A blog of general comment by one of L.A.'s best known commentator/essayists. Humor, drama, pathos, satire and, well, everything else.
You’re dancing along to life’s two-step when a guy looking a little like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining,” with his diabolical grin, taps you on the shoulder and whispers in your ear. He’s not looking to cut in and he’s not there to bring good news. It’s fate, man, and he’s there to remind you that you’re mortal.
I felt the tap and heard the whisper at home recently as I danced along with the stars on TV and began feeling a tightening in the chest. At first I thought it was just my usual hypochondria telling me to whine a little and be comforted like a child with his mama, but that wasn’t it. I’ve had what doctors like to call discomfort before, but this time it wouldn’t go away. My wife was asleep and I was sitting on the edge of the bed waiting for God knows what when it occurred to me that I might have a real problem here.
I shook Cinelli awake and said I had chest pains, but she’s heard about my pains so many times before that she patted my hand and said I should try to relax and think of puppies and the bad old aches will go away. Puppies won’t do it this time, I said; it was time for me to hustle my old ass down to emergency in the Little Hospital on the Corner. That would be the Providence Tarzana Medical Center.
They know me there. I drop by every once in awhile to check out a new ailment and they welcome me like their idiot brother come home for Christmas. I always feel a little like Norm in the old TV series “Cheers” where everyone greets him as he saunters in and the owner slides a beer down the bar. But instead of sliding a beer at me in the E.R., they rush around hooking me up to an IV, taking tests and declaring that I am there for the night.
I am whisked to a regular hospital room by a guy who pushes the gurney through the hallways like he’s at the Indianapolis 500. When I get to the room I am asked where the chest pain rates on a scale of one to 10. I am lousy at these kinds of estimates but I’ve got to say something other than it hurts like hell, so I say it’s like an 8. I’m thinking maybe I should have said a 9 but it’s too late.
They decide on an angiogram to see what’s going on with my heart. That’s where they run a small tube up an artery, pump some dye in and take x-ray pictures. Just about everyone I know has had one but it’s still no walk in the park. Don’t try it at home.
The cardiologist, a big guy with a puckish sense of humor knows I’m a journalist and says maybe I can get his name in the paper; he’s always wanted that. Then switching moods he says the procedure could cause a stroke or a heart attack or perhaps even, hell, death. Then he says they have to say that but I’m going to be OK, and reminds me that his name is Uri Ben-zur and it would be nice to get it into the paper.
Before I know it I am wheeled into a room as cold as an igloo where a tube is shoved up an artery, a dye released and pictures taken that reveal a 95% blockage. Old Uri isn’t overwhelmed by that at all. He just blows away the blockage, inserts a stent to keep the artery open and back to my room I go, surviving that and three days of hospital food.
They sent me home with a list of things to do and not to do, and what to eat and what not to eat. But the best advice I received came from my Cinelli who said I had to learn to relax and think of puppies more often. She was right so I’m going to quit writing for the day. And the next time someone taps me on the shoulder I’m not going to turn around. I’ll just keep on dancing.
Al Martinez is a Pulitzer Prize winning essayist, former columnist for the Los Angeles Times, author of a dozen books, an Emmy-nominated creator of prime time television shows, a travel writer, humorist and general hell-raiser. Try him. He's addictive.
Joanne Cinelli Martinez is composed of artist, poet, gourmet chef, interior decorator, photographer, volunteer, and all around intelligent person; also the life long partner and care taker of the simple but happy little man who runs the blog. She views him with suspicion and uncertainty. It is a cautionary love story.