I've been in the hospital for a week, and this is the beginning of why. During that time, I didn't shave and my hair was messy and yet I looked nothing like Ryan Gosling, which doesn't seem fair. But his picture is here because you don't want to see a picture of me with a 5-day beard and messy hair.
I was, in the end, reduced to trying to think up a way that all the doctors and nurses and those other people who walk into a hospital room and do stuff for a while but (sadly) do not inject you with anything, or at least take anything from you -- what are they doing in the hospital if they're not there to add a fluid to you or take a fluid from you -- to get all of those people into a room somewhere, where I would then add someone who would not ordinarily be there, a husband, or brother, or out-of-town aunt who does crazy stuff, and all these people would be sitting around talking and it would go like this:
Doctor One, [the one who won't really make eye contact and talk a lot about tech stuff]: We've run every test we can think of, and haven't really found anything.
Doctor Two, [the one who filled in for the doctor the first day who I liked better but Doctor Two grew on me]: We could run all the tests again.
Nurse One [who, let's face it, was pretty much interchangeable with nurse two and nurse three and all the other nurses because I can never tell them apart. For all I know, I had only one nurse.] Or we could just make up some tests. Like hook him up to the blender and run that for a while. He's on morphine, so he probably won't know.
Nurse Two: [or one, or whatever]: He's on morphine? I think I took that out of him the last round?
Crazy Aunt Jean From Topeka: I don't rightly know what I'm all doin' up in here at this fancy doctor lab... or even if this is how people from Topeka talk.
Doctor One: You're here to move the plot along. In theory you provide some background for one of the generic characters we serve as in various cop and hospital shows. I, for example, am Lead Guy, a pretty cold character charged with running this unit and having an out-of-date hairstyle.
Doctor Two: I'm slightly more human guy, who can also point out that you serve to give an unrealistic impression of the medical and/or legal community, suggesting that brilliant insights are gained by leaps of intuition and that therefore any problem can be solved it we can just look at in a unique way, a belief Americans have that helps contribute to their notions that we need spend nothing on legal institutions or medical establishments or even schools, because no matter how insoluble the problem, at some point we will simply stumble across an answer.
Nurse Whatever: This is getting us nowhere. Mr Pagel has had at least 5 procedures this week and we're no closer than ever to figuring out what's wrong with him.
Crazy Aunt Jean From Topeka: Well, while you young'uns figger that out, I'm'a goin' to put up these wacky old-timey posters of the shots of celebrities I took using my new digital camera today. Here's me and Ryan Gosling dressed as Bonnie and Clyde in front of Niagara Falls! Let me just put it on this easel.
Nurse Whatever: What was Ryan Gosling doing in a Madison, Wisconsin cardiac unit?
Doctor Two: He's pretty much everywhere these days.
Nurse Whatever: Well, have you seen him?
Doctor One: Wait a minute... Ryan Gosling? Niagara Falls? Easels? It all... adds up...
*runs down the hall, finds me laying in a hospital bed, and, muttering to himself "Ryan Gosling was in that movie where he drove. Mr Pagel once drove to Niagara Falls 12 years ago. Easles sounds like measles. There was an outbreak of measles in the 18th century at Niagara Falls and knowing how cheap Mr Pagel is I bet he stayed at an 18th century motel and..." *injects me with measles vaccine and I leap up and remember who and where I am [even though I didn't have amnesia anyway] and am discharged from the hospital in less than 20 minutes even though ordinarily it takes them 7 hours just to enter the follow-up prescriptions. On my discharge instructions: Feel free to stop for a McDonald's Cheeseburger on the way home!
That is how it DID NOT go.
But I wish it would have, because I could really use that McDonald's Cheeseburger.
On Monday morning, I got up and started getting ready for work the way I do almost every Monday morning: grudgingly. Monday was a little more grudging than usual owing to the fact that I'd had to sleep sitting up in a recliner chair most of the night after I woke up coughing so hard Sunday night that I'd almost thrown up.
