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  • Writer's pictureDavid Mathews

Murmur of Discontent

'Now what’s all this about some echo, dear chap?’ said Sir Arthur, pouring me a glass of something cold, bone dry and grassy. On the phone, I had confessed some anxiety, and he had encouraged me to pop in when I was passing.

‘My youngest granddaughter, discovered echoes the other day,’ Arthur went on. ‘Some lads under an arched bridge were shouting “Fuck” to hear it repeated and amplified. She was terribly impressed.’

In the empty market hall little Riga found her voice too, but thankfully confined herself to ‘Coo-ee, Granddad, coooo-eeee’.

The echo I had mentioned to my good friend the psychiatrist was more intimate: my beating heart, half-glimpsed in an echocardiogram. Half-heard too, with the whoosh-whoosh, whoosh-whoosh of blood racing forward, and, on account of a couple of dodgy valves, whooshing tiresomely backward as well. My ticker seemed to be pitching for a new series on Channel 4. Naked Atria anyone?

Arthur, in consoling mode, suggested such a project would improve my slight filmography, which until now had consisted of a tsarist army officer in the falling snow of St Petersburg, and a near-death patient in a Crimean hospital, but with no Florence Nightingale, and a prop bed held up with gaffer’s tape. Neither performance, Arthur suggested, could have been half as expressive as my mitral valve’s kicking against the traces.

‘Vous avez un souffle, Monsieur,’ the French GP giving me my fitness certificate had said, years ago. That’s what set the whole thing off, a heart murmur.

‘Good pictures,’ the cardiac physiologist said last month, reviewing his multiple echo screens, by now static with highlights in blue and red. ‘Good image quality,’ said his written report a couple of days later.

It had been no problem in the early years, I told Arthur, but this time I was up against dilated this, restricted that, plus regurgitation, stenosis, prolapse, swirling, eccentric and, crucially, my first severe. Oh, sure, the odd normal was thrown in, likewise mild and moderate. I preferred those words. So did my GP, who pointed out the positives, while at the same time asking for a specialist assessment of the less cheery comments.

‘Just as well it wasn’t OFSTED,’ said Arthur. ‘What on earth could you make of Inadequate.’

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