Recently my chest has felt strange. In the upper left part of my chest, near my shoulder, there is this tightness that I have never felt before. And radiating down my left arm is a sort of dullness. I thought, you know, maybe this is it, Ryan. Maybe you’re 29 years old and you’re having yourself a good ol fashioned heart attack. I wondered: What is the likelihood that that’s what was happening to me? I don’t drink or smoke or eat meat and every day I swing an 8-pound mallet down onto a huge tractor tire until I feel like collapsing! None of matters, I reckon, since your body can always just go ahead and do whatever the hell it wants to when it wants to, and with you sitting on the sidelines while it kills with total indifference you from the inside out . . . while it self-destructs for no real reason at all!
The likelihood that someone my age would spontaneously have a heart attack is real slim. But I didn’t rule it out! I called my father and he said he’d known a guy a long time ago who had a massive heart attack at age 33. And this guy was perfectly healthy, and on and on. I don’t know why he told me that. I guess he wanted me to take the pain in my chest seriously.
An hour later I was sitting at my desk at work thinking about how my heart was maybe going to explode, and then it really did start to noticeably tighten. It was a bizarre feeling. I didn’t panic though. There were enough people around me that, had I passed out, I’m sure one of them would have picked up a phone and summoned someone to keep me from dying. And if it didn’t work out that way, then hell, who really cares? I was gonna die sooner or later. What difference did it make if I died right then and there? My only thought just then was that I hoped I didn’t leave behind too much of a mess.
I wrote an email to my boss saying I was going to go see a doctor. I got up and left. I drove a mile towards the San Francisco Bay to get to the only urgent care facility in a 20-mile radius that my insurance company would pony up for. On the way there I wondered how I felt about death now that it was hungry enough to finally get me. I decided immediately that it did not scare me if my heart suffocated and I died with my head slumped against the steering wheel. I had done a lot of things and I thought that maybe it would be OK if I never did another thing ever again. The only thing that mattered was Dante. He was my only loose end, and remembering that my last will and testament, which was a text file on my desktop, stipulated that Dante go to world famous French Canadian multimedia artist Laura Rokas—well, I felt all right about the whole thing just then, since Dante was going to be taken care of while my bones turned to dust.
The urgent care place was a real dump. It was full of old-ass office furniture and godawful lighting. Everyone there was very friendly though. I sat down in an old-ass circa-1995 Office Depot-ass chair and filled out fucking paperwork for 20 god-hating minutes. My chested tightened and loosened. Hand to God, I wasn’t nervous about dying in that chair. I kept thinking how hilarious it would be for the paramedics to pry a clipboard and a Bic pen from my rigor mortis-ed claws.
It took about an hour and a half for them to call my name. I was seated right next to some dinky-ass TV that was playing ‘Along Came Polly’ on loop. I stared at the floor and waited for heavenly hosts to call my name—or for some dark phantom to step out from a dimensional tear and scream “RYAN!!” and put me in handcuffs and take me away to The Other World.
Instead it was a nurse who called my name. She led me into an examination room. It felt like an unloved room. It had probably looked the same for maybe 20 years or more. The nurse took my blood pressure and my temperature and looked inside my ears and eyes and nose. She said my blood pressure was “perfect” and that I didn’t have a fever. She asked me if I felt like fainting and I told her I didn’t. My chest felt real tight but I could breathe all right.
The nurse asked me to take my shirt off. I said: “All right, man.” I lay on my back—lay on that cold crinkly paper while she put little gooey electrodes on my arms and legs and on my chest around what I thought was my dying heart. I heard the machine whirr for a moment and then print out a piece of paper that presumably showed my vital signs. The nurse examined the paper and said my heart was not on the verge of shutting down for good. I felt a flash of relief, mostly because I had always envisioned other more interesting ways of dying, and knew that I might still achieve one of those deaths at some later time.
A doctor came in as I was putting my shirt back on. He had messy hair and his tie was loose and his shirt was partially untucked on the side. His prescription made his eyeballs look enormous. That all amounted to him being a real cool dude in my book. He shook my hand and then felt around chest and back and shoulders. He asked if I felt any pain. I couldn’t help myself. I said: “Not the kind you’re thinking of, no.”
“It would be extraordinarily rare for you to be suffering from a heart attack at your age,” he said. He asked me if I smoked and I said I didn’t. I said I only drank wine, and even then it was infrequent. I didn’t eat meat, I said, and I exercised every day.
The rumpled doctor said, “Along with your vitals and blood pressure and all the rest of it—well, I can tell you with absolute certainty that this isn’t related to your heart. It’s muscular-skeletal probably. Have you done anything extraneous lately?”
I said I had been hitting a tractor tire with a sledgehammer every other day for a month. He said I probably pulled something in doing so. He assured me again that I was not dying and told me to take an anti-inflammatory for a week. Then he left me alone in the strange little examination room that reminded me of the past in a bad way.
The whole thing cost me $25. Hey, all right.
I went the hell home. The upper-left part of my chest has felt less tight since then. Maybe I had, in my near-constant and definitely-permanent state of abstract masochism, allowed my sad old brain to amplify what would have otherwise been a mild discomfort. Yes, that’s probably what it was.
Finally, under many Christmas lights, I am still alive, and this is all I have left to say to the world for now: I cut my lip while I was shaving tonight. I told in a girl in San Jose that I would come see her when she got back from Japan. I feel rotten as hell otherwise, man. I guess I’m gonna go to sleep and dream about space and death and snowy forests and whatever the hell else. Yeah.