I Think It’s My Heart

“I think it’s my heart,” I say at the desk.

The receptionist picks up the phone and speaks into it, unhurried but certainly not dawdling. I’m led to a waiting nurse. They’re all watching me. Waiting for me to do anything…dramatic.

Oh god. Not like this. Please.

I’m led to a crisply-sheeted bed.

“Just hop on, we’ll change the sheets afterwards”, the nurse says as I look down at my muddy boots. I clamber on, leaving thick chocolate smears everywhere. Someone will end up washing this bedding. What will they think of me?

Then I remember why I’m here, and the terror drives all else away.

Once my shirt is off, gel stickers are stuck all over my torso. Then wires are attached to each one. I’m told to lie still. So naturally I tense up.

A button is pressed.

This is my first ECG – and I’m almost disappointed. There’s no lightning, no whining of a generator spinning faster and faster. No red lights or klaxons. They don’t even have those double electrodes with the spark running up between them, like any real machine involved in life & death situations. I don’t feel anything except the ever-present band of tightness across the left of my chest, and the numbness in my left arm.

The nurse (she could be a doctor, I’m a little distracted right now) goes away for a while. I think about things. About the irony of it all. How I’m just 3 months away from changing everything in my professional life, from taking the career risk I’ve spent 3 years slowly, erratically working towards. Just a few more months…

Well, maybe sometimes dreams are meant to stay dreams. C’est la vie, eh?

I fight down bitterness, anger, self-disgust, fear. How could I have done things any different? Easily, the answer comes, along with a list of regrets as long as my frighteningly numb arm. Easily, Mike. Wrong decisions, opportunities you failed to grab as they went past on the way towards someone braver, time you didn’t spend with people, places you never went. It could be that you simply blew it.

So, I’m suffering from…go on, say it…..

Heart failure.

Maybe heart disease. Maybe cholesterol, the way my Dad went. Something really bad. All I have is guesses. I’m not a doctor. I just know I’m in the right place for what is happening to me.

What now? Medication. No more walking through rainstorms. Nothing that will push my heart too badly – so that’s flying ruled out, then. And therefore most of my travel plans. Maybe it’ll require surgery. What did they call it on E.R? “Angioplasty”. Sounds like a type of Play-Doh. Ah, I remember now, it’s when they widen…

The nurse has returned. She’s holding some kind of print-out.

**********

I sit in the reception area.

I look at the ground.

I look at the clock.

I look at the ground again.

Just 5 minutes have passed. I’ve got almost an hour to go. I should pull out my book, carry on reading The Cambridge Introduction To Narrative, because I’ve got a lot of reading to do before I fly out to TBU Umbria. I’ve got a lot of planning for what’s happening just before TBU. I’ve got so much to do.

I look at the clock again. Another couple of minutes gone. But I can’t focus on anything but the ground. All my thoughts have stopped.

It’ll be another 48 minutes before the bearded doctor (or he could be a nurse – I’m currently a little distracted) comes out at 2.17am and tells me that my blood test, like my ECG, says there is absolutely nothing wrong with my heart, suggests it’s virus-related muscle cramps, and tells me I’m good to go home, back to my travel plans and work-related plans, back to everything I’ve been working towards and momentarily thought I’d lost – and then I’ll take almost an hour to walk the couple of miles home through the cold, because I’m so wobbly-legged, so knocked senseless by the events of the evening.

But for now, I stare at the ground.

Time passes.

But that’s okay. It seems I have a little more than I thought.

Image: rosmary

  • Glad you’re ok. But yeah, sometimes this travel blogging writing not sure what comes next things does make a heart hurt a bit.

    As always,lovely writing.

    • Mikeachim

      Thanks, Leigh.

      And yes, you could have hit the nail on the head. I have been worrying about career-related things, and the previous couple of months. And added to a nasty cold-related virus…that’s almost certainly the tightness and numbness.

      So I came away feeling relief, but also feeling a little like a self-indulgent idiot.

      When I was in there, in the waiting room, someone collapsed. He was taken through on a stretcher, unconscious.

      And there I was, with what turned out to be muscle cramp, getting to the front of the queue instantly.

      Looking back, that’s what unsettles me the most. Even though I have the luxury of hindsight. And even though I’m not saying I would have done anything different. I’m just…grateful.

