IMR: 1999: November: 16 — Tuesday, 11:16 p.m.
Our Apartment, Makiki, Hawai`i

So I had an interesting morning last Thursday.

[ The Band ]The clock radio crackled to life at 5:45 a.m., and Jen switched it off and rolled over in one instinctive, unconscious move. So far an ordinary morning. I decided not to wait for the usual kick in the ribs that would follow an attempt to get more sleep, so I rolled lazily out of bed, stood up and stretched... and slowly crumpled to the floor in agonizing pain.

Cramp? Gas? I was more worried about not waking the girls. I pinched myself hard on my leg to distract my brain, got back up, and limped over to the bathroom.

The pain was in my chest. High, definitely to the left. I thought I remembered reading once that one's heart was pretty much in the middle, so I just waited for it to pass, bracing myself hard on the sink while I brushed my teeth.

When it didn't go away, I went out and sat on the couch and stared at the carpet for a while. The pain seemed to spike when I moved, which again didn't sound like anything serious. It just hurt.

It subsided enough for me to get dressed, but I still needed to lie down when I went back into the bedroom. I rolled onto my side and grunted. Jen stirred.

"Are you okay?" she asked.

I was too pained to think straight, and made the mistake of telling her the truth.

Soon the whole family was up, all the lights were on, and while I sat hurting and strangely frustrated at myself for being so affected, Jen paced with an oblivious and cheery morning-person Katie in her arms and urged me to go to the hospital.

Of course I protested and insisted it was going away, but soon enough I had to admit that I wasn't exactly up to getting up and marching right off to work either. I decided to call mom. Her heart attack fifteen years ago was a major reason I wasn't ready to just brush the pain off, but it also meant she'd know better than most what might be going on.

She said what I'd expected to hear, as far as symptoms were concerned. That the pain was like an unbearable pressure, like your chest was being stepped on (what I felt was sharper, more like pinching. That extremeties go numb (mine weren't).

But she also insisted I go to the emergency room.

So after resting a few more minutes, we all piled into the car, and I plotted the route to the Straub clinic downtown. It was while I drove slowly along Wilder Avenue, struggling to keep my mind clear enough to simply operate the car, that I accepted something might be wrong. And when I was put on a bed and tagged with one of those scary bracelets and only then realized (from reading the hospital stationery) that I had actually driven myself to the ER at Kapi`olani Medical Center, I actually got a little scared.

The nurses and ER doctor quickly noted that none of my symptoms were consistent with a heart attack, and that they would dismiss the notion out of hand for a 25-year-old whippersnapper like myself were it not for the unusual "risk factor" of my mother's attack at a young 39 and other heart problems in my family history.

Once again, "just in case," once again "to be sure," I got hooked up to monitors, checked out by various friendly medical-type people, and asked a few thousand questions. Then an elaborate and expensive EKG test, followed by an elaborate and more expensive chest X-Ray.

The good news was there was no heart attack. The bad news — if, compared to the good news, it could even be called that — was that it was probably a viral infection in my chest, inflaming muscles and rubbing nerves the wrong way, and it would last at least a week and was treatable only with run-of-the-mill ibuprofin.

The doctor recommended a full battery of heart-related exams someday soon, including the infamous "treadmill test," if only to put our minds at rest and assuage Jen's fears that I'll up and die before I'm 30. Like I used to joke I would, until Katie was born. Like I used to joke I would before I realized 25 is pretty damn close.

"If you pass the treadmill test, you shouldn't have a thing to worry about for another 30 years," the doctor proclaimed. "After which time, of course, everyone's heart starts to go."

I doubt I'd have nothing to worry about. But I'm still signing up for that test.

I was still aching when we left the hospital, but really, just knowing what was going on reduced it better than any drug could have. Although Jen begged and pleaded against it, after I dropped her and Katie off back at home, I headed out to work.

"It'd be too fishy if I just happen to need to miss a day today," I said.

Because it was Veteran's Day, but — like last year — it wasn't a holiday at the office.

Since I was already a few hours late, I figured I might as well make a short detour and drop off my poor dead digital camera at the Canon service center on the way. When I handed it to the friendly girl behind the counter, she was rather doubtful that they'd be able to do much for a drowning victim.

She probably would have had a lot more to say, but when she spotted the hospital bracelet that I'd forgotten to remove from my wrist, suddenly she was not very talkative.

I chuckled to myself as I walked out, wondering if she thought I was an escaped mental patient or something. But the day's last laugh was definitely on me.

I was casually reading the fine print on the Canon receipt, fumbling in my pockets for my car keys, when I turned a corner and cracked my head on a low concrete beam. I had somehow walked under the stairs instead of around them, and konked myself so hard, the only thing that kept me from falling back on my ass was the notion that any number of office employees behind a nearby wall of windows might be overly entertained.

I just sat in my car, whimpering and giggling at the same time, until the ringing went away. Eventually I made it to work with a great story to tell. And today, five days later, I still get to tell the story whenever anyone asks about the bruise in the center of my forehead.

© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 16 November 1999 · Last Modified: 16 November 1999