Have you had this before?" asks the doctor in the old joke. Upon receiving an answer in the affirmative, he responds: "Well, you've got it again."
I've had it before: a tightening in the chest which isn't accompanied by any of the usual heart-attack symptoms: no shortness of breath, no changes to the pulse rate; and while the heart itself is generally located off-center, this exquisite little annoyance is always parked right in the middle. If anything, I am more fearful about the possibility of a transient ischemic attack — think of it as a "pre-stroke" — but the brief interruption in brain function I would expect does not manifest itself. What the hell is that pain in the chest? After long experience, I have decided that it was good old gas, not to be confused with old good gas. (Sunoco 260? That was an old good gas, somewhere around 102 octane.) Treatment: pop the appropriate tablet containing simethicone, don't drink anything but water, and it will go away in a couple of hours.
And if it doesn't go away? Then I'm in deep doo-doo. Monday night about 8, it struck. I'd finished dinner (a box from Zaxby's) about 45 minutes before, and noted that this particular meal wasn't on my list of gastric-distress inducers. (If I want chicken and I want to pay dearly for it later on, I go to Popeye's.) Treatment A was duly carried out, and I waited for things to subside by around 10 or so.
At my usual bedtime, about 11:03 pm, things were not back to normal. I took my usual Bedtime Cocktail (one Ambien, one 5-mg melatonin tablet, one cup of Zzzquil) and dragged myself to bed. Come 2 am, and I'd thrashed for literally hours, and the pain wouldn't go away. I was functional enough to be able to get up, apply a little more of the Quil and gulp down a Tylenol, which did essentially nothing. At 3, I was browsing the Web, taking care to avoid WebMD, which reports everything, from a sore shoulder to the heartbreak of psoriasis, as being Potentially Fatal. I'd had a bad week, and yes, there were instances of suicidal ideation, but no, goddamnit, I'm not going this way. If I have anything to say about it, I added, not at all certain that I was correct. I opened up Twitter, looking for a friendly face; I found one, but she was busy with a new project and I was loath to bother her. (At three in the morning, she's just getting warmed up.) I sent a text to my boss and then crawled back into bed; eventually fatigue took over.
I still haven't figured out what went wrong. I do know that the extra diphenhydramine made my nose feel like it was stuffed with random rag fragments, which prompted me to apply a layer of Vicks VapoRub to areas around the clavicle. The air passages were duly opened, though now I wonder if I'd made things worse by so doing. For a brief moment I contemplated a trip to the emergency room; I decided it wasn't worth $1000 or so to be told that it's nothing serious. But there's always the possibility that next time — at my age, there's always a next time — I won't be so fortunate. There are, in fact, lingering traces still. And off in the distance, I can see the old man with the scythe, rubbing his hands together in glee. "Soon," I imagine him saying. "Soon."
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Copyright © 2019 by Charles G. Hill