The pain was sudden and intense, a band across my chest, taking away my breath. I had been bent over, lifting several books from a lower shelf, and the pain hit as soon as I straightened up. I dropped the books and fell back into my chair, clutching my hand to my chest, just like they do on TV. Heart attack. I was having a heart attack. I was home, alone, having a heart attack.
I grabbed my phone to dial 9-1-1 but then stopped. If this was a heart attack, I should go to the hospital. However, if this was not a heart attack, the paramedics would still want me to go to the hospital. The hospital would want to do tests, and tests cost money. In my mind, I started adding up charges…probably 250.00 for an ambulance, a couple of thousand just for entering through the emergency door, EKG, saline drip, that test with the paper and squiggly lines…
Let’s just stop for a moment, and re-evaluate the situation. Consider the circumstances. I had been bent over in an awkward position, and the books I was lifting were heavy. I imagine heavy lifting could cause a heart attack, but heavy lifting can cause other things, too, like a muscle strain. I felt the pain, trying to gauge its location. Yes, yes, the pain was focused in the right side, not the left. That’s good. I mean, that’s good.
The pain was still intense, though, making it hard to breathe. I grabbed the phone, but instead of calling 9-1-1, I called my roommate. I told him what happened, how I felt. Are you going to the hospital, he asked? I’m not sure, I replied.
Is the pain on your left or right? Right, I answered. Is it persistent? I thought about it, doing a mental check, and responded affirmatively. Are you having a hard time breathing? Y-e-e-s, I replied, though hesitantly, because by this time the band seemed looser, less urgent. Breath in. Hurt? Breath deeper. Hurt more?
Of course, I said to him, if I were having a heart attack, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. True, he said. What were you doing, anyway? I told him I was lifting books from a bottom shelf. Well, does it feel like you pulled a muscle? I don’t know. It just hurts, hard to breath. Try lifting something, he said.
I picked up Zoë, and felt a twinge, in my right shoulder and chest. I put Zoë down, and it seemed like the pain was less. I picked Zoë up again. Yes, the pain was more intense. Zoë was happy, though.
I think I’ll live this time, I told my roommate. That’s good, he said. That’s good you’ll live, this time.
Zoë just purred.