I went to the hospital

27 Jul

I like to think I’m not the most unhealthy of people. Sure, I could stand to lose a lose a little weight, but I go out of my way to make sure I have plenty of vegetables in my diet, and since I live in New York City, I walk around a lot. Hell, I spent the last couple of months working a job that kept me outside, on my feet and sweating. I’m still strong and flexible enough that I found out recently I can still do a back bridge, which surprised me.

That’s why it was kind of weird when this past Saturday night I started feeling this discomfort in the back of my chest that first manifested as a weird feeling when I swallowed. Then my pectoral muscles started feeling sore, and then my left arm… but not my right.

My girlfriend noticed I was acting strange, and told her what I was feeling. The timing couldn’t have been more coincidental, as earlier in the week she had shown me an article she read about a study showing that married men tend to live longer than single men because their wives tell them to go to the hospital at the first sign of trouble so they don’t try to “tough it out.”

When I told her the left arm thing, that’s when it got a little scary. She looked up online what the symptoms of a heart attack are, then started to ask me. The problem is, when you’re already a little frightened, it’s kind of amazing how susceptible you are to suggestion. “Do you feel light-headed or dizzy?” “Yeah, well, come to think of it… now I do!” “Do you feel pains in the CENTER of your chest?” “Well, I wasn’t a while ago, but now… OW!” Just TYPING those things makes me feel a little discomfort.

So the self-perpetuating energy of anxiety made me feel like something bad could potentially be something REALLY bad, and it was late at night, so we decided to play it safe and call an ambulance to get me to the hospital.

The paramedics arrived, and I walked down calmly to meet them. I could see the disbelief in their eyes when they asked “Are YOU the patient?” I got in the ambulance and they asked me what I was feeling, with a special emphasis on “Have you been drinking? Do you smoke?” the answer to both being “no,” with the paramedic clarifying “Just have to ask, since, you know, you’re not 60.” This was actually the first step in helping me calm down a little.

They took me to Coney Island Hospital, where I got checked into the emergency room. My girlfriend came along and was with me the whole time. I think it was the moment where they put me on a stretcher and gave me an ID bracelet that my anxiety peaked. “Oh, wow. I am really in a hospital. The last two times I was in a hospital it was to be with people who were dealing with cancer, and one of them didn’t survive. What if something really bad’s going to happen to me?” Even though part of me knew it was probably nothing, the surroundings had introduced a genuine possibility that it was NOT nothing.

In that moment, though, sitting on the stretcher, holding my girlfriend’s hand, a beautiful and reassuring thought had passed through my mind: I want to live.

Many times in my life, I had been faced with emotionally trying times where I had casually entertained the thought of how easier things would be if I wasn’t alive anymore. I had never acted upon any of those thoughts, but sometimes, when shit just seemed too much to deal with, especially for a spoiled twenty-something brat like me, the thought of death seemed comforting, like an escape. Never before this point, though, had it seemed like maybe I might have to actually make a choice, that I might need to convince myself which I wanted more, life or death. Looking up at my girlfriend on the stretcher next to me, it hit me with unprecedented clarity how there is this other sentient creature who I’ve given almost four years of my life to, who, completely through her own choice, has given me four years of hers in return, would gladly give more, and, if she had to, lay down her life for me. Even if I lost all desire to live just for my own sake, I couldn’t insult her sacrifices and dedication by just leaving her behind. In that moment, I became willing to fight through whatever my own body would throw at me, just so I could stay with her.

Of course, after that beautiful moment of realization, I spent four hours waiting next to a bunch of drunken Mexicans. Apparently what happens if you go into an emergency room and they determine you’re NOT about to die, they take your stretcher and put it in basically a parking lot of the damned until there’s a doctor who can see you.

I wasn’t angry, really, more thankful that my situation wasn’t more urgent, and I understood how busy emergency rooms tend to be. It felt like a suitable punishment for letting myself get so worked up in the first place, to be kind of put in time out where I could calm down, and be amongst the common people, so I could get some perspective on myself.

Now, when I say the emergency room was mostly “drunken Mexicans,” I can honestly say that it is only a SLIGHT hyperbole. There was one Indian woman, but she was drunk, too. I thought in Southern Brooklyn it was mostly Russians and Chinese, but I found out where all the Latinos were hiding: in the hospitals.

I managed to spend all of my time waiting next to this one Latino who I initially thought was drunk but turned out to be just crazy. You know how I know he was crazy? Because he kept rambling on the ENTIRE time I was waiting. I figured after an hour of ranting about how he has an “8 by 6” (he never specified an 8 by 6 what) and how he believed in God and switching between English and Spanish that he was just sloshed, but after a while a drunk eventually passes out or vomits or something happens to shut him up. But not this guy. The whole time there was the same stream of unconnected phrases and repetitions of “insha’allah” and calling one of the Russian-looking nurses “Natasha,” even though she corrected him by saying her name was Larissa, which just made him alternate between calling her “Luisa” and “Natasha” again.

This guy actually tried to flirt with some of the nurses, too. He took to calling one “Sugar and Spice” every time she passed. That’s what flabbergasted me. Did he think it would work? That a nurse would see this guy in the hospital who seemed pretty obviously crazy or drunk and think “Wow, that guy definitely has his shit together, let me get with him?” Then again, to try and look into the reasoning of someone in that situation, or to assume there’s any reasoning at all, is kind of useless.

After my four-hour purgatory, they finally got someone to look at me and give me an electrocardiogram, which showed nothing was going on with my heart and I was perfectly healthy. After having those few hours to calm down, I did feel better, and it was a pretty sure bet that if it had been anything serious, I probably wouldn’t have lasted that long. So I finally got the conclusive diagnosis and got discharged. The hospital was even within walking distance of my apartment, so it wasn’t a big deal getting home.

The most likely causes of the pain were the heat and anxiety. Lord knows I have anxiety to spare: I’m in the middle of moving out of my apartment, I just moved everything out of my childhood home because my dad’s selling the house, my mom’s sick, I quit my job, and I’m going to have to start up with a new therapist in the Fall instead of continuing with the one I’ve had for a year. That on TOP of my existing struggle for something good to come out of this comedy stuff. I thought I had been dealing with all of these things okay since, you know, I hadn’t killed myself, but that’s the odd thing about feelings: if you don’t acknowledge them properly, all of sudden they make you think you’re having a heart attack. So if you can learn anything from this, it’s to make space for your feelings and let them out regularly, because they’re gonna come out one way or another, and it might not be pleasant if you make them come out the hard way.

This episode was probably the kick in the ass I needed to get through my twenty-something malaise. You know what I mean: that period where you’re just out of college, nothing seems definite or certain, and you think everything’s going to be this shitty forever. There is a lot of instability in my life right now, but this reminded me that despite all that, I want to be alive, I want to experience all I can experience, even if some of it sucks, primarily because I have people I want to experience those things with who will make those experiences richer.

I think there’s nothing that will reinvigorate a relationship more than holding hands on a hospital stretcher.


2 Responses to “I went to the hospital”

  1. Kristine Ekman 07/27/2011 at 1:48 pm #

    Fabulous post, Angel. I laughed, I cried…And I’m glad you’re okay. 🙂

  2. Aubrey 07/27/2011 at 5:26 pm #

    Oh dear god! I’m so glad you’re okay!

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