This post originally appeared on my Tumblr.
Me: A heart attack? Surely not, I’m young!
Conscience: You’re overweight.
Me: I’m doing really well on my low carb and walking!
Conscience: They’ll blame that!
Me: Shut it!
I tried to calm my self down, but my fears were mounting with every minute that crawled past. I didn’t know what to do. I felt like I was dying and couldn’t move out of my bed for shaking with cold. In the end, I decided to text (my teeth chattered to much to talk at this point) my mother sleeping at the other end of the house. (Yeah, I live with my mother; a long and very interesting story of deceit, psychology and cats. Maybe I’ll expand on it one day, but for now get over it.)
It is rare, even for a thirty year old living at home, to call on his mother in the middle of the night, and naturally she suspected something was wrong. I can’t have looked like a barrel of laughs when she came to my room. Through pain, muscles twitching and chattering teeth I tried to explain to her that I had a pain in my chest and down my left arm, felt like I could faint at any point, and that I was very, very cold. She gave me a blanket to put on top of my feather duvet, then decided to call the local 24 hour medical hotline. Placed as number sever, or possibly eleven I forget, in line, she got frustrated and hung up. She called an ambulance instead. Upon hearing my symptoms they responded immediately. I live in the countryside, and getting here from the nearest ambulance station should take around thirty minutes. It took them well over forty. Possibly the longest forty minutes in my entire life… My mother has since told me, that she was worried about how to give me CPR should she have to. There isn’t much room in my room. I’m sure, awful as it was for me, it was no picnic for her either.
It is a strange feeling believing you might die shortly. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t. The sharper readers might have guessed, but still. I did however at this point still believe a heart attack was likely based on what I felt.) I don’t actually remember if I spoke to my mother much or not, but thoughts raced through my mind. Oddly I quickly realised death wasn’t something that scared my all that much. Don’t get me wrong, it’s scary to stare in to the darkness; but other feelings took them selves front and center. (I believe in an afterlife, and I can’t say this experience shook that in any fundamental way.) At first I felt sad for my leaving mother, my grandparents and siblings just like that. Would they be okay? And how would they explain this to my cats? That thought nearly teared me up!
Only then did my feelings turn to my self. What would I leave behind? And the answer was: nothing. Sure, my family would mourn, with any luck a friend or too might as well. (Some I really hoped would, other I didn’t actually care. It’s funny what I actually thought about.) But other than that, I would essentially leave life with nothing to show for it. Not even a grieving widow! True or not, that’s how I felt. I hadn’t done anything to be particularly proud of; a disaster of a marriage, no career, no children, I hadn’t done or made anything of note and left hardly even any stuff.
On the wall facing my bed there are, among other things, two framed posters. One is The Holstee Manifesto, the other Ze Franks Invocation. Ever since I first heard these two texts I loved them. I really thought I was doing my best to live to according to them. I now realised I clearly hadn’t. Possibly I had chewed the ideas at times, but not lived them. It felt like I had lived the past years believing my life was great, purely because I spent so much time reading about other people following their dreams. The reality though was different. I had been slightly more balanced for a little while, but my life lacked spark, beliefs, dreams, personality, passion and self. In short, I felt soulless. Even through the pain and the fear, I was filled with a sadness. A sadness that despite my best efforts and in the face of the great unknown, I deemed my own life pointless up to that point. In some ways, that hurt even more than my chest.
Finally the EMTs arrived! It felt strange having such a hullaballoo made over me. They were very friendly, and quickly hooked me up to an EKG machine. Looking back, I’m surprised I didn’t feel a greater sense of relief in them having come at last. After however long it took, and a phone call to the doctor on call, they said what should have been the greatest words I ever heard: it’s not your heart. Your heart looks great. I was still worried though. Clearly something was wrong, and my feelings about my own life became ever clearer. Thankfully it was decided that I should be taken to hospital for further observation and tests. The EMTs said it could still be my lungs or possibly some kind of infection.
Sleeping in a hospital sucks the big hairy meatball. I was put in a room with people suffering various infections. By now my flutterings and pain had subsided some, though my back, chest and arm still hurt. The night nurse made my bed and fussed around, she was a very nice lady. Less nice was the other nurse that came around slightly later to take blood. Without asking me she started digging around on the top of my left hand like she was going for oil! The upside was I felt it over all my other pains. I was half out of my mind at that point from pain, stress and sheer exhaustion. When I finally managed to tell her it hurt the other nurse asked if I knew where they usually put needles in me. As it so happens I do, and once they did as I said it worked like a charm. (Look, I don’t like having my blood taken and I am not overly fond of needles, ergo I know where you can stick the needle to cause me the least discomfort. Ask before you prick!)
After what turned out to be an extremely sleepless night (let’s just say many people in the infections ward sleep… loudly!) it was time for an x-ray of my lungs. After that I mostly sat around. (As far as I can tell, that is the main activity in a hospital.) I was too worried to read and not even podcasts could distract me for long. While it slowly started to sink in that I hadn’t had a heart attack, I still had no clue what was wrong. At long last (it didn’t actually take that long probably, but it felt eon-like) I got some answers. Kind of. The tests all showed that I was in rude health! Excellent lungs, great heart, nothing strange in my blood. A picture of health! Except of course, I clearly wasn’t.
Finally an Icelandic doctor came by to talk to me. He asked me to squeeze his fingers. Why? Couldn’t tell you, though apparently this was enough for him to schedule me for an MRI of my upper back. He told me what I was experiencing was probably down to a pinched nerve, though he admitted it could be something worse. Probably not though, the MRI was merely a precaution. (As an aside: if what I had could have been just a pinched nerve, I feel sorry for everyone who’s ever had that!) I was sent home, though not without some confusion as the night nurses had forgotten to sign me in.
As my mother drove me home after I had picked up the painkillers I had been recommended (all over the counter, none really helped anything) I felt the strangest mix of relief and worry. My heart was a okay! It was just a pinched nerve (probably). I just couldn’t let go of the horrible realisation I had had that night. My life was pointless.