Over the years, I have accumulated a small list of Things I Have Seen and Never Want to See Again. It's a fairly diverse list, as these things go. Some of the entries are fairly insipid: for instance, I'm sure my life would not be enhanced by seeing another can of "Daddy Crisp", an early-Eighties snack item — think Pringles® with the can but without the handy prefab stackability, which undoubtedly does much to explain why I've not seen any in years. Some of the entries simply exude Pure Evil: I am happy to do without the horrid hybrid of Joseph Goebbels and William Jennings Bryan that is Pat Robertson, and I am reasonably certain I am not alone in this. And then there are the things that simply hit me on a gut level, to which my gut responds with waves of fear. The newest addition to this list is the ceiling of the emergency room.

Wednesday afternoon, I was ambling back to the office when I felt a familiar twinge in the upper torso. I cut my speed down to the bare minimum, but kept going. So did the pain. I got back to my desk and popped an aspirin, and then another. Eventually it stopped, but when it did, it was replaced by a dull numbness that kept moving up and down my right side as though it was looking for a place to park. I was on the phone to the doctor's office, and coworkers gathered around me waiting for the show to begin.

By now I was functionally, if not literally, brain-dead, and a brace of staffers herded me into the van (does it really count as herding if there's only one herdee?) and hauled me off to the hospital, where the first disturbing vision came right away — a sign reading "Triage". Now I know the dictionary definition doesn't insist upon it, but I couldn't help imagining some ghastly post-disaster scenario where a handful of Red Cross volunteers are trying to sort out the victims with the best chance for survival. As it happens, cardiac patients get high priority in Triage, and it was less than half an hour before I found myself flat on my back in the E.R. and wired, if not for sound, certainly for telemetry.

The verdict came quickly: I would be admitted for further examination. That was the good news. The bad news was that the admission was more or less tentative, since the hospital did not, in fact, have any available beds. I shuddered at the thought of spending an entire night on a gurney, surrounded by enforced sterility and subjected to the regular-as-clockwork torment of the automated blood-pressure cuff. By 10 pm, they had somehow found some beds, and some poor soul had to wheel me up two floors and into the farthest corner of the building. I do hope he got a raise.

Twenty-three hours after it all began, for which my insurance company should thank me but probably won't, I was out. Not a heart problem, I was told, and further testing would take place on an outpatient basis. Just to prove a point, I spurned the proffered wheelchair and walked the half-mile to the far end of the parking lot. If I learned anything from this experience, it's simply that getting sick is painful, and not just in the literal sense — and that I don't want to be a cardiac patient, if only because of the dietary restrictions. When the major source of flavor in your meal is steamed broccoli, you might as well go on the I.V. and be done with it.

The Vent

23 January 2000

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