I felt pretty good. Almost elated. The pain in my jaw had gone away. I was talking to the ambulance attendant about how you can’t always rely on machines, which gave me a dire prognosis. That was his point. But it’s better safe than sorry.
Then he checked the heart monitor again and gave me a nitro. The driver turned on the siren.
That’s when I realized I was dying.
It wasn’t what I had planned for today. But I’d spent my life preparing for it. The choices I made when I was eighteen years old ensured this day would come, sooner rather than later.
It was my first year of college. On Monday nights after a full day of classes, I had a four hour philosophy class. We got a break after two hours. I bought a pack of Marlboros and some speed. I gave up the speed long ago, but kept the cigarettes.
I’ve spent decades knowing they were killing me. But they’re the worst monkey you can ever find on your back. As Frank Zappa said, “For me, cigarettes are food.”
I’ve already lived five years longer than Zappa.
The first ER was like being attended to by a flock of angels. They all wore robes, and masks covered everything but their caring eyes, so I never saw their faces. Their smiles shown through. I saw my lady brought in and was so happy to see her. Then I remembered, they don’t let family in now, except to say goodbye.
The doctor told me I was having a heart attack, a good one, but they were getting me out of there right away, to someplace better equipped to help me.
And we’re traveling again. I send texts, setting up a support system, a network where news can flow to those who need to know. So no one person has to make all those calls.
I think of George Harrison. He spent his life preparing to die, and wanted to be awake when it happened. I always did as well, and I’m thankful I have my wits about me. I feel damned good, can’t imagine this is a heart attack. But if it is, I intend on taking notes on how I die, so I know where to go when I get there.
They wheel me into the hospital, into the emergency room and strip me naked. There’s only one person in there, a lady, very young, wearing the full body armor in case I’m contagious. She’s a tiny thing and very kind looking. Then she’s shaving my pubes and the doctor has appeared, and is hovering with a large needle saying it’s going to hurt.
I realize they’re trying to save my life. At the top of the room is a row of windows, and one woman sitting behind one, feeding them information through a speaker. The lights are low and it’s a bit uncomfortable, but not too bad. I can feel someone else inside me, pushing into my heart. I can watch it on the screen.
My jokes fell flat on this crowd. They were concentrating and I decided I was thankful for that. I was also keenly aware that every second could be my last. I reckoned I’d know if it was before it happened. I wasn’t afraid. Half my heart was torn apart at how much pain that would cause those I love. But it was a fascinating time to be alive.
Then it was over. One artery was 95% blocked. He’d fixed that, and the others weren’t in too bad of shape. Lifestyle changes, a few medications and a lot of luck, and I should be fine.
Dignity went out the window, laying naked on the table, shivering, and it never came back. When the first young lady later came to check the incision, and had to move my dick to see it, I realized I had entered a new, horrifying phase of my life. My tackle has been handled by more women in the past two days than in my entire existence.
I made inappropriate comments. She asked how I was feeling. I replied “Confused. You just handled my genitalia and I don’t even know your name. You didn’t even kiss me first.”
She provided continuity while I was there, the one who always checked on me. They were all nice, but some of us are lucky enough to get our own temporary angel while we’re in there. And I never even saw her face.
I tried watching TV, but I don’t even watch it at home. How anyone can voluntarily subject themselves to that much advertising is beyond me. I hadn’t seen TV in years, and I ended up watching NCIS. It’s what my kid and I watched when we visited my mom and dad in various hospitals. Watching it made it feel like he was there with me. Mom and dad as well.
It’s a solitary thing, being in a hospital now. Due to Covid, there are no visitors. I had a room to myself, and when they wheeled me out after discharge, I realized I hadn’t seen another face in two days. Just the eyes. It’s amazing how much you can learn when all you can see are eyes. You can see worry, fear, kindness, compassion and of course, curiosity. People who care for us have to love people. They want to know about you. They want to know that it’s worth what they’re doing for you. As one of my nurses said as she apologized for not stopping in as often as she should have, “but I’ve been up to my elbows in shit all evening, literally.”
The big worry is a blood clot on the stent in the heart. That’s instant death. It’s one of the hidden costs of smoking. I never get to live my life without the knowledge that I could die at any second. Sure, if it’s our time to go, nothing you can do. The time to do something is when it’s not your time to go, and you live like it never will be.
That’s one thing people miss about their gods, especially when they bring up “my time to go.” We’re given a body which is an amazing thing. It works how it was designed to work, and barring misfortune, it lasts a long time. Unless you go against the way you were created, in which case your life span drops rapidly.
That’s not God’s will, it’s your will, choosing convenience, flavor or whatever you wish to call it over who you naturally are. Most Americans at least have the opportunity to live a healthy life. Far too many of us choose something else. I deserve no pity. I know people whose health is poor and it’s not their fault. I can’t make that claim. I got what I deserve, or rather I eventually will. The doctor just bought me another chance and a few more years.
Luckily, the things I love are people, and I can live and love intensely without damaging myself. I get to spend time with my lady, with my kid, my friends and do what I do. Changing my lifestyle doesn’t have to change me.
With luck, and hard work, I can be healthier now than I’ve ever been. With luck, I get to grow very old, and I’ve got the person I want to grow old with. The hardest part of this was not being able to be there for her. I need a lot of years to pay her back for that, because she was there for me.
I write about death all the time. I have a healthier respect for it now. I walked right up to the edge and peered into the abyss this week. What did I see there? Not a thing. Everything that counts, for now remain on this side. I choose to remain with them.