Janice came home to find her husband slumped in a chair in front of their wide screen TV – no sound, just silent football replays.
“Something wrong, Dan?”
“No. Just a little cardiac arrest,” he said.
“All right, then. Can you help me with the groceries?”
“I need to sit here for a moment,” he said, taking shallow breaths.
“OK, I’ll get the first load,” she said. “Then, can you pick Maggie up at Tara’s house? It’s 3:00. Their party is over by now.”
“I need to sit here.”
“OK, you sit. I’ve got to put the milk into the fridge.”
Janice returned and stood in front of him, holding a bag of groceries in each hand. There was no color in his face. “Are you OK?” she said.
“Just catching my breath.”
“You don’t look so good.”
She put down the groceries and touched his arm. “You’re all clammy.”
“Yeah, but not happy as a clam.” He stared ahead and smiled weakly.
She put her hand on his forehead. It was moist with perspiration.
He looked up at her and said, “I think I need to go to the emergency room.”
On the way to the hospital, Janice called their doctor and told his answering service they were headed for the ER. She also called Tara’s mother who agreed to keep Maggie at her house until they could pick her up.
In the ER, a mother sat with her feverish infant and her two prepubescent sons working their Nintendos. A young man clutched his mid-section and moaned with closed eyes. There was a woman with a knee brace, an elderly man with a nasty looking skin condition, and a pregnant woman pacing with her cell phone.
“There’s a four hour wait,” said the nurse at the admitting desk.
Deep tubercular coughs rattled out of an unshaven man slumped against the wall in a corner.
Dan turned to Janice, “Suddenly, I’m feeling a lot better. Let’s go home.”
Janice felt his arm. It was less clammy, and his face showed some color.
“Are you sure?” she said. “We’re here. I think we should have a doctor look at you.”
“I don’t want to spend the next four hours in this microbe-infested waiting room to get examined by a sleep deprived intern. I want to go home,” he said. “I’ll be all right.”
“If you tell the admitting nurse you have chest pains, they have to take you right away.”
“But I don’t have chest pains.”
“You have shortness of breath.”
“That’s gone. I feel OK.”
Scanning the waiting room, he added, “Janice, I just want to get out of here. I feel better now.”
She stood in his path to the door and said, “Will you see a cardiologist, first chance you get?”
“Yes, but I don’t think there’s a problem. I just got a little short of breath.”
“Promise me, Dan.”
“I promise,” he said.
“Are you feeling any pain? Do you feel nauseated?”
“No, I feel better. I’m all right. Let’s get out of here.”
“All right,” she said.
On the way home he told her about the love seat incident: the driver, the cop, and Helping Hand Inc. Embellishing the story, his sarcastic wit returned. She was glad they had something to laugh about — something even to talk about.
That night, in bed, a mild ache on the left side of Dan’s chest kept him awake. Moonlight projected shadows of trees on the bedroom wall. As he watched their shifting shapes, the ache persisted, and he imagined himself an invalid. Memories of seeing his father in Intensive Care flooded in — the beep of his dad’s heart monitor, a profusion of tubes running in and out of him, his father struggling to speak but no words come out.
Would he end up like him, with words unspoken, promises abandoned, and a family stunned by loss and regret? No, not if he could help it.
Was his disability insurance intact? He knew from working in the industry that there were scores of technical tricks to deny payment. Was he vulnerable? Was his left arm numb?
Dragons at Work
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