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The Wet Engine

Exploring the Mad Wild Miracle of the Heart

Brian Doyle

Publication Year: 2012

“My son Liam was born nine years ago. He looked like a cucumber on steroids. He was fat and bald and round. He looked healthy as a horse. He wasn’t. He was missing a chamber in his heart, which is a problem, as you need four chambers for smooth conduct through this vale of fears and tears, and he only had three chambers, so pretty soon he had an open-heart surgery, during which doctors cut him open and iced down his heart and shut it down for an hour or so while they worked on repair…” —from The Wet Engine

In this poignant and startlingly original book, Brian Doyle examines the heart as a physical organ—how it is supposed to work, how surgeons try to fix it when it doesn’t—and as a metaphor: the seat of the soul, the power house of the body, the essence of spirituality. In a series of profoundly moving ruminations, Doyle considers the scientific, emotional, literary, philosophical, and spiritual understandings of the heart—from cardiology to courage, from love letters and pop songs to Jesus. Weaving these strands together is the torment of Doyle’s own infant son’s heart surgery and the inspiring story of the young heart doctor who saved Liam’s life.

First published in 2005, The Wet Engine is a book that will change how you feel and think about the mysterious, fragile human heart. This new paperback edition includes a foreword by Dr. Marla Salmon, dean of the University of Washington School of Nursing.

Published by: Oregon State University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. viii-ix

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pp. 1-2

The convergence of the professional and personal is never neat or easy. As a nurse now in my fourth decade of professional life, I’ve learned to navigate the rough channel between personal and professional, neatly compartmentalizing my knowledge and responsibilities. The joy of my discipline is that my professional purpose—caring—is deeply connected ...

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pp. 3-6

My son Liam was born nine years ago. He looked like a cucumber on steroids. He was fat and bald and round. He looked healthy as a horse. He wasn’t. He was missing a chamber in his heart, which was a problem, as you need four chambers for smooth conduct through this vale of fears and ...

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1. The Infinite Number of Things That Can Go Wrong with the Hearts of New People

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pp. 7-15

Doctor Dave McIrvin is slight and thin and intense and smiling and one of those puzzling human creatures who while they are talking to you seem to have all the time in the universe, and look you right in the eye, and answer your questions directly and straightforwardly, and listen to what you say, and don’t listen impatiently waiting for you to finish...

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2. Heartchitecture

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pp. 16-29

Let us contemplate, you and I, the bloody electric muscle. Let us consider it from every angle. Let us remove it from its bony cage, its gristly case, and hold it to the merciless light, and turn it glinting this way and that, and look at it as if we have never seen it before, because we never ...

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3. Hope

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pp. 30-38

Dave’s mom is named Hope. She is seventy-nine years old. She was born on Post Street in San Francisco. Her mother was a nurse. Her father grew flowers. When she was an infant her father was crushed by a train. When she was seven her brother drowned in the bay. When she was seventeen she and her mother and brother and sister were evicted from their home...

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4. Imo Pectore

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pp. 39-53

Unto me and my wife one day two sons are born, a minute apart. Two boys lifted mewling from the salt sea of her uterus: one darkhaired, one light; one small, one large; one with a healthy heart, and the other,

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5. Hagop

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pp. 54-59

Dave McIrvin tells me a story, about a colleague of his named Hagop Hovaguimian. Hagop is fifty years old. He’s a surgeon. He was born in Syria of Armenian descent. He’s a genius, says Dave. The guy’s unreal. He’s a tremendous classical pianist and a tremendous surgeon and a tremendous skeet shooter. But he never plays the piano or shoots skeet or reads a book or goes out...

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6. Joyas Volardores

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pp. 60-68

Let us consider creatures great and small, green and blue, vegetative and mammalian, avian and human, all shells for all sorts of hearts. Let us begin with one particular shy elegant green silent creature, the foxglove plant, Digitalis purpurea. A common plant here in the Pacific Northwest; I see it nodding at me everywhere in late summer, taller than...

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7. Gad

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pp. 69-77

God is not a person. God is not an idea. God is the engine. God is the beat. We are distracted by the word God. It gets in the way of the beat. Forget the word. It’s only a word. It has a past; it comes from the ancient Hebrew word gad, which means to crowd upon or attack or invade or overcome. So the word we use today for the throb under and in and through all...

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8. Well, There Are a Lot of Stories

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pp. 78-92

And there are all sorts of stories about hearts, and how hearts are brave or craven or both at once, and how hearts swell and leap, and shrivel and sigh and fail, and how people’s hearts are in their mouths, and how we hold our hearts and other people’s hearts in our hands, and how hearts break and are stunned and startled, and my heart is constantly being...

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9. A Heartful of Patients

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pp. 93-107

It’s hard to actually meet Dave. He doesn’t do email for fun and he’s not much for notes and letters and cards and he only returns phone calls about or from his patients or the parents of his patients and he only makes appointments about or with his patients and the parents of his patients. So writing about Dave, which entails, ideally, spending some time with...

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10. How We Wrestle Is Who We Are

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pp. 108-114

When my son was little, and all this was happening to him, all this editing and twisting and icing and stitching and worrying and weeping and beeping and not sleeping, I used to lie awake thinking about what I would tell him about this time. Someday, if he lived, he would ask me what happened then, and I would have to answer him with all the honesty...

Thanks & Sources

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pp. 114-117

Donations & Involvements

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pp. 118-119

About Brian Doyle

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pp. 120-121

E-ISBN-13: 9780870716546
E-ISBN-10: 0870716549
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870716539
Print-ISBN-10: 0870716530

Publication Year: 2012