Weak at Heart

I poured a fresh cup of coffee and slumped into my office chair. It was my forth since arriving at work. My sixth on the day. Three quarters of the pot was gone to me.

It was 0659.

The last shy bladders of the morning urinalysis were standing, weak-in-the-knees, in the conference room. I leaned my head into my hand and felt a jolt of lightning go up my left arm, from elbow to fingertips.

Pinched nerve. I extended and flexed my left arm, wiggled my fingers, and balled my fist. I finished my coffee and went back for a refill. It was half gone before I reached my office chair.

My left hand prickled with the faint sensation of pins and needles. I flexed and stretched it again. My upper arm felt tight. I rubbed my fingers against my palm. I stretched my arm out again, and pin prickles shot up to my elbow.

It couldn’t just be a pinched nerve.  I checked my pulse. The steady throbbing of a well-caffeinated machine. I rubbed my fingers against my palm again. I noticed decreased sensation. I pinched my thumb. My palm.

I perked up in my chair, brow furrowed.

“Hey, First Sergeant . . . ” I called into the next office. “You have any aspirin?”

” . . . No. Hang on, I’ll get some . . . DOC!”

A few minutes later our head medic walked into my office with a little plastic zip-lock. Aspirin; 325 mg. He tossed them to me. I choked three down with water from an old Gatorade bottle.

“You need anything else, sir?”

I looked up at him, hesitated, and rubbed my fingers against my palm.

“Hey, doc . . . you got your blood pressure cuff in the back?”

“No, it’s at the aid station . . . what’s up?”

I heaved a sigh, grit my teeth, and waved my hand at him.

“My fucking hand is tingling. I’ve got decreased sensation . . . I know my blood pressure is through the roof . . . “

“I figured you just had a headache . . . ” he replied. “Yeah, come on.”

He sat me down in the chair at the aid station and slid my arm into the cuff. The machine whirred and the cuff squeezed until my hand turned blue. It failed to read. He tried again.

151 over 90.

My last blood pressure check was a 115 over 65. He tried the other arm. It was marginally lower. I frowned. Doc asked how often I experienced tingling in my arm. Twice, I lied. Both right after we got back from Afghanistan.

It had never happened before deployment Or during. Now it happen whenever my blood pressure spiked over asinine work bullshit. Every time I had to show up at 0330 for a 0530 formation, for a 0700 step-off time.

Every time I had to come in on a holiday, or a weekend, or a leave-day for some task that was due three days later, only to find out that the panic was unnecessary. It always is.

Doc spoke to the Physician’s Assistant. Doc was headed to Special Forces Assessment and Selection. He was a fit little shit. Small enough for me to lift over my head . . . and a good NCO.

I trusted him to navigate between my lie, what he knew was the truth, and what the PA needed to hear. I listened to their conversation from the next room. He didn’t disappoint.

The PA said not to waste time at the emergency room. They referred me straight to cardiology.

I told them I needed an EKG for a physical. It was routine. They wouldn’t even ask an officer for a referral. I spent five minutes staring at the bad wallpaper before a little Korean lady took me to a testing room.

I stripped off my top and t-shirt and laid down on the butcher paper. She stuck a dozen tin-foil pull tabs on my chest.  Clip-clip, snap, whirrrrrr . . . She tore the paper from the machine, looked at me, and frowned.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I need to talk to docta . . . ” she replied, “It say abmormah. You wait here . . . ” her English worse than my barber. “You put on . . . you wait here.”

She pointed at my shirt.

Fuck . . . 

Had the years of abusive binges taken their toll? The six-day long benders? Taking ephedrine by the handful? The speed-freak addiction to stress?

I pulled on my shirt and my top. I leaned against the counter, stiff-lipped. Jaw clenched. I waited in silence. I don’t know how long. I felt oddly zen about it.

I had this coming.

The technician returned with my EKG.

“You lif’ weights?” she asked.

“Weights? Yeah. Of course.”

“Ahhh . . . Say loh vo’tage . . . 

I wrinkled my brow at her and pushed off the counter. I grasped the EKG print-out, still half in her hands. She released it to me.

“. . . What?” I groaned.

Low voltage.

“Too much mussah, no read vo’tage. Docta say your heart is perfect!”

” . . . Ohh . . . ” I muttered.

I folded the print out slowly and tucked it in my upper left shoulder pocket. She smiled and waved and wished me well. I reflexively balled and clenched my left hand.

“Thank you.”

Out in the parking lot I unfolded the print out. I looked at the reading. It was steady as a metronome  Impossibly so.

Back at the CP, I handed my slip to Doc.

“Don’t bother the PA,” I told him. “I’m good.”

“Jesus,” he muttered. “My EKG isn’t this clean . . .”

“I’ll live.”

I got off work four and a half hours after release. I hadn’t eaten all day. I bought a mini sandwich roll and some caffeine and a bottle of Wild Turkey.

I finished two of them on the way home.

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