At the Wellcome

Peter Campbell

Some forty years ago I found myself on an operating table. Looking up I could watch the dark line of a catheter as it was pushed along a blood vessel to deliver dye to the veiled, grey, globular mass that was my heart. It seems to me now that the X-ray images I saw on the monitor were a series of snapshots, not a continuous record, yet I also seem to recall watching injected dye enter the heart: that was the point of it all – to map the shape of the cavities blood usually filled. What I felt when the dye went in (I had been warned) was a body-wide blush. The experience was memorable, even if the memories are untrustworthy. Whichever way, real-time pictures were different from the ordinary X-rays I had already seen. I even now associate the gentle thump of my pulse, quick at that time, taken often and nervously, with the memory of an expanding and contracting shadow, although that memory may be an overlay, an extrapolation from things seen since such as the MRI scans in the Heart exhibition – at the Wellcome until 16 September. As much about the heart in the mind as about the heart in the body, the exhibition encourages introspection. A series of interviews in the accompanying book are more interested in what it feels like to be a surgeon or a patient than they are in actual heart operations.

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