My eyes snap open. The room is dark. I’m disoriented. Muffled beeping and soft humming sounds. The hospital.
Had the nurse just come in to check my vitals? I wasn’t sure. I had learned in the few days I had been in the cardiac unit that the night nurses seemed to wait until I was asleep to check my blood pressure and temperature. One nurse came in during the night and turned on the bathroom light. The brightness hurt my eyes. I squinted at her. She was staring at me.
“Are you awake?”
“I am.” I tried to sound like it. She was doing her best–making sure my heart didn’t stop. The least I could do is be kind.
Now, something woke me. I couldn’t see a nurse anywhere. I sat up in bed. My head spun. I swung my feet over the edge of the bed and pulled the oxygen monitor off my finger. I gathered the EKG cables, put the wireless transmitter in my hospital-gown-chest-pocket and let my feet touch the cold tile floor. The coolness cleared my head.
I stood up. The room swayed around me, then stabilized. I pulled the drape back and looked out into the ward. The nurses station was empty, quiet. The clock on the wall read 3:06 am. A wheelchair, empty and still, rested below the clock. Muffled beeps echoed from other hearts synchronized by a desire to continue beating.
My heart is broken.
I did not have a heart attack. Thank God.
I had symptoms, the kind of things I attributed to the need for better conditioning. When I took a stress test, the tech’s eyes got big. She asked me, “did you feel that?”
“Let’s stop. Wait here.”
I put my hands on the treadmill rails as she gathered reams of paper squiggles and hurried from the room.
“You failed,” she said, returning a few moments later.
“What?” How do you fail a stress test. I’ve got plenty of stress.
A week later, an angiogram showed my arteries were clear. My heart was strong.
I knew it.
“You have an electrical problem,” the Doc said.
“I know. The lights in my garage won’t turn on.”
He didn’t smile. “In your heart. We need to do an electrophysiology study.”
“I never liked research papers.” No response.
As I lay on the OR table, naked and shaved, the cardiac team hooked me up to all sorts of wires. Twelve-lead-contacts pulsed across a sixty-two inch big screen as a tech joked about alien probes. I shivered.
“I’m going to give you a little bath.”
“It’s a bit chilly for that, don’t you think” I said.
He chuckled. “We like to keep it cool.” I thought I could see my reflection in his sunglasses.
He picked up a sponge and swabbed my neck, chest and groin with glacial betadyne solution from cardiac mountain. I gasped and my body jerked. My arms and legs were strapped to the table.
“We usually like to sedate before this, but, new policy, we have to wait for the Doc.”
When the Doc arrived, he seemed to speak only in syllables–A-Fib, V-Fib, D-Fib.
“Let me know if you can feel this.” The Doctors lips were moving but he didn’t say those words. An ice cold creeping inched up my right arm. It reached my shoulder. I felt…
“Defibrillator,” the Doc said, smiling. My eyes were open. I was back in my room.
“Clear,” I said. He didn’t smile.
“You have ventricular tachycardia,” he says. His voice is solemn. I nod my head like I know what he’s talking about. He draws a remarkably detailed picture of my heart on the white board and explains. I get it.
This time, in the OR, I am able to keep my sweat pants on when they install an ICD device in my chest. I don’t remember much. They sedated me sooner so I couldn’t write about it.
Now, at 3:06 am, I’m awake, alone, and left to contemplate my own mortality.
I don’t want to die. Although, there are days when I think it might be nice.
I don’t like having a device in my chest that controls my heart rate, shocks me if it beats too fast, and communicates by cell-tower with the Doc, and the NSA. I like to exercise. I take care of my body. I eat right.
I’m sure I’ve done something of significance in my life, I just can’t think of what it is.
I love my wife. I love my children. Would they miss me? I’m not finished teaching them.
The drugs they’re giving me make me question my reasoning. By 3:30 am I still have no answers. The incision in my chest hurts. I can’t raise my left arm. I can’t sleep on my stomach. I can’t go to the bathroom.
This could change my life.
As I drift into awkward dreams of sponge baths and alien probes,I offer a heartfelt prayer to God for help, love and forgiveness. Suddenly, joyously, I feel peace. Then, a bright light speaks to me.
“Are you awake? Let’s get your vitals.”