The attendant in the emergency room won’t tell him what his blood pressure reads. Little does the attendant know that’s he’s been down this road before. Do they think he’s that stupid?
In the old days when they wrapped a cuff around your arm and listened to whatever they listened to through a stethoscope they were able to keep those secrets to themselves. These days, thanks to the wonders of modern technology all it takes is a sideways glance at the machine he’s hooked up to to get a peek at the results.
180 over 120…
He thinks to himself ”Shit, this is not good” and stares off into space.
The tech who took his blood pressure leaves and it isn’t but a moment before he’s replaced by a nurse. This is no time for idle conversation about the weather or politics or to exchange pleasantries. She’s all business. By now, they’ve gotten a hold of his medical history and she realizes this isn’t just a walk in pretending to be sick. She asks him some of the typical questions.
”One a scale of one to ten with ten being the highest, how much pain are you in?”
He considers the question for a moment. The tightness in his chest registers a five but the anguish in his brain is off the scale.
”About a five or six”
She follows up with “When did the pain begin?”
Again, he considers the question. He feels like blurting out that it’s been going on for as long as he can remember. That the downs he’s experienced throughout his life far outweigh the ups. But, he keeps that to himself.
”A couple of days ago, not so bad at first but increasing in intensity until today.”
The nurse types his responses into a computer. He wonders if it’s the computer that prompts her based on his answers.
”Can you describe the pain?”
Again he thinks to himself, “”Not in a million years” . He thinks about his daughter, thousands of miles away on spring break with her mom and step dad. Just the other day they told him that they were lounging on a beach somewhere in Texas and that New Orleans was still fun and the people there amazing. Of course, he doesn’t mention this to the nurse, it’s not important to the matter at hand. Instead, he recites his litany of tightness across the chest, shortness of breath and a sense of foreboding and doom.
A wheelchair is rolled in. He tries to get in himself but the nurse and another attendant have him by the arms. Soon he’s wheeled into another room and an IV is inserted into his arms. He’s stripped down to his essentials and wires now protrude from all over his chest. They lead to the EKG and heart monitor.
Steady like the beat of a drum, he takes this as a good sign.
The nurse informs him that they're going to administer some morphine through the IV. At first he protests but her argument outweighs his. Even in his confusion he at least can still reason with himself.
After the first “rush” hits his brain he wonders how a junkie can stand it. His head throbs like it’s been hit by a cannonball. He recalls the movies where heroin addicts and the like seem to get this peaceful feeling come over them. Their faces glaze over, their eyes take on a glassy look and they look somehow content. All he feels is panic.
”I don’t like this, make it stop” he tells the nurse.
”Just relax sir, you’ll be fine. It’s perfectly normal.”
He wants to rip the IV from his arm but he feels paralyzed. He wants to roll and toss and thrash around in his bed like an epileptic in the throes of a fit. He wants to scream at the top of his lungs that he doesn’t belong here but the words are stuck somewhere beneath his throat and can only echo in his brain.
When he wakes up he doesn’t know how long he’s been out. The clock on the wall reads 6:10, the same time it read when he first entered the room. He reaches for the phone that appeared by the side of the bed but he realizes that there’s nobody to call. He doesn’t want to hear the cavalcade of “I told you so’s” that would emanate from the other end.
Hours later, a doctor appears in the room. He’s friendly enough and has a good bedside manner. He explains what they would like to do to him. The doctor recites a battery of tests some of which sound all too familiar. He just nods his head like a robot, numb to the feeling of expression or comprehension.
Time seems to drag by in the hospital. The hours take longer than they should. Maybe because most of those hours are spent waiting between frenzies of activity. One minute he’s being whisked away to places unknown on a gurney only to be followed by lying alone in a room for what seems like an eternity. The next minute he’s surrounded by hospital staff all doing their jobs in a model of proficiency and the next minute that same room seems as abandoned as a ghost town.
The test results are back the next day. In a nutshell, they tell him his heart is only pumping about thirty percent of the blood it should, There’s some scarring from previous episodes that he can’t do anything about. He’s dismissed from their charge with a handful of prescriptions that need to be filled and strict orders to do this and don’t do that and take caution about doing the other. We’ll follow up to see how the meds are doing in a couple of weeks. He doesn’t consider himself a coward but he’s afraid to ask about the alternative. He’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it.
He blinks his eyes when he gets outside. The sun is still shining a bit in the late evening sky. It’s March and what feels like an unseasonably warm breeze follows him through the parking lot. He take this as a good omen.
Today he’s back at work, stealing a few moments from his employers' gaze to pen this little story. They know what happened over the last few days and probably think he’s catching up on E-mail or finishing up that BRD everybody seems to be waiting for.
And he will. But first he figured that there was a story to tell while it was still fresh in his mind.
And he was the only one who could tell it.