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Learning to Breathe

On loss, life and the heart by Lao American writer, Phayvanh Luekhamhan.

Phayvanh Luekhamhan

“No one has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.” – Zelda Fitzgerald

Last month, I went to visit a cardiologist for the first time in over 10 years. He took notes in thick blue script as I recounted my history. The catheter in ’84. My last echo. The full-term pregnancy. My child’s death.

I couldn’t remember the details when he asked me for them. Decades had passed, much of which involved deliberate forgetting. And I didn’t want to get the details wrong. He asked me how she died, and what I told him then was this: “She was born with a malformed heart.”

“I’m sorry.”

“That’s OK.”

What I should have told him was this: The right side of her heart was hard. There was no valve. A few blood vessels connected her heart to her lungs, and she was given medicine to keep that connection active until another more…

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