Ten years ago I was wheeled into an operating theater at Mission Hospital, Mission Viejo, California. The nurses
moved the gurney over to the long flat table. As I scooted over, Kathy undid the gown strings. They covered me with a blanket, removed the gown with the dexterity of a skilled seducer, and shifted me so that my head rested under the x-ray machine, the tube of which was roughly the size and shape of a large can of housepaint.
The blanket came up for just a second as one of the men laid a folded cloth over my personals. “There, you’re decent.” The blanket came up again as Kathy shaved the area and Manny swabbed Betadine “instant tan in a bottle” in the crease between my gut and my leg. They told me to keep my hands at my sides. My groin was now sterile. I was too relaxed to offer much protest, though I made mental notes.
My doctor arrived. By this time, everyone had covered their faces and heads. He pulled up the blanket over my half-denuded groin. “Here’s the needle,” he said. I felt a squeak of pain where it pricked me. “Here’s a second one.” I only felt the shape of the point and the shaft for that one. The cut occurred unnoticed by me. I blinked and heard an orderly speak about the flush that comes when they inject the dye into the heart. “It feels like you’re going to the bathroom,” said Manny. Yes, it was as if I had wet myself and the juice was spreading all over my hips and thighs. That sensation passed and I quickly realized that I was dry. I saw the vessels of my heart on a television screen. My cardiologist announced that it was over and that he had sewn me up.
The condition he discovered was a narrowing of the coronary artery. This means what it sounds like: the width of one of the arteries embracing my heart is less than a normal person. I can’t run marathons. I must go slower on hills than others. For years I had endured being called a “slow poke” and told that I was lazy. The shame discouraged me from attempting the long hikes that I yearned to try.
The knowledge gave me freedom. I knew I could hike if I set my own pace. If people passed me on hills, they passed me.
My cardiologist is pleased with my progress. We keep my heart squeaky clean with a good diet and anti-cholesterol medication. I hike five times a week with his blessing.