Be still, my beating heart: reading pulselessness from Shakespeare to the artificial heart

Hansen, Claire, and Stevens, Michael (2021) Be still, my beating heart: reading pulselessness from Shakespeare to the artificial heart. Medical Humanities, 47 (3). pp. 344-353.

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Today, heart failure patients can be kept alive by an artificial heart while they await a heart transplant. These modern artificial hearts, or left ventricular assist devices (LVADs), remove the patient’s discernible pulse whilst still maintaining life. This technology contradicts physiological, historical and sociocultural understandings of the pulse as central to human life. In this essay, we consider the ramifications of this contrast between the historical and cultural importance placed on the pulse (especially in relation to our sense of self) and living with a pulseless LVAD. We argue that the pulse’s relationship to individual identity can be rescripted by examining its representation in formative cultural texts like the works of William Shakespeare. Through an integration of historical, literary and biomedical engineering perspectives on the pulse, this paper expands interpretations of pulselessness and advocates for the importance of cultural – as well as biomedical – knowledge to support LVAD patients and those around them. In reconsidering figurative and literal representations of the heartbeat in the context of technology which removes the need for a pulse, this essay argues that narrative and metaphor can be used to reconceptualise the relationship between the heartbeat and identity.

Item ID: 65204
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1473-4265
Keywords: pulse, biomedical engineering, artificial hearts, LVAD, Shakespeare, metaphor, Romeo and Juliet
Copyright Information: © Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2021. Reuse of this manuscript version (excluding any databases, tables, diagrams, photographs and other images or illustrative material included where a another copyright owner is identified) is permitted strictly pursuant to the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial 4.0 International (CC-BY-NC 4.0)
Date Deposited: 03 Dec 2020 02:25
FoR Codes: 47 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 4705 Literary studies > 470504 British and Irish literature @ 50%
40 ENGINEERING > 4003 Biomedical engineering > 400308 Medical devices @ 50%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970120 Expanding Knowledge in Language, Communication and Culture @ 100%
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