Journal of Medical Humanities

, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 207–208 | Cite as

Takotsubo: Octopus Trap

  • Joshua Liao


Cardiomyopathy Supportive Care Rare Condition Emotional Stress Good News 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Twelve leads on her chest,

To hear it echo; soft

Lines dancing, sharp scribbles

Escaping her broken heart.

Six near, in search of detail

From careful days, hope

Strong after her husband’s crash

As tubes coaxed his breaths.

Six further, for perspective

After he passed, after

Her heart strained and fell

Quiet, like a fish on dry land.

But we can’t trace her

Loss after tears – silent

Longing trapped in

A cadence without reprieve.

STs high, T waves low,

Staccato spikes trailing

Limp chambers failing

To find rhythm or reason.

Good news, I say, we think

We know what happened

Here; I diagnose, to help

Convince myself.

But beyond the leads, only

She feels his memory break

Against her heart, an empty shore

Left behind retreating tides.

This poem was inspired by one of my most meaningful patients, a woman with Takotsubo (directly translated as “Octopus Trap”) Cardiomyopathy. Also known as “broken heart syndrome,” Takotsubo is a rare condition that has been documented to result from periods of extreme physical and/or emotional stress (e.g. death of a loved one), as was true with my patient. It is easily overlooked for other more common causes of heart dysfunction, but using a careful clinical history and subtle EKG findings, my team was able to come to the correct diagnosis. Importantly, for all of our technology and hypothesizing, the exact etiology of Takotsubo still eludes medical understanding, and the only substantiated treatment is supportive care. As Blaise Pascal was noted to say, “the heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.” This is surely an apt example.

I wrote this poem because the experience taught me to more deeply appreciate the interface between the science and art of medicine, and it showed me – literally – the danger in focusing on one at expense of the other. I also felt appropriately humbled by the limitations of modern medicine. Ultimately, my patient left indelible marks on my view of medicine and the responsibility and privilege of being a caretaker of a patient’s holistic health.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Baylor College of MedicineHoustonUSA

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