My own was less cinematic. It started as a dull ache high in the chest on the last day of 2012. The pain waxed and waned over the next couple of days. Because I also had a couple of vomiting spells in that time, I thought I had the flu. There was no pain in the left arm, no elevated pulse and no trouble breathing. There was no Julie Christie. When I finally decided to visit one of those quick-care clinics on Wednesday, I fully expected the doctor to slip me a placebo and tell me to get out of there.
Instead I found myself shirtless in the back of an ambulance, covered with adhesive sensors and fielding repetitive questions from the EMTs. Even then I was pretty sure somebody had made a mistake. Over the whoop of the siren I began a mental inventory of all the double cheeseburgers I’d known, all the marbled steaks and creamy desserts. There weren’t that many by American standards. I’m no Lance Armstrong, but I do exercise pretty regularly. I haven’t smoked in 35 years. My one big dietary vice is buttered popcorn, but I’d cut back on that, too. I didn’t understand how it could be a heart attack.
Well, it was. I think I had about 10 doctors look in on me during my two-day stay at the hospital. They were all of one mind: I had a blockage somewhere and they had to shove a catheter up through my groin to have a look. Depending on what they found, they might have to install a stent or two. If the blockage was more severe, I was looking at bypass surgery. This was worrisome news. My wife was there so I maintained an upbeat demeanor, but there were a couple of moments where I felt like crying.
Not because it was another brush with mortality. At this age I’ve come to accept that anything can happen at any time. I get that. The thing that bothered me most was that I will never again be able to take one of those medical forms and check “no” for every condition on there. I had taken some foolish pride in that. I am not rich and I’m not famous and I can turn no heads with my physical appearance, but, damn it, I’m healthy.
I’m still OK, I guess. Just without the bragging rights. The good news is that they found only minor damage, not worth roto-rooting or fixing with a stent. The bad news is that now I have a shaved groin that is starting to itch. The other bad news is that now I am one of those active seniors with too many prescription bottles in the medicine chest. Each morning I squint at the labels and think: God. How long until I’m lurching around in one of those power scooters too?
I know: It’s wrong to cavil about the terms of one’s survival. I’ll try to make the best of it. My cholesterol wasn’t off the charts but it has to go down, so maybe in the process I’ll become more svelte. Always with the vanity. The kids all phoned when they found out, so I feel closer to them. I feel closer to Tess. And there must be some way I can parlay this into a lifetime excuse for skipping a variety of events I don’t feel like attending.
Finally, I have another story to tell: Me 2, Death 0. It’s not as dramatic as Yuri Zhivago’s, but I can assure you it will become more so as the years go by.