Cleo stumbled breathlessly across the curb and slumped onto the park bench. The shade of an oak eased a sigh out of his sweat-soaked torso. His third button escaped dangling threads and fell to the tarmac below as he failed in efforts to undo it. His glassy eyes stared right through the Congolese family eating hot dogs on a picnic blanket nearby.
The forty-two year old’s third trip this month to Doctor Norton had been pointless. Unless it meant funding the local pharmacist. Robaxacet for back pain, Melatonin for sleeplessness, and Ativan for anxiety - first visit. Tums for indigestion and Gravol for nausea - second visit. A referral to the optometrist for blurry vision and a referral to a dementia clinic for memory loss - third visit. He was booked for a physical exam two weeks away.
Esther had summed up her diagnosis in one word. “Hypochondriac.”
Dr. Norton had scanned Cleo’s carefully scripted symptoms log and then entered unknown information into his computer. The machine had clearly decided there was nothing serious. At least it didn’t proclaim “hypochondriac.”
Neither had Cleo’s laptop. That technological genius had diagnosed more than a dozen life threatening problems. Cleo suspected his heart was probably the biggest culprit. For some reason Dr. Norton wasn’t ready to go there yet.
When the perplexed husband had told Esther his suspicions she told him the only heart issue he had was with the Lord. “You worry too much. You work too hard. You need to start going to prayer meeting more often.”
Cleo propped himself up with his left elbow on the bench and tried to hear the words of a small boy walking by holding hands with his mother. “Is he drunk, mom?” The reclining figure couldn’t ignore the glare and frown of the mother as she dragged her son away at a quicker pace. A sense of vertigo overwhelmed him as he tried to embrace the thin steel beams of the bench.
When he could focus again the patches of blue-green blur in front of his face left him confused.
A voice kept prodding him into consciousness. “Mr. Fletcher. Welcome back. You’re lucky those picnickers in the park took your collapse seriously. We’re going to have to do a little exam on your heart. Are you okay with that? I understand you’re not a smoker and that you haven’t eaten in the last ten hours.”
The only thing Cleo registered was the echo of Esther’s verbal mocking. “The only heart issue you have is with the Lord.”
“I repent. I’m sorry.”
“Nothing to repent for Mr. Fletcher. You did seem to have a few extra pills in your pockets. I hope you weren’t trying to harm yourself.”
“Trying to live.”
The sedated penitent moved to adjust his glasses but found himself restrained. “Easy, Mr. Fletcher. We have you stabilized for your own good. We’re going to perform an arteriogram. You’ll feel a little prick down below and we’ll be putting in some contrast dye to help us see if there are any blockages to your heart. Just relax. This exam will only take a few minutes. You may feel a little flush in your face. Don’t worry. Everything is okay.”
Cleo felt the prick like a bee sting. “Ouch.”
A female voice sounded nearby. “Sorry, Mr. Fletcher. The needle is in and everything will be fine now. The Lidocaine will make sure you feel nothing more.”
A male voice. “Mr. Fletcher. I’m just going to be inserting a stent to help your heart out a little. If you want to watch what I’m doing on the monitor you can see where the dye has stopped circulating. You’ve got a few blockages going on here. I’m assuming you’ve been having some back pain, some heartburn, some nausea.”
Cleo didn’t want to fail this oral exam. “Robaxacet for the back pain, Tums for the heartburn, Gravol for the Nausea.”
The voice was patient. “You won’t have to take those anymore, Mr. Fletcher. Sometimes it takes more than a pill to stop our body from screaming for help.”
“My wife says I just need to pace myself and get focused.”
“Right now, all you have to do is lie here and recover for the next several hours. We’ll just need to take more x-rays and then remove the catheter. You may feel patches of heat.”
Cleo wanted to know one thing. “Did I pass?”
“Absolutely. You’ll soon be 100%. Just listen to your heart.”
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