That Sunday night coughing fit would have really thrown me for a loop except that it was the third of the last four nights that had happened - that I'd been sound asleep and had been woken up a violent cough.
I've heard the words "violent cough" a lot, and I thought I knew what it meant, but I didn't because I'd never had one, and like so much of the things we think we know about but didn't experience, the action is different than the imagination.
It's probably like that with other stuff, too -- imagine how great it would be to really blow up the Death Star, as opposed to just making some Lego X-wings and blowing up your bunk beds, which you can't really blow up because Mom won't even let you take them apart, let alone knock them over.
Experiencing a violent cough isn't a thrill; it's more like being on the wrong side of a bad Ray Liotta movie: I was sleeping soundly, and then suddenly I wasn't and it was like someone had grabbed my throat and was punching me from inside it, throwing me around for about 10 minutes until I was able to sip some cold water and get some cough medicine in me and put a cough drop in and use some spray that's supposed to numb my throat and after all that it finally settled down enough that I could sit down, too.
Three out of four of the last nights before Monday had been like that. Saturday night, Ray Liotta's cough goons had left me alone.
I'm not an alarmist kind of guy, even with violent coughing fits. And by saying that, I mean exactly the opposite: men are supposed to, I think, say stuff like "I'm not an alarmist kind of guy" but I am exactly the opposite of that. I am a complete alarmist. There is nothing that happens to me which I do not take to be, if not my actual doom, a harbinger of doom. When someone at work says "Hey I need to talk to you" I assume the firm is going under. When Sweetie texts me and says "Call me" I try to imagine how many people have died.
And when something, anything, goes wrong with me, I immediately assume I am dying. I have, at various points, wondered whether hangnails could be a sign of lupus, and considered whether a weird spot on my head that sort of tingled when I touched it meant there was a brain tumor underneath there.
It's not entirely my fault: the media, for one, keeps putting stories on the air like an actual story of a guy that had an actual softball sized tumor in his head and nobody knew it until one day he started acting all crazy and saying stuff like his daughter wasn't home because she'd been picked up by a tornado, and then people were like "Well, that seems weird, insofar as his daughter is sitting right next to him" and they took him to the doctors who even without the help of Crazy Aunt Jean were able to find this massive brain tumor that was pressing on all the crazy buttons in his mind and they removed it and he's fine but still...
...who would guess that on me? Suppose you came to this blog one day and it was filled with crazy meanderings that made no sense? I think the only way people would take me to the doctor for reasons like that is if I started making sense.
So I cope with the fact that everything including that fact that my left ear makes more wax than my right ear is a sign of a fatal illness that will kill me in 3 months by ignoring it all. I long ago decided not to google anymore symptoms that I had and not to mention them to Sweetie and not to dwell on them and to just soldier on, bravely, until I died in 3 months of hangnail-induced brain trauma, and they'd put on my gravestone "He never even said anything about it." Or something like that.
I developed a rule: it's probably nothing, is my rule, and so I didn't pay any attention to it. I treated my body, in that sense, like I treat my car: Ignore that check engine light until smoke starts coming out of it, and oftentimes it will go out on its own.
That worked for a long time in my life, until it didn't anymore, starting back with when Nature decided to try to get back at me with those stupid bees and followed that up with a heart attack, and I tried to ignore all those bee stings at first (bee stings that were, apparently, so spectacular that the nurse this time said "I went and looked back at the chart of those stings you had. Whew!" Apparently, they drew a diagram of them in my chart.)(I won't deny that makes me feel kind of cool.)
I couldn't ignore the bee stings, although I tried to, because when Sweetie asked if I was having trouble breathing I had to admit that "yeah," I was, mostly because I couldn't breathe deeply enough to deny that I was having trouble breathing. And four days later, I tried to deny the heart attack, too, sipping a cup of coffee and starting to get ready for work before realizing that I couldn't breathe at all and in fact could barely stand up.
