It’s the Big One, ’Lisabeth! I’m Comin’ to Meet’cha!
How about that picture, eh? Good old Mr. Schprock sure looks like a walking science experiment in this one, doesn’t he? Well, never fear, all two or three of you who read this: your humble servant is feeling fit as a fiddle, even though he might look as if he’s about to keel over.
A couple of weeks ago, shortly after waking up, I went to the bathroom to do my usual early morning routine. Standing at the sink readying the old toothbrush, I noticed I felt a little woozy, and attributed that to not having completely brushed the cobwebs out of my head. Squeezing the toothpaste onto the toothbrush, I then noticed I was feeling perhaps more than just a little woozy, that maybe I was feeling quite woozy, and did my best to shake it off. Then I noticed I was not only feeling woozy, but rather weak and shaky and dizzy as well. At that point, I started to panic just a little bit, only a little, mind you, and decided it might be best to leave the toothbrush alone and sit down on the toilet to rest and collect myself, as there seemed to be a giant, invisible hand pressing down on me anyways. This hand really didn’t want me to stand much longer. So I sat down on the toilet, feeling miles away from where I was, and gradually, through the dullness, through the haze, I realized that merely sitting there wouldn’t quite cut it, that laying down was the thing. So I started to walk back to the bedroom, except I only got as far as the bathroom threshold when I realized the floor would have to do instead, as the bedroom was a wee bit too far. So I slid my back down the door casing dropping the final two feet squarely on my left buttock, and numbly sat there with my legs splayed straight out in front of me. For some reason I wiggled my feet, an action which I stupidly stared at, and this strangely seemed to help. The cat eventually came over to sit there and watch me.
After a minute my head began to clear, right when I broke out into a ferocious cold sweat. I could feel the moisture gather on my back, my chest, my arms, and my legs all at once; sweat built up on my scalp and trickled down onto face. Big globules dripped from my face onto my sweatpants just when the cat tried to climb onto my lap to be petted. My shirt quickly became soaked through.
Listen folks, I don’t mean to be dramatical or anything, but there I was, more than a little frightened by this state I’ve never been in before, and I seriously wondered if (a) I was having a heart attack and (b) if I was dying. I had never had a heart attack before and certainly had never experienced death, so how was I to know? Maybe that was what a heart attack and oncoming death felt like. I wondered, I really wondered if my cat Cleo would be the last living creature I would ever set eyes on on this earth. Oddly, I didn’t think that would be too bad. My main concern was, what the hell was happening to me?
45 minutes later I rode my bicycle in to work.
Like many people, I have this irrational idea that I’m indestructible, that I’ll live on and on. Nothing can kill me, I’m a medical marvel. I pedal my bike everyday, I do my push-ups and sit-ups, I eat all my vegetables, and I brush my teeth after every meal. Two psychics, a tarot card reader and a palm reader, have both predicted a long, healthy life for me. Inside I feel like a kid, I really do. I still feel like I’m just revving up. But the fact is I’m 51 years old, which is roughly 20 trillion in dog years. You could have twelve presidential elections, two world wars and a depression in that time. So in reality I ain’t no spring chicken.
Several people convinced me to make an appointment with the doctor, who miraculously was able to see me that afternoon. I told her what happened and mentioned a funky little heart condition I’ve had since I was 19: it’s called “premature atrial contraction,” or PAC. I say I’ve had it since I was 19, but I waited until I was 43 to get it diagnosed. It’s an irregular heartbeat that feels uncomfortable and leads to a slight loss of strength; when it happens, I get a little more winded than usual climbing a staircase, for instance. If it can be said a normally functioning heart’s rhythm goes like a waltz, then mine sometimes does the rhumba. The chambers of my heart just don’t beat in synch; they don’t always like to play nice together. It’s kind of a drag, but, as my old doctor once put it, if you’re going to have a heart condition, then this is the one you want to have. Nothing fatal.
The doctor thought I merely had a bad bout of dehydration, but, to cover all the bases, she ordered me to wear that contraption you see in the picture for twenty-four solid hours. It’s called a Holter monitor, and luckily the recording device they have nowadays is much smaller than it was in 1999, the other time I had to wear one of those gizmos. Back then it felt like lugging around a Radio Shack cassette recorder; now it’s just a digital unit slightly larger than a pager. And, of course, my heart beat normally the whole time I had it on, like the car that won’t make the strange noise for the mechanic when you bring it to the shop to get it fixed. Hearts are funny that way.
But getting back to my cat, what if Cleo was the last living creature I ever saw on this earth? You could do worse. I have always felt my cat and I have a rare understanding. There’s a perfect acceptance between us. I’m her favorite human and she’s my favorite cat. She absolutely adores me. Sure, you’d rather your last sight be something like your wife and children, or perhaps a beautiful vista, or a painting you love, a rare astronomical occurrence, the second coming of Christ, the Cubs clinching the World Series, a Pamela Anderson video explaining string theory, or Britney Spears and Paris Hilton mud wrestling just below the balcony of your Tahitian bungalow. But seeing your faithful kitty asking for a little scratch behind her ears just before you kick off isn’t so bad. Not really.
I have no idea what my last words might have been; certainly they were said the night before. Probably it was something banal like,“Did you turn the lights off downstairs?” or, “Make sure I don’t sleep past the alarm, okay?” Instead of heroic last words like, “I regret I have but one life to give for my country,” how many people have wound up saying stuff like, “pumpernickel,” or, “a little off the top, please,” or, “don’t worry, I already checked — it’s not loaded”? Maybe we should all come up with our last words now and rehearse them over and over, so when the big moment arrives we’re ready. I’ve always liked Sidney Carton’s “It’s a far, far better thing I do…” speech. Maybe I should come up with something like that.
Then again, I kind of like “take two and hit to right.” It’s easy to remember and very good advice.
Anyhow, I’m not dead yet. I’m feeling much better.