The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

A fine kind of sorcery

Gettysburg ER entranceI was about to leave the house one afternoon this week, when I decided to mention to the Resident Nurse:

“I don’t feel right,” I said, “and I’ve been out of bed long enough I should have woke up by now.”

“My heart is sending Morse code like back in the days of black-and-white TV – a couple of quick beats, skip a few, another one, skip a couple more …”

Off we went to the Emergency Room. Not that it really felt like an emergency, but when you call your family physician you quickly learn that any appointment quicker than 14 days means you have an emergency.

“What is the problem,” the nice young woman at the reception desk asked.

“I’ve got a really irregular heartbeat.”

The triage nurse had been listening through the connecting door from the receptionist station.

“Step up here,” she says, corralling me toward a scale designed to weigh trucks. Big trucks.

“Why do we do this,” I asked.

I’ve been overweight most of my adult life. I spent my youth building houses, hiking in the woods, swimming across a rather large lake and performing other tasks that burned off the prodigious quantities of garden and forest-grown produce I daily consumed. Then I joined the Navy.

Dad told me if I needed to lose weight, they’d get it off. If I was too light, they’d put it on. I must have been the latter because I started boot camp at 181, graduated at 183, and a year later, after attending several schools designed to fill my cranium with technical tonnage, I was 240 pounds.

I remained that weight – and remained the object of Navy flight doctors, who said I was not too overweight to fly but certainly would take a couple decades off my life – until about 15 years after I retired. Then I had a heart attack, and went through cardiac rehab – at the end of which I was 268 pounds. Go figure.

“We have to get your weight,” says every nurse who has ever escorted me from where I was waiting to any doctor I was waiting for.

I step on the platform, she records my mass in kilograms (which makes me feel much more trim) then sits me down and asks what’s going on. I tell her.

“Has this happened before?” the triage nurse asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

She looked at the EKG and announced, “Well, it’s happening again.”

She placed a wheelchair under me and hustled me to a room that reminded me of a hospital gown, only closed on one side. From the front, there are doors, like regular rooms, but turns out they’re arranged in a horseshow such that their back is open so the ER staff can see that you’re still alive in there. One of them hooks me up to a bunch of wires connected somehow to computer screens so the staff can see that my heart still beats. Heartbeats are not very obvious from more than six inches away.

She slipped a hose about the size of a natural gas pipeline into my arm and began to pour liquid into me.

In a few hours, my internal pump had settled down and it had become apparent I would not soon be catching an off-planet choo-choo. It was time to go home. I was, and am, thankful. I would list them by name, but I don’t remember them all, and it wouldn’t be fair to leave anyone out. I only know I appreciate with all my mostly functioning heart the alacrity with which they practice their sorcery in that place, fending off the guy with the black hood and scythe.


  1. Heart trouble is so scary. I hope yours recovered completely.

  2. Thanks for the wish, Gina. The problem I have probably won’t disappear, but with luck it won’t prove too soon fatal.   I’m not yet 70, and I’d like to see how a few things turn out before I depart this col. Hence my deep appreciation of the sorcerers at yon hospital.

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