After that, it got a little harder to ignore things, although I still tried -- and for a while, I was able to do so because nothing really terrible happened for a few months. I started getting back in shape; I dropped 5 pounds and was jogging three times a week and had my jogs up to 8 miles and could actually wear the vest for my one suit comfortably, which was great because I love that vest and then things went all to hell again.
It all began about last February, when I noticed I wasn't able to run as well as I had been running: I had less energy and was going slower than I felt I should be.
My initial reaction was to default back to "It's nothing." Sweetie's reaction was to suggest that I stop running and mix it in with other things, but that's always Sweetie's reaction. Sweetie thinks that running is bad for me, but her sole basis for thinking that is the slim evidence that consists solely of "every single thing in the universe pointing out that running is bad for me." (I have flat fee, get shin splints, have bad knees, have had two back surgeries that cause extra pain when I run... etc.) So when Sweetie suggests I stop running and do something else, I respond reasonably by saying "No," and then secretly thinking that Sweetie wants to be winning at this marriage and therefore wants me to be in bad shape while she is in good shape, which is ridiculous because (a) I am already in bad shape and (b) Sweetie is clearly winning at the marriage already, in every category that counts except "person with better taste in music," which I will always win because I have Okkervil River on my iPod whereas Sweetie has "I'm Still Here" on her wishlist, "I'm Still Here," being, in Sweetie's description, the song they play over the end credits of "Rizzoli and Isles," and on that basis alone Sweetie's musical tastes will never be cooler than mine no matter what.
But in all other respects, Sweetie is winning at the marriage which is why it's so important that I never, ever take her advice. Don't stop to think about whether that sentence makes any sense at all. Let's get back to the story.
I did cut back on running a bit in March, not because Sweetie was right, but because I couldn't do it: the next week I went to that track again and stretched and put on some really good running music (Common People by William Shatner, if you must know)(See what I mean? My musical tastes are awesome) and started running and ten steps later I just stopped and walked.
I didn't even mean to do it. My body did it entirely on its own, like when your computer just freezes up and decides to do nothing for like thirty minutes and you have to unplug it and take out the battery and put it in the freezer or whatever stupid things the guys at Geek Squad can get you to do ("Now tell him to bake it into a pumpkin pie!"): My body just didn't run.
I was telling it to run.
I had my music on. ("Sing along with the common people!")
I had my shoes on and people were running by me, in case my body had temporarily forgotten what running looked like.
I just was not running.
I tried again, actually forcing my body to go through the running motions, thinking that it was like push-starting a car like we used to do for my brother Bill when he installed his own stereo in the Chevette and shorted something out so that while the stereo sounded great, playing cassette versions of Gino Vanelli's Black Cars, the car itself would never start and we had to push it down the road while he tried to pop the clutch.
I went about a quarter-mile and then stopped again, breathing heavily and feeling like my legs were made of lead, and a lot of people would have quit there but a lot of people were not at Spearfish Falls when they were kids with their mom, standing in super-cold water for a really long time.
That probably needs some explanation.
When I was about 10, or so, we went on a family vacation to South Dakota, and one of the places we stopped was a place called "Spearfish Falls," where there was a spring-fed waterfall that was exactly the kind of scenic place that families stop to pose in front of for pictures so that a few decades later they can show their relatives what they looked like standing in front of things. ("Here we are, standing in front of a waterfall!"), and so we stopped to eat lunch and take pictures, and my mom thought it would be great for the three boys (my sister had not yet been born) to take pictures standing in the water.
So we went into the water, and the water -- I'm no scientist, so this is an estimate -- was approximately absolute zero degrees. As soon as we entered the water, we lost circulation in most of our extremeties. I think my brother Matt went into a coma. We immediately began complaining about the water being cold (this is another example of nature being stupid, because water for swimming is supposed to be hot. If I want to cool down, I will install an air conditioner.)
