Josh Lanyon Main Title

Heart Trouble

An excerpt from the short story by Josh Lanyon

"So what seems to be the trouble, Ford?"

The emergency room doctor took a second quick look at the chart to make sure he hadn't just called me by my last name. He didn't look a lot older than me, light eyes, a smooth sweep of blond hair, tall and broad shouldered. Not handsome. At least, not in a TV Doc kind of way.

Which was really the last thing I needed, being already at a considerable disadvantage. I was sitting on an examining table in E2 which was decorated by colorful posters of all the things that couldóand probably eventually wouldógo wrong with you. My T-shirt was off and my skin prickled with goose bumps. The harsh light in emergency rooms is not flattering.

"I'm uh... afraid I'm having a heart attack."

"Okay. Well, your blood pressure was a little high when you came in. We'll try it again in a minute. Meantime... " He whipped his stethoscope around his neck and moved in closer. "Can you describe your symptoms?"

"My chest hurts. I'm having trouble getting my breath. My left arm keeps going numb... "

He placed the cap of the stethoscope over my heart and listened. "Are you having trouble getting your breath now?"

"Not now. No. Earlier. It comes and goes."

He smelled clean. Soap, unobtrusive aftershave, and antiseptic. His breath was cool and zingy with mouthwash. He had a tiny scar over the left side of his upper lip. You'd have to be close enough to kiss him to see it. I closed my eyes.

"Is your chest hurting now?"

I opened my eyes. "It feels tight." Tighter still with him leaning into me, so close we were exchanging breaths. What was his name? If he'd said, I'd missed it, and I couldn't read the plastic ID hanging from the ribbon around his neck. J-A-something. Jack? James? Jacques? Probably not Jacques.

"Pain?" His lashes flicked up and his serious gaze met mine. Serious and kind. Which was a relief because I felt like an idiot sitting there half-undressed with no visible signs of illness or injury while down the hall someone was yelling his head off.

"Not now."

"But earlier?"

I felt myself turning red. "Not pain. Not like that. Just pressure. Tightness."

He nodded thoughtfully. Take a deep breath."

I sucked in a deep breath.

"Exhale."

I exhaled.

"Again." He moved the stethoscope slowly over my chest, listening intently. His expression gave nothing away. He straightened, moved away, out of my line of vision. I jumped when he touched my back.

"Sorry. Are my hands cold?"

Cool. Not unpleasant. I shook my head.

"Inhale."

The same routine. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

"That's good." He stepped around, put his hands on either side of my head and gazed into my eyes. His own were blue. Very blue. Maybe he wore colored contacts. I gazed uncomfortably back and I thought he made a smiling sound though his mouth didn't move. He kneaded his way down my throat and rested his hands on my shoulders for a moment, then stepped back and draped the stethoscope around his neck once more.

"Well... your blood pressure is up and your heart rate is a little fast, but everything sounds normal. I think we'll run an EKG to be on the safe side."

I nodded humbly.

He smiled. He had a very nice smile. Patients probably felt better just seeing him smile. "Relax for a minute, Ford." Then he was gone, striding out of the room, white coat flapping. I heard him talking to someone in the hall.

Relax? Yeah, right.

A few minutes later I was taped up to an intimidating machine which measured out my heart beats in tidy, green blips. I watched the screen nervously. Were the blips big enough? Steady enough?

"What's that doctor's name?" I asked the technician.

She smothered a yawn. It was close to midnight now. I was tired too. Panic will only take you so far. "Who? Oh, you mean Dr. Hoyle?"

"My doctor." Well, not my doctor. Although... I considered that and there were a couple of quick blips on the screen.

"Yeah, that's Dr. Hoyle." She didn't seem concerned by the double blip on the screen. She was checking her watch. A moment later she excused herself.

I was left alone with my unhappy thoughts. It was cold in the little room and it felt dehumanizing lying there all hooked up to machines. I could hear voices in the cubicle next door. I thought I could recognize Dr. Hoyle's voice. Same tone of voice, anyway. Calm, deep, slow. Reassuring.

He was probably about ten years older than me.

After a time the technician returned, took the EKG readings, untaped me, told me I could put my shirt back on.

I put my shirt on and waited.


Copyright 2000-17, Josh Lanyon.
All rights reserved.