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Happy Valentine’s Day: How the heart became the symbol of love


In a light-hearted (pun intended) take on Valentine’s Day, Dr. Sheldon Cherry, professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, imagined this exchange between an interviewer and a 2,000-year-old cardiologist.

Dr. Sheldon Cherry

Dr. Sheldon Cherry

There are a number of different symbols associated with love such as cupid and roses, but out of all the various symbols and images none are more prevalent than the heart. It is the most common image associated with love. Boxes of chocolate are heart-shaped. Valentine’s Day greeting cards are formed in the shape of a heart, etc. This begs the question: How did the heart become the common symbol of love?

Hoping to answer this age-old question, we sought out Dr. Red Corazon, a prominent cardiologist who happens to be 2000 years old. He works on the tenth floor of ACH11 all by himself. His secretary, Mildred, just died of a broken heart.

Q: Dr. Corazon, thank you for your time today.
A: I have lots of time!

Q: Tell us how old are you?
A: I am 2000 years old, and on March 3, I will be 2001 years old.

Q: What is the secret to your longevity?
A: Napping, prunes and avoiding interviews like this.

Q: I guess you have seen and learned a lot over these years.
A: You bet!

heart COMQ: One basic question, why IS the heart colored RED?
A:  Well it is not really red, dummy. Guess you are not a doctor…We were sitting around with my buddy, Michelangelo, at the Vatican one day, picking out colors for the ceiling, and decided that we liked the color of the Cardinal’s coat. So we picked it for the heart. May have been a mistake in view of the Inquisition. Boy, that was no fun. There was a lot of RED blood spilled then.

Q: How did the heart become the symbol of love?
A: In ancient times, before even I was born, people believed that the heart was the center of all human emotions. (They also believed that the brain served no actual purpose and, in some cases, they are correct.) You know the heart is in the center of the chest and these dummies thought that the heart was therefore the center of emotions. Since love is a strong emotion, the heart became the symbol of love.

Q: Did they consider other organs?
A: Are you kidding? We eat liver; so don’t go there. The spleen is boring. The bladder holds you know what. And the feet smell. So when my buddy Bill Shakespeare said, “Hear my soul speak. Of the very instant that I saw you, Did my heart fly at your service,” we took notice. Then, Bill wrote, “A heart to love, and in that heart, Courage, to make love known.” WE got the message.

Q: Who else contributed to this?
A: Bernie Shaw and some of my other friends had this to say: “Nobody has ever measured, even poets, how much ‘love’ a heart can hold.” By Zelda Fitzgerald: “I would rather have eyes that cannot see; ears that cannot hear; lips that cannot speak, than a heart that cannot love.” By one of my 400 girlfriends: “The heart that loves is always young.”

Q: Before you go, Dr. Corazon, can you tell us your greatest contribution to medicine?
A: Bloodletting! One day, about 400 years ago, my neighbor, Phil, had the flu, and while working outside he cut his leg on a rock. You should have seen the bleeding! My partner, Dr. William Harvey, and I both noticed his flu got better so fast after bleeding, that we started bleeding other people. The rest is history. It is in my book, “Cardiology For Dummies.”

Q: Thank you for your wisdom, Dr. Corazon. Do you have a last message to the lovers of the world? 
A: Someone said, “All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt!” And… “An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge, except in medical school.”

So long, I have to take a nap……………………

Authors note: The idea for the 2,000-year-old man stems from the Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner comedy skit that is now more than 50 years old. Infancy, really!

– Dr. Sheldon Cherry

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