I did not want to go; I didn't believe in doctors.
"They'll find something ," I told my wife when she pressed the idea that I get a physical.
My friend, Joe Willis, retired editor-publisher of the Glendora Press, a small San Gabriel Valley newspaper, had gone through two heart attacks. Nearly twice my age, he looked at my lean frame and laughed at me when I said, "I have no problems."
I didn't have any problems.
I was 37 years old, ran a minimum of half an hour a day with 20 pounds of weights strapped to my body and had lost 30 pounds since beginning the regimen, which includes meditation, three years ago.
At 145 pounds, I now weighed less than I did in high school, when I was a sprinter on the track team. I could run a lot farther now than I could then.
"Yeah, but you still smoke and in your job you're under a lot of stress," Joe reminded me. "I've been there," he added.
We ended up making a bargain: Joe would teach us to refinish furniture, something he did masterfully; in exchange, I would get the physical.
Joe, who made the appointment with his doctor, picked me up. Everything went well with Dr. Onn T. Chan. I was even surprised that my blood pressure was right on, despite my nervousness at being in "that place."
Last on the checklist was the electrocardiogram. The nurse told me to remain on the table while the doctor checked the test results. I was feeling pretty good. It was almost over. I'd be out of there soon.
"Don't move," Chan said, when he entered the room. "Something's not right here, and I want a cardiologist to look at this--right now."
"I knew it," I said to myself. " They found something."
I was sitting in Chan's office by the time the cardiologist, Dr. Naresh T. Pruthi, entered the scene.
"I've never seen anything like this," Pruthi said as the two doctors continued to stare at the results of the EKG. I had no idea what those funny lines meant, but Pruthi said they weren't right.
"We think you may be having a heart attack," Pruthi said.
Chan nodded his head in agreement.
"We're going to put you in the hospital," he said.
The doctors explained that they did not know what the EKG reading meant for me, because I had had no past EKG record to compare it with. They said they could not take the responsibility of letting me leave the office without knowing what was going on inside me.
"You could be fine, or you could collapse," Chan said. "Legally, and morally, we just can't take the chance."
Then the chest pain started.
I called Nell, my wife.
I'd done my usual morning stretching and yoga postures before going in for the physical and I felt fine.
'I Was Weak'
But I was weak, and could feel and hear my heart pumping as Joe walked with me from the doctor's office the short distance to the emergency room at Foothill Presbyterian Hospital in Glendora.
My life began to rush through my brain.
"I'm dying," I thought. "And I've just begun to live!"
"They'll take real good care of you here," Joe said, reassuringly. "I've been through this before."
We went directly to the Intensive Care Unit. Within minutes I was stripped, gowned, IV'd, wired (EKG) and staring at the television screen in my room.
I looked up at the monitor that was attached to the wires that were attached to me, and I saw the lines and numbers.
Nell came into the room. I tried to be cheerful, but I was scared. I began to doze off.
Nell. Thoughts. . . .
We were high school sweethearts 20 years ago. We had been married now for only six months. Took us both a long time to "get it together," that's what our wedding invitations had said. I had made the first phone call to renew the relationship a year ago.
We had both been divorced for about two years. Nell has a 9-year-old daughter, Allison; I had just started to get to know her. I had no children. Allison was a real experience for me, up till then a beach bum, whose only contact with children had been with a nephew and niece. We were going to try for our own, soon.
Changes . . . what a year it had been. Finally, it was all coming together for the good.
And now this.
Flat in Bed
Depression. . . . There I was, flat in bed. I looked at the body I had worked so hard to get into what I considered primo condition.
"What are you doing here?" the young nurse asked. "You're in better shape than any of us."
I smiled weakly. "I thought I was. . . . Just a stupid physical."
Vital signs every four hours.
Blood drawn. "If they take any more, I will have a heart attack," I thought.
X-rays. Tests. More tests.
Pruthi: "Well, you haven't had a heart attack. . . . This (EKG) might be normal for you. . . ."
I wanted to go home.
Pruthi wanted more tests.
"Will I be able to live a normal life?"
"I think so."
Joe visited. "Bet you don't like me anymore," he said, looking forlornly to the floor.
"No, Joe. I still love you, even though it's all your fault."
They injected me with something radioactive and took pictures.
"No aneurysms," Pruthi said.
After three crummy days of incredibly good and caring treatment in ICU, I went home.
But I had one more test to take: Thallium stress, the treadmill test.
I had the weekend to think about it.
I was supposed to rest, but I had to do something.
On Sunday morning, I strapped on my ankle weights, and Nell and I walked three miles to get the Sunday paper. I figured if I didn't make it then, well, I didn't make it.
A Hilly Walk
It was a hilly walk. I felt fine. No pain, except in the ankles.
8 a.m. Monday. I was ready. . . . I wanted to get back to work. But there was no Thallium at the hospital. "Somebody forgot to order it," the receptionist said. No test. Rescheduled for Wednesday.
Pruthi set me up to take the treadmill thing at another hospital on Tuesday and gave Wednesday's appointment to another patient.
Phone call Monday night: The computer broke down at the other hospital. No test.
"I don't understand it," Pruthi said, referring to the problems that were delaying the test. "Nothing like this has happened to me before. I'm sorry."
I began to cry. I was frustrated.
I knew that sometimes computers break down. It had happened often enough at work. And I knew that sometimes order forms are not filled out.
But I wanted to know! I wanted to get this over with!
Phone call, Tuesday, Pruthi had juggled the schedule at Foothill.
"You're on; 9 a.m. Wednesday."
I was cold, waiting in the hallway, sitting in a wheelchair in my running shorts and shoes, with a fresh IV in my right arm. Shivering.
I was shaking when the technician wired me for the test.
"Don't be so nervous," Pruthi said. "You'll do fine. . . ."
I stopped shaking when I started walking. Felt better as the treadmill began to speed up. I heard them shouting the numbers. It all sounded good to me.
I could have gone on a lot longer, but the doctor said he had enough. They injected the Thallium, a radioactive material, into me. I walked for a minute longer, then they quickly pulled the wiring off me and put me on a gurney.
The X-ray technician wheeled me downstairs--fast.
"What are you doing here?" he asked. "Looks like you could run a marathon. . . ."
"I was only getting a physical. . . ."
More pictures. Then the wait.
8:30 a.m. Thursday. The phone rang.
"Good news, the test was normal," Pruthi said. "Some minor abnormalities, but nothing serious. Do you want to go back to work?"
"No restrictions? No pills?" I asked.
"No restrictions, but we have to keep an eye on the blood pressure . . . and I'm going to prescribe a tranquilizer; not the kind you're thinking of. You told me you were into meditation. I want you to do more of it."
I went back to work. And, over the weekend, Nell and I were over at Joe's place pulling screws out of an old piece of furniture.
I was glad I had gone for the physical. Happy that I knew I probably could control what was going on inside me. I know I definitely have to figure out a way to quit smoking.
But it's great to still be on the planet.