Let Me Just Roll Up My Sleeves to Make Sure You're Not Dying

By Carl Zimmer | February 29, 2008 9:01 am

let me just
LTY writes:

“The first is an ECG, single lead, called a rhythm strip, which shows a common and generally benign arrhythmia called second degree heart block, Mobitz Type I, also called Wenckebach. The interval between the P wave (atrial contraction) and the QRS (ventricular contraction) progressively increases till a QRS is dropped. The second is a three-lead ECG showing an acute inferior myocardial infarction, aka a heart attack.”

Carl writes: When you stop to reflect on electrocardiograms, it is remarkable that we can peer within the heart simply by picking up tiny changes in voltage on the skin. The fact that muscles such as the heart use electricity to drive their contractions was inconceivable in the 1600s. Natural philosophers believed muscles might be inflated by “animal spirits,” but the idea that the same power in a lightning bolt was at work in our hearts every second of our lives would have seemed absurd. Jan Swammerdam, a Dutch anatomist, tried to persuade his contemporaries in the 1660s that animal spirits did not drive the heart–he showed that a severed muscle twitched if he touched its nerve endings with the blade of a scalpel–but it would take well over a century for scientists to accept that our lives depend on a rhythm of sparks.

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Comments (7)

  1. Austin Best

    We like to call that second grouping “Tombstone-ing”.

    Works on a couple levels:
    -Guy’s about to kick the bucket
    -The patterns look like rows of tombstones

  2. paz

    Q waves and ST elevation, they may be the last thing you ever see.

  3. So einen Blog kann man nur dann bauen wenn man Ahnung hat. Wirklich klasse das Design. Das kann sich bestimmt nicht jeder leisten

  4. TxMedic

    Or if you’re with a firebased EMS service, we call em firehats. They look like little fire helmets bouncing down the line.

  5. Why would you get such a tattoo? Does it relieve your requirement for ACLS recertification?

  6. despawacz

    I’m sorry to say that, but the first isn’t correct… QRS complexes aren’t regular.

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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.

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