Hey Man Don’t Have A Heart Attack!

heart attack

I was sitting alone in one of the doctors rooms after my first stress test. I could have saved them a lot of trouble because the minute he mentioned stress test I was at 1000% stress level. My heart rate shot up to a million beats a minute and I couldn’t breath. When he suggested I get wired up and prepared to take a cardiac stress test immediately I was already off the scale. The suggestion morphed into a statement in a flash and before I knew it I was laying on my back having my chest shaved by a young nurse. Unfortunately it lacked any of the grandeur of a nurse patient fantasy and went directly to more of a tense horror movie mode completely by passing any intimate after hours flick sentiments. To begin with she applied some rather cold gel and not warm oily sensuous substance. There was no disrobing unless you count the fact that I removed my shirt exposing the hiding spot of all the cholesterol I have indulged in the last few years. Instead of a teasing slightly hoarse voice she had a very matter of fact tone about her. “This may be a bit cold Mr. Hilltop.” Hmm, no first name basis either! After lathering on the cold gel she placed suction cups with colored wires on my now hairless chest to fully complete the diminishing of the mood. I took note of where the red wire was in case I needed to make an emergency cut to avoid explosion. They always cut the red one. Right? Or is the green one? “Okay honey, you’re ready for the treadmill.” Still not in a hoarse sultry whisper but rather far too businesslike. I ambled over to the treadmill and got in place. The doctor came back in, turned a few knobs, and it was off to the races.
He started me off at a slow trot and gradually increased my speed. Feeling uncomfortable and nervous to begin with I was having difficulty negotiating the floor moving under my feet so I held tightly to the handrails for support. “JT, try and take your hands away from the rails and just walk normal.” Shit! Busted. I did my best but found myself unable to control my balance and I was surprised at my lack of co-ordination as well as how easily I became winded as the test progressed. Now I’m freaking out because my chest is wired, the treadmill is kicking my ass, I am running short of breath, and the doctors writing notes with a face that looked far too concerned to have any calming effect on me. Jane get me off this thing! If this is really a test I didn’t feel I was getting very good grades today, wish I had studied more. How did I end up in this predicament anyway?
Obviously I’m here because I was having stress issues. I found myself in this cardiologist office because I was having difficulty catching my breath and felt light pressure in my chest. After prodding his cold stethoscope all over my chest and back while making me gasp for breath my primary doctor was concerned about something so he decided I should be a heart specialist’s problem and not his. He made me an appointment at the cardiologist center and that’s when the stress began to spike only getting higher as the visit progressed. Being chef I was used to high pressure but this put me over the proverbial boiling point. I was a chef/co-owner on this one particular venture so the pressure cooked all that much higher. Add to that the fact that my prep kitchen was a flight of stairs away from the service line, and the storage rooms were on the opposite end of another staircase, the height of service was high pressure plus an abundance of running up and down stairs at warp speed. No wonder my breathing was labored. At first is was just a night here or a night there, but it eventually escalated to a daily routine of not being able to fully catch my breath combined with constant pressure in my chest. I sensed something was off, but no worries, I’m young and invincible. Nothing scares me. Well up until the doctor mentioned cardiologist anyway, that’s when I became a gelatinous bundle of frightened nervous energy.
Anyway, after the treadmill torture left me wheezing and achy the nurse unwired my chest and led me into another room instructing me to sit down. I’ve been working in restaurants my entire career but for the life of me I can’t figure out why the servers are called waiters. Waiters should be another term for doctor patients because with all their waiting rooms and procedures doctor are the supreme beings of making us wait. So I sat while supposedly the Doc was grading my tests. I hoped he graded with a curve because I could sure go with some good news about now. Twenty minutes later the nurse came back in the room with some papers for me to sign. She placed one of her hands on mine to comfort me speaking evenly in a tone laced with empathy, “Mr. Hilltop, The Doctor wants you to retake the test. He is a little concerned with the results but wants to have another try. We have two options here. If the test runs okay we can schedule you for a more detailed evaluation, but if it doesn’t go well we will need to consider keeping you in the hospital over the weekend for observation.” She may as well have delivered the news with a baseball bat because I was floored, had just been metaphorically knocked upside the head with a Louisville Slugger. I opened my mouth to try and respond but I was choking on emotion, thinking not about me or my potential death, but I was concerned what would happen to my family, how would this effect them with me not being there for them. I have two grown children who are old enough to cope, but my baby girl was only five and she relied on me for many things. My wife could cope mentally, but emotionally we were both very fragile. We had lost our first child at the age of two only six years ago and had still not fully processed that. But that’s what goes on in your head, the nurse says hospital and you hear hospice, she says observations and you hear funeral viewing. I was certain what she was telling me is if I fail this make up exam I will get left back and never graduate. Either I pulled it together and passed this test or I’m headed straight for my death.
The mind is a strange thing. I felt blood rushing to my face and a profound sadness set in. I was convinced I was going to die soon, the doctor had come by to confirm what the nurse had told me stating with as much compassion as he could that I had has a mild cardiac infarction. (They use various medical terms to throw us off, he knew if he said heart attack I would have freaked, but what he didn’t know is I watched a lot of hospital centered TV shows so I knew an infarction was an attack). Tempered as it was it still was hard to process. They left me alone to cram for the make up exam and instead of studying the dynamics of treadmills I found myself pre-occupied with death. Mine! As an existentialist I accept the fact that my death is inevitable, but as a human I was more focused on what it would mean emotionally to the people who care about me. I thought about the effect it would have on my children, my wife, my family. The pressure was no longer in my chest but in my eyes as my tear ducts swelled up with a profound sense of void. I wanted to cry in someone’s arms but was all alone, in the abyss of doctors waiting rooms. My death would likely cause some emotional breakdowns and it troubled me that I would be the cause of pain to my family. I thought about how deeply I loved everyone, took a long full breath and went back to the treadmill to kick some ass in the next test.
Having been through the test once I was much more comfortable, and armed with the fact that I share so much love I took the test from a much stronger standpoint. Now I know I didn’t ace the test, but I also knew I had done well enough to earn another opportunity to see my family. I was scheduled for a nuclear stress test which eventually confirmed that I did in fact have a mild heart attack and ha to make some life adjustments. I took the news much more positively, vowing to make every attempt at regaining my health and living a healthier lifestyle. Fifteen years later I’m still alive and kicking. I discovered that life is worthwhile because there is a thing called love. A mysterious unexplainable concept that fills us with good feelings. There are times for all of us when we think its over, or maybe it would be better if we were gone and not a burden to our loved ones. We aren’t burdens, we are wings that help our loved ones soar. They need us as much as we need them and that’s what makes it so damn beautiful.. That’s what I learned from this episode, this infarction of my life. At times I still get down on myself, feel myself unworthy for one reason or another, and often times even wonder if its all worth it. That’s when I think back to that moment, the one in which I discovered how intensely powerful love is, how important we are to each other. Give your love freely and frequently, don’t wait until its too late. Our true strength lies within each other. PEACE

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