The Narrowing Tunnel
I did what any sensible 33 year old man would do. I threw myself off a mountain on a bike. Rode world-class whitewater both inside and outside of a raft. Sparred with martial arts masters to find someone that could train me. I tried anything to keep my mind off of my feelings. Because it felt bad. I didn’t know it at the time but the pain I felt at the core of my being wasn’t just emotional. I fought it in a literal sense with foot and fist, striking an opponent while knocking their blows away. But I had a deeper opponent there was no fighting off. When it struck, I fell to my knees on that gym mat exhausted, beaten in a moment.
My sparring partner noticed when I went down. He stopped the fight and I took a few moments to try to catch my breath. I managed to get to my feet and signal to continue the fight, but he declined when he saw that I wasn’t moving the same way. I didn’t feel the same either. I conceded the evening, packed my things, and drove myself home. After a hot shower, I looked at my bed and considered going to sleep. If I had chosen to climb into my sheets and close my eyes that night may well have been my last. Instead, I packed a small overnight bag and went to the local hospital.
“Hi, my name is David Lin, and I think I am having a heart attack.”
“Ok, Mr. Lin, please fill out these forms and wait until they call your name.”
Freshly showered and smiling, I took my overnight bag and the clipboard the intake staffer handed me and dutifully filled out the paperwork, trying to convince myself that I wasn’t having a heart attack. I was too young, too active, too strong. I was either feeling better or had gotten used to the symptoms that I knew from reading indicated a strong potential for a heart attack. The ER ignored me for nearly two hours that night before they called me back for triage. The nurse read my first EKG, then flipped the paper trace around to read it again. He then wheeled the EKG machine out of the room, then came back in with a second machine. He read the trace again in both orientations and left to show it to someone else.
Finally, they came for me. I asked if I was having a heart attack – none of the three nurses working on me replied to my question with words, but all of them responded with their facial expressions. I told them that they shouldn’t play poker for money. A hospital administrator came by to take my insurance information and was angrily shooed away by the nurses. “He’s not stable” they said. I had gained a significant number of new holes on my body with various fluids going into and out me on my way to the cath lab where many truths about me were about to be revealed.
My cardiologist late that evening was subtly shocked when he saw that I had three major blockages in my cardiac arteries. One of them had shattered, completely blocking one of the three major arteries that fed my heart. He positioned one of the monitors so I could see for myself. The doctor explained that this was not good news and that he would only treat the blockage that had shattered. As he worked to keep me alive that night, I felt my heart, for the first time in my life, become still and stop beating entirely. The color bled out of my vision and what I could see narrowed quickly into a tunnel. For the first time in a long while, I reached out to another person because of a strong feeling.
“Doc, I think my heart stopped?” I said aloud, trying not to move on the table.
The doctor briefly glanced over from his monitor, trying to gauge the facial expression I was making.
“Yeah… don’t worry about it,” he replied as he continued his work.
Truth be told, I was a little worried about it. My speech slurred, as I voiced my concern.
“Don’t worry about it… for the rest of my life?”
The medical team in the room took a few seconds from what was left of my life to laugh. I like to think I smiled on the inside as the darkness took my sight.