I was wandering around the other day looking for a fit subject for a Christmas column, something sad but sweet, tragic but uplifting, when it came to me in a flash. I would go to the emergency ward of a hospital.
It was more of a necessity than an inspiration, however, because my heart rate suddenly jumped from a normal of 80 beats a minute to 187 beats a minute and it seemed like the right thing to do.
I ended up in the Tarzana Medical Center lying on a gurney, wondering if I would die before I had a chance to do one more column. I wanted to be remembered for something other than an essay on Nate Holden and the half-naked dancing girls of Korea.
My wife Cinelli was by my side, as she has always been, and I kept studying her expression for any signs of happy anticipation. I mean, was she hoping the Great Editor in the Sky would reach down and pluck me off this Earth like a little fat bug? I'm not an easy guy to be around. Trust me on that.
"You know what I keep thinking about?" I said to her. "I keep thinking that my favorite Christmas toy as a kid was a little red scooter."
"Oh, my God," she said, "you're not going to do a 'Rosebud' routine!"
"I think it was a Speedy-something, or a something-Speedy."
"As last words, that doesn't scan. It's got to be a smoother, breathier sound, something like . . . well . . . 'Tupperware.' "
"Tupperware? Why would my last word be Tupperware?"
She shrugged. "It's better than 'Speedy-something.' "
Our conversation was interrupted by a front office person with an identification bracelet who entered the room saying "Sam Rosenbaum?"
She was about to put the bracelet on my wrist when I said, "I'm not Sam Rosenbaum."
She seemed surprised. "You're not?"
She looked to Cinelli who said, "He's not."
For a moment, the woman seemed prepared to argue the point. "I am not," I said firmly, lifting myself half off the gurney, "Sam Rosenbaum!"
She left, but I could hear people talking about me in the hallway. Their effort to identify various patients dealt with their ailments.
I, for instance, was "Chest Pains." Someone else was "Multiple Abrasions." I am assuming that Sam Rosenbaum was Multiple Abrasions. I wish him well. Next to me, gasping for breath, was "Breathing Problems.' "
Breathing Problems was the more interesting case. He had somehow got some bread and a piece of an orange caught in his throat. Cinelli suggested he might have been eating an orange sandwich.
"Why would anyone eat an orange sandwich?" I said.
"You eat potato sandwiches. Why not an orange sandwich?"
The bread and orange were removed and he was sent home.
The woman who thought I was Sam Rosenbaum stuck her head in again, glared and left. She was convinced I was Sam Rosenbaum. Nothing would ever change her mind. But why was I keeping it from her?
I had what was called an episode. Anything can be an episode. Death is a final episode. No one knew why my heart rate went up, although four years ago I had double bypass surgery. I mean a double bypass procedure. To ease my discomfort and to keep me viable.
In emergency, they took my blood, X-rayed my chest and gave me an electrocardiogram. And they kept trying to figure out who I was, what my insurance would approve, and what cardiologist they should call.
Meanwhile, my heart rate returned to normal. Meanwhile, also, they discovered that a machine that monitored my heart had failed to keep a record, so all they had was a normal heart rate. My episode had never occurred, although a nurse swore it had.
They decided, in the confusion, to keep me overnight. I was seen by an internist and four cardiologists. One of them, praise the Lord, was mine. He appeared silhouetted in the doorway with a halo of light around him. I thought he was an angel, but Cinelli said, "When they come for you, they won't send an angel."
He said, "They won't let me see you, but you'll be all right." It was finally straightened out, I think, and I'll see him two days after Christmas. The episode was over. They don't know why it had begun in the first place.
I went to sleep that night thinking of last words I could whisper, just in case. I knew it wouldn't be Tupperware and I couldn't remember the name of the red scooter.
Then it came to me just as I was closing my eyes. I would whisper, "I'm not Sam Rosenbaum." I don't care what they say, I'm not.