While we complained, my mom prepared to take the picture, which wasn't complicated; this wasn't 1883 and she didn't need to set up a big box of flash powder and get under a hood, but for some reason, using her little camera at that time was amazingly complicated, or Mom had suddenly become Ansel Adams and was concerned that our pose not just reflect how we looked in front of the waterfall but also be symbolic or something ("Here we are, standing in front of a waterfall and demonstrating how post-industrial society is dehumanizing the individual...") the end result being that our complaints grew more and more vigorous, except for Matt who had technically been cryogenically frozen by that point.
Ultimately, Mom took the picture and we were allowed to escape with only minor hypothermia, and a lecture from Mom about how boys were not supposed to be "pups" and were expected to be tough, and how she was disappointed that we couldn't handle "a little cold" and how we were being ridiculous about how cold it was and how Matt would probably recover most of his brain function anyway, and from then on, whenever something challenged me, I tried to act as though I'd been given a second chance to stand in Spearfish Falls and this time I was not going to pup out and would not complain.
So that day last March, I doggedly continued on through about four miles: Running as far as I could, a lap or two or maybe three, before walking until I caught my breath and then running again and doing that until felt I'd made my point, even though I wasn't sure what my point was: I think I was trying to teach my body who was boss, or perhaps getting back at my mom, who had died by then and so couldn't really be gotten back at and even if she could she could probably use her dead powers to hurl lightning bolts at me -- Mom, if anyone, could figure out how to do that, from Heaven, and God just might let her because even God is not likely to argue with my Mom ("In MY family, we didn't quit making universes after 7 days, we kept on going until they were done, so knock it off with the dark matter and do it right.")
The point being that I finished my "run" and gathered Mr F and Mr Bunches and went home and then felt pretty miserable the rest of the day, more so than usual, and the next day was even worse off and by Monday I actually was convinced that I'd had another heart attack.
If you've ever had a heart attack, you will relate to what I say when I say there is no mistaking a heart attack.
I don't really think that's possible.
I've heard people describe symptoms of heart attacks and warning signs and all that kind of thing, but I had one, and the one I had was described as mild because doctors are insulting that way -- seriously: If clothing designers figured out years ago that women should all be size 2 or smaller, so that sizes now run from 2 down to attoparsec, and if Starbucks can figure that everyone wants a large or larger, why can't doctors rank illnesses in cool ways, so that instead of having mild heart attacks, you have, say, Major Heart Attacks, Massive Heart Attacks, Heart Attacks That Are So Devastating That Nobody But This Guy and Maybe Lee Majors Could Have Survived Them and then Technically, He Died For A While There, Wow! at the top of the scale, because in all honesty, I don't add the mild to it when I say "I had a heart attack," because it goes like this:
Me: "I had a heart attack."
Other person [interested] "Really? You're so young. Was it bad? How long were you in the hospital?"
Me: "I had a mild heart attack."
Other Person: *spits in my general direction, goes to talk to someone else.*
That's pretty much verbatim. One judge, when told that I needed to move a hearing because I was in the hospital after a mild heart attack, asked if I couldn't appear by phone, at least.
So when I say I think I had another heart attack, I'm not making up stories or exaggerating: I mean that the symptoms of a heart attack, even a mild one, are, to me unmistakable. I've never felt that bad before and hadn't felt that bad since, except for that day after my run when I had the same feelings of my chest being crushed and my arm hurting and my head spinning and my everything being discombobulated.
Before that, I'd had, as I said, some discomfort and even the occasional pain in my chest and other problems but, because I'm not a pup and life is one big Spearfish Falls and also because the symptoms are unmistakable, I did not assume that those other problems were big problems, and I toughed my way through them.
Until that day, that is, when I thought I had or was having another heart attack and decided to go see the doctor the next day, which is when I began my yearlong journey into learning that nothing in the medical community actually works like House, and also that I might want to just use a fake name the next time I go to the doctor.
Part Two of this story, here.