating fatty foods, and lack of exercise, can lead to the development of acquired heart diseases. Parallel to outside forces influencing heart emotions, external factors can also affect physical changes in the heart. What if the intrinsic nature of the heart can lead to the development of heart disease? For example, in an innately angry or unhappy heart, could the negative emotional tone trigger early heart ailments? Surely in medical literature, we are seeing an increase in reports of such associations.

When I suffered my own heart attack, I was only thirty-nine years old. I was young, living a healthy lifestyle, and did not have a predisposing genetic factor for heart disease—there was no obvious medical cause for my near-fatal condition. Why then did I almost die at thirty-nine? I questioned if the nature of my heart had something to do with it. At the time, I was extremely hard-working and had an angry, perfectionist, and type A personality. Was I subconsciously dissatisfied with my life? Was I unaware of deep-seated unhappiness? Could that have been the cause?

To better understand what happened to me, I wrote my novel to explore the true nature of the human heart through the eyes of a high-powered, high-stress cardiologist. When I became sick, my compassion turned inward toward myself for the first time in my life. Recognizing that well-being goes beyond conventional medical treatment, I dug deeper into the meaning and nature of our hearts. What truly makes us happy? What truly makes a healthy heart? To save ourselves, as I tried to do in the aftermath of my heart attack, we must understand the true nature and desires of our own hearts— nobody else can do this work for us.

I hope you will enjoy my book and learn as much as I did about our true hearts.

Dr. Paul C. Ho is a cardiologist and a heart attack survivor. He has published numerous medical papers and is a reviewer for several medical journals. Art on the Human Heart is inspired by his love for creativity, exploration, and self-discovery. Dr. Ho studied engineering and medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Temple, Dartmouth, and Harvard. He was the chief of cardiology in a hospital system and was awarded several patents for his medical device inventions. Dr. Ho enjoys traveling to remote places and has worked in native communities including locations in Alaska. He lives in Hawaii with his pooch, Bear-Bear.

Warning: Technical Jargon Ahead

We’re continuing our celebration of Dr. Mabry’s fourth novel.

Welcome back, Richard!

Writing a novel that involves one’s profession is a definite two-edged sword. On the one hand, most people are interested in sports or medicine or law (just to name three examples) so there’s an automatic reader attraction from the subject matter alone. On the other hand, it’s easy for an author to get bogged down in the jargon of his or her profession and completely lose the reader.

I love baseball. I played some semi-pro ball, and coached it for decades. But suppose I wrote a novel about baseball (I have—it’s just not published…yet) and included this dialogue. Would it be meaningful to you?
Locked up in the final frame. Runners at the corners. Two down.  Full count. Here’s the pitch, and Young lofts a Texas leaguer to shallow right. Close play at the plate. Borbon executes a perfect fade-away slide. Rangers win.
Really held your attention didn’t it? Well, actually, it did mine, but I understand the language. If you didn’t, you were lost.
I really enjoy reading the legal thrillers of John Grisham. But suppose he wrote a scene like this:
“I’m filing a writ of mandamus and requesting a habeas corpus hearing under section 337, section a, sub paragraph ii of the judicial code.”
The judge rapped his gavel. “The bailiff will release the prisoner.”
Heady stuff, huh? No? You didn’t understand it? Neither did I. And at that point I’d probably put the book aside for another day.
Medical writers face the same problem. The trick is to use the language and terms doctors might ordinarily use, but slip in an explanation along the way, preferably without being too obvious about it.
Here’s an example from my second novel, Medical Error:
“It’s not blood loss,” Jenkins said. “He’s having an anaphylactic reaction. Could be the blood. Did you give him an antibiotic? Any other meds?”
Anna’s mind was already churning, flipping through mental index cards. Anaphylaxis—a massive allergic reaction, when airways closed off and the heart struggled to pump blood. Death could come quickly. Treatment had to be immediate and aggressive.
It’s possible to use terms that are totally foreign to the lay reader. They may even be open for misinterpretation. Here’s an example of that, also from Medical Error:
He’d see her at M&M. Not the candy. Anna wished it were. No, this was Morbidity and Mortality Conference, the meeting each month when the staff discussed their patients who had suffered adverse consequences from treatment. “Morbidity” sounded so much better than “something went wrong.” And “mortality” was more acceptable than “they died.” But when it came to assigning blame, there was no sugar coating her.
So the next time you read a novel written by someone familiar with a particular field, see how good a job they’ve done in not losing you in technical terms. If you’re drawn in by the setting of the novel, whether operating room, courtroom, or football field, but don’t have any trouble understanding what’s going on, silently tip your hat to the author. They’ve done their job.