Sunday morning while I was at work, I began to feel a little bit of tightness in my chest. “I’ll schedule a physical on Monday.” I told myself. My heart has been misbehaving for a couple of weeks. Every now and then it kind of flutters, like it is taking a big gulp of air. I had been waiting for winter break to make an appointment, but the Sunday tightness emphasized the point.
I pulled into a gas station on the way home from work, and began to pump gas in my car. I was thinking about a world without me: What would happen to the kids? My wife? Me? External threats are different than internal ones. If, say, a rabid dog were chasing me, I would be prepared to defend myself. If I had a bloody wound somewhere on an arm, or a leg, or on my chest, I would wrap it up. If I had a splinter, I would pull it out.
There is something sobering about an internal threat. A piece of your essential hardware may be malfunctioning. Not out of malice; there’s no sense in arguing with it. It may just be irregular. Not six sigma.
It’s better when you can see the threat.
As I was thinking about these things and pumping my gas, a little blue Camero came roaring up next to me, radio blaring. It had a little pirate’s patch of plastic duct-taped to it’s window frame. It was that Papa Roach song that was playing. I don’t know the title, but the first line is ’Cut my life into pieces, this is my last resort…’ etc. The guy who stepped out of the car (flannel coat, dirty blond beard), was bobbing his head back and forth to the music as he left his car running and began pumping his gas.
It got better:
Not only was his car running while he was pumping gas, he lit up a cigarette. Not only did he light up a cigarette, but his cell phone rang, and he answered it. I swear it’s the truth. I laughed to myself. Here I am, thinking my heart is going to kill me in a very typical all-American way, when really I am going to explode and have my skin melted off my bones. Life is what happens while you’re out making other plans, I guess.
But I survived. I went home, ate dinner with my family, and helped get my kids to bed. I read them Goodnight Moon, although I think my oldest son wanted me to read him another chapter in King Solomon’s Mines. I opted out of the longer book because I was beginning to feel nauseous, and something was going wrong in my chest.
I kissed the kids goodnight and went to the computer to look up chest pains. Wham. A small (but significant) jab in my heart, followed by a few duller, pulsing jabs.
I asked my wife to drive me to the hospital. I was kind of embarrassed to ask this, because I felt fully functional. I’m not very good at measuring what degree of pain is supposed to alarm me. At the dentist’s office, when they’re drilling me, I just assume that the pain level I’m experiencing is what I’m supposed to experience. It was only the last time that I went for an appointment that a dentist said, ‘Spencer, you’re making faces at me. Are you feeling too much pain?’ and I said, ‘How much pain am I supposed to feel?’ He said ‘None.’, and gave me another Novocain shot.
So I felt a little weird about going to the hospital for something that hadn’t completely knocked me on my ass. But there is bad mojo around heart issues, so I took it seriously.
We dropped the kids off at my parents house, kissed them, and headed off. My son seemed a little worried, although we were all acting very calm. ‘See you soon buddy. Have fun with Mommaw and Poppaw.’ I said.
On the way to the hospital, I was feeling kind of woozy, and the light jabs in my chest were concerning. I don’t know why I was embarrassed when I leaned over the receptionist’s desk in the ER, but I whispered, “I’m having chest pains”, as if I were telling her instead that I was there because my syphilis was flaring up.
Anyway, the weird feelings resided throughout the night. The doctors did some tests on me, all which came back normal. Conversation with my wife while we sat in our little room together gradually came back down to normal content.
“You were scaring me in the car.“ She said. “You were like, ‘I want the kids to be hopeful people, okay? I want them to give people a chance, and have good hearts, and not be too hard on God. You were talking like you were going to die.‘
‘I wasn’t sure.‘ I said.
Then it went down a notch. We began talking about our parenting skills. Things we do right, things we can improve. And then it went down a little from there to us talking about becoming healthier, and then making jokes. Eventually we were looking at an ad in Time Magazine, talking about how much better Sean Connery looks in his old age.
I just set up an appointment with a Cardiologist for tomorrow morning. Hopefully, everything is cool. I definitely want to chill out with the caffeine, and work out a little more. Little surprises like the one I had last night can shake a person up.
Driving home, I told my wife that it’s kind of hard in the context of my Book of Revelations religious upbringing not to think that events like this are God’s way of sending a message.
“If it’s God,” she said, “Hopefully next time he’ll consider UPS instead.”
That would certainly be a lot less scary for me, although I do hate waiting around all day for a package to arrive.