You’ve Gotta Have Heart

The gum in my mouth is growing stale as I sit in my car next to the foreboding building.

It is hard to believe that less than a year ago , I was so frightened that it took me 6 months to make an appointment.

After reading a fairly vague post on Facebook from a neighbor I once lived near, over 20 years ago, I became obsessed that I hadn’t seen a cardiologist in almost 15 years. The post didn’t state anything specifically as to what her problem was, but she clearly stated that if you have diabetes, get yourself to a cardiologist as soon as possible. That’s all she wrote.

I had several medical appointments in the coming months and decided I would schedule an appointment with a cardiologist as soon as I finished with all the others. That was January. Slowly I made my way through each appointment, all uneventful, each giving me a greater piece of mind that death wasn’t imminent, an idea that was never far from my thoughts.

Sometime in May, my anxiety growing with each day that passed, I realized it was time to make that appointment.

With dread, I called Yale Cardiology Group, a group I did not want to be a part of, but none the less I endeavored to make my appointment.

It never occurred to me that I couldn’t get an appointment right away. As I sat on hold, becoming increasingly agitated,

the patient relations expert said they had one appointment available in June. Without hesitation, I took it. Only after hanging up with my patient relations expert, did I regret making the appointment. The date wouldn’t work for me. It was the day after my 56th birthday and I thought it bad luck and another couple of excuses popped up as well.

The fear of going to the cardiologist was becoming unendurable. So much so that I decided the only way to get back my piece of mind was to just go to the appointment.

Words like angina, congestive heart failure, and the dreaded stent, flashed through my head. I had no idea what any of those things were but to me it all meant imminent death.

The afternoon of the appointment, I left work extra early only to sit in the parking lot of Yale Cardiac Group in my car where I took a Xanax, prayed, and distracted myself by playing Super Bubble Pop on my phone.

Finally the time arrived to go in. Certain that I was going to be sent straight to the hospital from the office, I made sure to have my phone charger, just in case.

After filling out several pages of information, I returned the clipboard to the check-in desk and took my seat.

A moment later I heard my name called. I followed the medical assistant into the exam room. I was already regretting not taking a second Xanax, but it was too late and I had to be able to drive myself home after the visit.

Before I had a chance to take every extra thing out of my pockets before stepping on the scale, the doctor came in. This place was proving to be one well oiled machine.

The doctor was lovely and kind. She asked me if I had any concerns and of course I said no, short of dying.

She listened to me breath, she checked my pulse and told me that I was in great shape, keep up the good work, and make an appointment for next year.

I was so relieved that I grabbed my things, thanked her, she actually hugged me, and I left the building. Next years appointment would have to wait.

I had such a profound piece of mind. To be healthy is to have it all.

Now,less then a year later I’m back. This time for a pre-op clearance. Having seen so many doctors, having had so many tests and many moments of worry the past few months, I have faced down death and feel somewhat ambivalent about coming back here.

This time I come just a few minutes before the appointment and instead of a Xanax, I smoke a joint in my car. First just one toke, then another for just in case, then mindlessly I take a third and forth toke before realizing I have to go to the appointment.

This time I fearlessly enter the building and within minutes I am in an exam room talking with the doctor.

She asks me if I have any symptoms, like shortness of breath, radiating pain down my arm and a bunch of things that I gratefully don’t have.

I wonder though, why would I tell her if I had chest pain or shortness of breath? I’d only be adding to my already long list of problems. So I don’t lie to the doctor this visit but something tells me that I might one day in the future.

She does little more then have me take one deep breath and check my pulse. She then orders an EKG and I was out the door in 15 minutes.

Of course now I am stoned so not being able to drive, I sit in my car, said a short prayer of thanks and play bubble pop on my phone until I felt ready to drive home.

The sound of the oxygen reminds me of a respirator. It follows me everywhere. I drag the long tubing that connects me to the concentrator like a ball and chain. It gets stuck under the chair, the door, the bed, and serves as a constant reminder that something is very wrong with me.

I suppose I’m lucky. After two stays in the hospital, they have discovered a problem with my heart. I am so overwhelmed with all that’s wrong with me that I don’t fully absorb the seriousness of the news.

Of course I feel some concern. It is my heart and am not completely oblivious to the dangers. The cardiologists reminds me of Ricky Ricardo.

So Desi Arnes tells us to call the office and make the appointment to come in for a second echo cardiogram in three weeks. Three weeks might as well be a year for me. At this moment, I am happy to just be left alone. I do not understand or comprehend the severe nature of my condition, and I am grateful for it.

But three weeks pass very quickly and I’m sitting in Desi’s waiting room for my scheduled echo cardiogram, hoping for good news. Hope is typically a dangerous thing. It creates opportunity for disappointment.

Then my thoughts are interrupted by the technician calling my name. I grab the portable oxygen tank and drag my broken body down the hall. The technician has a studder. Not a small little one that leaks out once in a while. This guy has a big studder, so much so that he even stutters his own name. I imagine Desi Arnes being the nice guy he is, hired him as a good will gesture because this studder is really off the hook. I can’t imagine who would hire him.

He can’t get a word out without repeating it seemingly forever. I note to myself that there is a bit of irony that a guy who sounds like an echo is giving me an echocardiogram. The whole thing feels like it’s taking longer because every word is repeated several times. I make a decision to not talk to the tech anymore. I know it’s cruel but this is a time to be selfish, after all, I could be dying. Or as the Desi Arnes would say dddying, dddying, dddying.

Turns out, I am not dying. Desi Arnes smiles reassuring at me, just like he did when Lucy told him at the Tropicana that she was pregnant.

Better still, he strongly urges me to stop using the oxygen. I can’t be happier. He notes the the risk of dependency with long term use. Without a second thought my wife hides the concentrator behind the couch in the living room as soon as we get home from the visit. I don’t even want to see it and with that, I rejoin the world. I have along way to go but at least on the right road.

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