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