From the Heart - Reflection by Canon Neal


Read Canon Neal's reflection for Tuesday, Sept 29th, 2020.

Today is World Heart Day. The heart is basically a pump. In fact it is by far the most reliable, resilient and remarkable pump known to humanity, far out-performing any pump that we have made.

Many moons ago, long before I was ‘collared’, I was a Mechanical Engineer involved in industrial research and development. To be more precise, my work involved pumps and seals (no, not the ‘unk unk’ variety!). I spent many a happy day wondering around oil refineries and chemical plants, some of them not a million miles from Liverpool as it happens; ICI at Runcorn and Shell at Stanlow were among  them. The workhorse of any petrochemical plant is the centrifugal pump. These come in many sizes, depending on where they are in the process, and are required to circulate liquids of many kinds. Some liquids are hazardous – perhaps because they are corrosive, abrasive or inflammable - and some are at high temperatures and pressures. A small plant may have dozens or hundreds of pumps; a large plant may have thousands. The pumps all work essentially in the same way, using an impeller rotating at fairly high speeds to draw the liquid in and move it on to the next bit of the process. Electric motors power these pumps, and where the drive shaft enters the pump housing, there has to be a seal. Not just a piece of rubber, but usually something rather more complex and delicate known as a ‘mechanical seal’. The seals were generally the weakest link in these pumps and were often the bane of the maintenance team’s life! That said, trying to improve their reliability kept me in gainful employment for nine years!

Generally, every pumpset had to have one or more spares – built in ‘redundancy ‘ – so that if it failed, or when it needed to be taken out of the line for planned maintenance, there was a back-up that could be started. Having to stop the process was costly in terms of lost product and inefficiency. The pumps were truly the heart-beat of the whole process.

I remember well the time when we put some pressure sensors on some pumpsets at a refinery in South Wales. (It’s a bit like being asked by a doctor to wear a heart monitor.) The chief engineer had been complaining about their reliability. The engineer was astonished when we showed him the print-outs of the pressure-readings. Far from being stable and smooth, there were all kinds of weird spikes and pressure pulses, which were coming at the pump from elsewhere in the process. No wonder the poor old seal was struggling! With a bit of effort, we managed to reduce the pressure spikes, and also improve the resilience of the pump seal. As far as I know, the pumpset has worked smoothly and reliably ever since.

So all these fond(?) memories of standing by pumps on cold wind-swept and smelly refineries and chemical plants came flooding back to me as I was thinking about this blog. Our own hearts, as I say, are the pumps which circulate the blood around our bodies. As we all well know, they are vital for life. Whereas a human-made pump might run with minimal maintenance for some months or even years, we expect our hearts to pump reliably for many decades! A simple calculation shows us that, if our hearts beat for 60-70 beats per minute and we live for some 70 years, then our hearts will beat over 2.5 billion times! Truly, our hearts are remarkable devices. And yet, just like on that refinery in South Wales, we often throw all kinds of challenges in their direction, and expect them to carry on regardless. There is, I know, far more awareness of the impact of high blood pressure and the effects of the wrong kinds of cholesterol on our hearts these days. I am sure that many people of my age and older have been through Q-Risk assessments, which work out the chances of us having a stroke or heart attack in the next ten years. A bit morbid, but very important nevertheless. If you’ve not had one, and because of age or family propensity you think that you should, then ask your GP about it. Hopefully, there is a much greater awareness of how our lifestyle can impact our hearts now. Despite our current preoccupation with Covid-19 , we must not take our eye off the ball with our wider health.

So, back to World Heart Day. It is what it says on the tin – a day to remind us of the remarkable pump that is our heart and to make some commitments to looking after it so that it continues to serve our bodies to the ends of our lives, whenever that is. There is much more information to be found on the websites of the World Heart Federation and the British Heart Foundation. We are being asked by them to make a Heart Promise. This can be anything related to healthier living.  Here are some examples from the WHF:

We are asking people from all walks of life to act now to live longer, better, heart-healthy lives by making a promise:

·         A promise to our families to cook and eat more healthily

·         A promise to our children to  exercise more and help them to be more active, to say no to smoking and help our loved ones to stop

·         A promise as a healthcare professional to help patients give up smoking and lower their cholesterol

·         A promise as a policymaker to support policies that promote healthy hearts

·         A promise as an employee to invest in heart-healthy workplaces

Why not ‘customise’ this by adding on something that you could do in your own home, or when you are in the Cathedral? I, for one, am trying to go up and down stairs a little more often in the house, and am using the stairs in the Cathedral instead of the lifts. Many of us got into the habit of having a daily hour or so of exercise during the most restrictive phase of lockdown. If we’ve drifted away from that, perhaps it’s good to build that into our routine again, if we can? That will benefit our mental health too.

So what can you and I do for World Heart Day, and not just for today, to help our wonderful hearts to keep on pumping? Truly so much of our lives are…from the heart!

Canon Neal


While you're here:
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