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A Real Pain?

I was bleeding from razor nicks, my man’s chest looked like a baby’s bottom, I instantly began to itch, and she was sorry. Not nearly as sorry as I was.

I thought I was indestructible, invincible, invulnerable, a real superman – until the chest pains started. In my youth, I would have written it off as growing pains. Ten years ago it might have been a little too much tennis. Five years ago? A pulled muscle or gas, but as I grow older, I have a whole new outlook. Chest pains? I must be having a heart attack!

I wasn’t sure if it was my body or my imagination that was adding the numbness down my arm. Then I realized it was my right arm that was numb, not my left, and that may have been because I had been resting on it for a half hour, but I was taking no chances. I dropped into a pharmacy that was doing a blood pressure screening.

Greeted by a cheerful nurse, she said, “Good morning. How are we feeling today?”

“I don’t know how WE are feeling today, but I’m having chest pains!”

She instantly slapped a blood pressure gizmo around my arm and began pumping the thing up. Her eye brows rose as she stared at the gauge. “Oh, boy,” she sighed.

“Oh, boy? What does that mean?” I nervously stuttered.

She gave me an unsettling smile. “You’ll be fine. Just fine. Don’t move. Do not move. I have the number of a great cardiologist. Just relax.” Just relax? Was she kidding?

Now, when I was a boy I learned a great lesson about doctors. My dad hated to go to the doctor. He came home one night from work bent over in such pain, he could barely move. Against his protestations, my mother made an appointment and ushered him over, him screaming all the way, reassuring her he was fine. After a quick examination, the doctor sent him straight to the hospital with a strangulated hernia that needed to be operated on immediately. He almost died. It taught me not to fool around.

I saw a doctor the next day who scheduled a stress test for me. When I arrived at the hospital I was given a handful of papers to sign. The first gave my consent to do the test. Okay, I signed. The second allowed the transfer of results to my primary physician. Okay, I signed. The third absolved the hospital of any responsibility in the event that I had a heart attack while taking the test. Okay, I…heart attack during the test? Wait a minute. Just…wait a minute. “Excuse me, but what exactly does this mean?” I asked.

“Which part?” the nurse asked.

“Which part? The heart attack part,” I gasped.

“Oh that.” She shrugged. “It’s just a formality. Hardly anyone ever has one.” She smiled. “And if you do, you are in a hospital.”

And that’s supposed to be a bonus? I thought. As far as I was concerned, the only difference between a coronary out on the street and one in the hospital was the three minute ambulance ride. I signed the paper. Don’t ask me why.

I was asked to remove my shirt. As soon as the nurse looked at my chest she began to apologize. “I’m sorry but we’re going to have to take off a bit of body hair so that the electrodes will stick.” With that she began to shave handfuls of hair from my chest and stomach with a dry razor. Every stroke was accompanied by a string of apologies. “Sorry but…this is really…oops. Sorry. I’m not hurting you…sorry…am I? Just a little…sorry, sorry…more. Almost done…sorry… just a bit…sorry…more. There we are. So sorry.” I was bleeding from razor nicks, my man’s chest looked like a baby’s bottom, I instantly began to itch, and she was sorry. Not nearly as sorry as I was.

Electrodes were attached to my body, connected to a machine with a web of wires, and I was eased onto a treadmill. “Walk normally,” I was instructed. “If you don’t walk in a normal pace you can fall. Steady yourself with the bar in front of you, but don’t pull on the bar. You can strain your back and fall. Don’t look at your feet. You can get dizzy and fall.” All that and the possibility of having a heart attack.

“Is there anything I can do on this thing that won’t hurt me?” I joked.

“Just walk normally,” the nurse repeated without a trace of a smile.

The treadmill started up, and I began to walk normally…for the first minute. Then it started to move faster. So fast, in fact, that I was having a hard time keeping up. “Walk normally,” the nurse kept repeating as I went into a jog. Sweat was running into my eyes as I gasped for air.

“Do you exercise regularly?” a doctor holding a clipboard asked. Too out of breath to answer, I nodded yes as the treadmill sped faster. “I thought so,” he said. “We’re going to take it up a notch.” I was practically running full out when the angle of the treadmill was changed to simulate what they called a slight hill, but to me it was Mt. Everest. My clothes were drenched, my chest heaving, my calves so tight they were ready to explode. Just when I was sure that machine of torture was ready to pitch me right through a window…it slowed down and finally stopped. As I stumbled out of the door and collapsed in a chair in the waiting room I overheard the nurse. “Oh boy,” was all she said.

The following week I saw my doctor. “The hospital report says your heart is in excellent condition,” he explained.

Skeptical, I said, “Are you sure? I heard the nurse in the hospital say, ‘Oh boy.’”

He smiled. “I guess that must have been a good ‘Oh boy,’ because they underlined excellent three times. You have a bit of blood pressure, and I can give you medication to control that.”

“But what about the chest pains? What was that?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe a pulled muscle, gas, dozens of other reasons. Hey, maybe it’s just growing pains.” He laughed.

So, I’m feeling fine–better than fine. After a report like that, I’m feeling great…indestructible, invincible, invulnerable…a real superman…until the chest pains start again.


  1. Amazing how, as we grow older, our perspective shifts from invincible to “not.” And, that revelation seems to happen over night! Glad to hear you are fine…just learning to walk a little more carefully.

  2. Yeah. Your story brought back memories. I’ve been there, done that. I enjoyed your humorous slant on it!

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