Published in Brown Bag Online, Issue 1: Fawn, July 24, 2020.

His wife Jo was already at work by the time he awoke. He’d submitted his grades after midnight the night before. She would administer a multi-section final at noon and grade the rest of the day. By then he’d be in St. Paul visiting his mother. His sister Irene needed a break from Mother Care. Henry was it.

I don’t feel well.

Henry dismissed the idea. He wasn’t sick. He just didn’t want to make the six-hour trip, didn’t want to pick up deli chicken and pasta salad for supper, or play cribbage with his mother until her bedtime after the 10 o’clock news. He didn’t want another night alone in a motel room when he could be sharing a bed with Jo. But then it didn’t matter what he wanted. Until Mother died, or he died, Henry and his sisters would continue making the trips. Mother had cared for her parents and her husband. Now it was his turn.

Enough said.

After coffee and a bowl of cinnamon and raisin oatmeal, he read the Des Moines Register, hoping the nausea would pass.


He got on the treadmill.

Relieve the stress. Get my heart started.

Henry watched CNN, sweating profusely, though he’d barely begun to exercise. When he increased the speed, he stumbled and fell. The safety cord shut down the machine but only after he’d scraped his knee. He sat awkwardly on the floor.

Nothing broken.

If he’d broken something, Henry could have called Irene, explained that he was unable to travel, and spent a quiet weekend with his wife once her grades were done. They could have enjoyed dinner at La Figero, like they did when they celebrated her tenure. Or his latest publication.

Shower up and saddle up.

If he was on the road by 9:30, he could avoid the worst of the Twin Cities traffic. But then the nausea hit. Henry made it to the toilet in time to vomit. Kneeling on the floor, his knee throbbed. His chest tightened. Sweat poured from him like it had on the treadmill, except he wasn’t moving.

Classic heart attack symptoms.

A heart attack would be a good excuse not to go see his mother. Irene couldn’t blame him if he had a heart attack. A heart attack was like money in the bank on the list of good excuses.

Suck it up. Shower time.

The warm water on his back–normally soothing–felt like pin pricks. His forehead flushed, the tightness in his chest returned. Henry vomited in the shower–dry heaves–and the sweats returned. He seized the shower rail to keep from falling. He turned the shower water to cold and the sweating subsided. He stepped out and toweled off.

Much better. Good to go. Time to hit the road. 

Deodorant, mouthwash, shave. While he shaved, his arm tightened, his heart rate elevated. He took three aspirin from the medicine cabinet, crushed them, and washed them down. He’d read somewhere that would help. He reached for his underwear. If I call 911, and it isn’t a heart attack, I’ll feel stupid. He put on his shirt and reached for his khakis.

If I die on I-80 because I didn’t call 911, I’ll feel worse.

Henry put on his pants and reached for his cell phone. The nausea returned. His palms were wet, and he’d already soaked through his t-shirt.

“911. What is your emergency?”

“I think I’m having a heart attack.” Henry confirmed his location and relayed his symptoms.

“Please stay on the line, Mr. Morgan. Help is on the way.”

He made his way downstairs and unlocked the front door. He was already feeling better. He checked his fly. He wanted to call Jo, but he was still on the line with the 911 operator. “You know,” he told the calm female voice, “I’m feeling a lot better.” An unmarked police car pulled into his driveway, red and blue lights flashing. A man in a suit appeared at his door. Detective Swanson made Henry sit down, checked his pulse, and spoke briefly to the operator. A firetruck appeared. A paramedic named Bob asked Henry for his name and birthdate, a summary of his symptoms. “When did you first notice something wrong?”

“About forty-five minutes ago.”

Bob looked at Detective Swanson and then back to Henry. “Most men don’t call for five or six hours.”

“Or not at all.”


“They think it will just go away. Have you taken anything?”

“Three aspirins.”

“Did you crush them first?”


“Good man. People forget that step.” He handed him a gel tab. “Let’s pop a little nitro for good measure.” Henry heard the siren before he saw the ambulance. “And here’s the A team. Right on time.”

“Is there anyone you’d like me to contact?” Detective Swanson asked.

“My wife.” Henry gave him her cellphone number as they strapped him on the gurney.

“Let’s take a ride.”

As Henry talked with the EMTs, and later the ER nurses, and finally the doctor, each in turn expressed surprise that he’d recognized the symptoms and called 911. Men typically dismissed the symptoms, delayed making the call, or tried to drive themselves. “Stupid.”

“Exactly,” the nurse confirmed as she hooked him to a monitor.

Jo arrived outside the ER treatment door. Henry sheepishly waved. She waved back. Her friend Donna appeared at her side. He mouthed the words, “I’m okay now.”

The ER doc stepped away from the gurney. “Well, Mr. Morgan, you’ve obviously had some kind of heart event, but you haven’t had a heart attack. Things have stabilized. I see your wife is here. I’m going to send you home.”

At that moment a giant hand reached into his chest, seized his heart, and squeezed. Alarms sounded. “Code Blue in ER 4. Code Blue in ER 4.” Henry curled into a fetal position.

“Morphine,” the doc ordered.

This could kill me.

Time stopped. The ER faded away. He stood in a long corridor. His fear evaporated.

I’d be comfortable with that.

He made no move toward the light.

But I think I’d like to stay a while.

Henry woke up in a hospital room. Jo held one hand while a nurse inserted an IV in his other. “Did you know seventy-five percent of the people who have a heart attack in a hospital don’t survive it?”

“Call me Mr. Lucky.”

As soon as he expressed the thought, he knew it was true.

“I called Irene,” Jo told him. “Your mother’s going to have to wait to see you.”

“Do you have plans for the weekend?”

“No. Why?”

“My calendar has opened up.”






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