      Long rambling incoherent comment award goes to… Mikeachim! (No acceptance speech, please, thx).

      • Abi

        Right, I’m going to put my serious voice on for a change and tell you that you did exactly the right thing. And that if you get that feeling in the future – you need to do the same again. Straight to hospital. No-one in A&E/ER will complain about you turning up with those symptoms. Go, go, go, go, go, go, go. It’s not self-induglent. It’s sensible. (For now…)

        • Mikeachim

          Aye. It’s not self-indulgent. In the least. It felt it, but that wasn’t a wise feeling. Everything I’ve read since that event (and since it’s been on my mind, I’ve read a *lot* about what I should have done), ever piece of doctorly advice confirms my gut instinct – you don’t mess around with chest pains.

          It made me reflective about the nature of fate and misfortune, as I said up there. But I wouldn’t have done anything different, and would never suggest that anyone else do anything different either.

          And that’s what A&E departments are partly for: emergencies. Some emergencies turn out just fine. Others don’t. But they’re *all* emergencies. No messin’.

  • Damn man. That’s some heavy shit, which I can relate to: my 45 year old (and only) sister is going in for open heart surgery next week. Moral of the story: mortality ain’t no joke. Take care of your heart, in every way.

    • Mikeachim

      My very, very best wishes to your sister, Conner. Hope it goes like clockwork and she’s up & around in no time.

      And yes. Taking care. This didn’t change what I have planned. But it underline why I’m doing it. I’ve simply not taken enough care of myself (and others, to be honest) in some really key ways, and I thought I’d lost the chance to rectify that. One of the most sobering moments of my life.

      Please pop by and let me know how it goes with your sister. Cheers.

  • SushiCowboy

    We are all the richer and more entertained for having you in our lives, Mike. A selfish part of me hopes one of your ‘Flashbacks of a Fool’ style regrets was our lack of meetings for coffee. A girl can dream, can’t she?

    • Mikeachim

      You could be onto something there…

  • Hey Mike,
    I don’t blame you for being worried – heart stuff is scary. I had a little episode myself last year. Kept waking up suddenly, grasping my chest, almost out of breath. Thought maybe I was having heart palpitations or something like that. Had ekg, holter 24hr monitor, blood tests etc. Everything was fine. Turns out, I had really bad heartburn, most likely from taking doxycycline for malaria.

    I have to say, in the interim, when I was completely freaked out, the internet made things a billion times worse. Search for something like “waking up abruptly grabbing chest, can’t breathe” and you will find yourself in a serious wormhole of paranoia.

    In any case, glad to hear you are OK!!

  • Oh wow that is incredible. I have never been faced with a moment where I thought my life would end. Although my father died when I was five and I’ve grown up with a sense of mortality. It pushes us to do the things we may be otherwise afraid to do – because we won’t always have the chance.

    And I’m so glad you are okay. We will cross paths some day.

  • Thank you for sharing this with us. I am glad you are OK.

    And this line: “Well, maybe sometimes dreams are meant to stay dreams.” I don’t agree with the sentiment of course, but I do love the line.

  • Liv

    Dammit, Mike. Don’t scare us like that.

    Glad you’re okay! Looking forward to hearing you speak in Umbria.

  • Well … yikes!

    So sorry for the scare, but so glad that all’s clear.

    But for a little extra insurance, have a salad.

  • What an awful experience for you. I’m so glad you are okay and that it all worked out. Agree with Abi though, no one is going to judge you. And muddy boots? Who the hell cares. I had a health scare a while back too, so I know how frightening it can be. I’ve been looking forward to hearing you talk at TBU – very glad you will still be coming :)

  • Lan

    i’m away for a month+ (your fault btw, you said so in your email!) and this is what i come back to?!

    i’m glad you are ok, that you are listening to your body. keep doing that. i mean it.

  • Glad it was nothing serious. I don’t know anyone else who can hold the sarcasm fort if you were to peg it all of a sudden. Seriously though, glad it was just a false alarm.

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  • I’ve been so dreadfully out of touch, I’m JUST NOW seeing this. Holy hell, Mike, I’m glad you’re okay…

  • WHEW. whew!! and i am glad you’re ok – and paying attention.

  • Yeegh. I turn my back for a few weeks and this happens. Glad to hear you’re okay, dude. And congrats on the career leap!