DescriptionStress kills. So does loneliness.
A very short, very sweet story by Josh Lanyon.
Reader Rating: (10 Ratings)
Excerpt:“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 could—and probably eventually would—go 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.
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.
“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.
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.
More screams and yells from down the hall.
I could see my reflection in the glass front cabinets. I looked insubstantial, transparent, ghostly. They probably got a lot of that around here. I frowned at my defensive posture. Even as a ghost I looked like I needed a shave and a haircut. I picked at the rip in the knee of my Levis, unraveling the denim further.
Dr. Hoyle was reading my chart as he pushed open the door. “Everything looks normal, Ford.”
“Great.” I know I sounded uncertain.
He glanced up, caught my gaze and smiled. “You’re twenty-three, Ford?”
“Has anything like this happened before? Chest pains? Numbness in your left arm?”
“What did you have for dinner tonight?”
“Nothing. It’s not indigestion.”
His brows rose. They were darker than his hair, a lot darker when they formed that forbidding line. He inquired coolly, “Did I suggest this was indigestion?”
“No, but I know people can mistake heartburn for a heart attack.”
“Yeah. Not usually the other way around. So you skipped dinner?”
I nodded. Offered, “I had a few cups of coffee.”
“Is there any family history of heart trouble?”
That lever threw open the floodgates. “Yeah.” I felt winded again just thinking about it. “My grandfather died when he was thirty-five. Suddenly. They thought it was his heart. My uncle died of a coronary when he was forty. My dad has a bad heart.”
Dr. Hoyle frowned and made notations on my chart. “What do you do for a living, Ford?”
“I’m a writer.”
“Yeah?” Was that a flash of genuine interest? “What do you write?”
“Oh, books. Novels.” I hadn’t got to the point where I could say it casually. I still only half-believed it myself.
“So you’re published? Would I find your books in a bookstore?”
“Uh…maybe. It’s just one book.” A gay book. So it would have to be a gay bookstore. And he probably wasn’t… No wedding ring, but he probably wasn’t.
“What’s your book about?”
“It’s about a boy. About a boy’s life. Kind of a coming of age thing.” Coming of age and coming out.
Dr. Hoyle was flatteringly interested. He said he wished he could write. He said he loved to read but all he seemed to read these days were medical journals. He asked all the right questions, and I stopped worrying about whether I was giving the right answers. Or that I wasn’t letting Dr. Hoyle get a word in edgewise. I told him all about the reviews and the worry of living up to those reviews and how the next book was going—or wasn’t going—and the writer’s block. No, capitalize it. Writer’s Block. Last known address.
“So, safe to say,” Dr. Hoyle managed to interrupt at last, “You’re under a fair amount of pressure?”
“Yeah. I guess.”
“Are you sleeping okay? Eating okay?”
“Getting any exercise?”
“I swim. Nearly every morning.”
“Swimming’s good. How do you feel after you swim?”
“Good,” I said.
“Dizzy at all? Weak? Any chest pain?”
“No. I feel good after I swim.”
Dr. Hoyle made another note. “How’s your health in general? When was the last time you had a complete physical?”
“It’s been a couple of years.”
“Any other stress in your life? Get along with your family okay?”
“How are things going financially?”
I wondered if he was worried I couldn’t pay my emergency room bill, but then I understood where he was going with this line of questioning, and all that worry came pouring out too. I told him about the advance I’d spent and the rent that had just doubled and the buying groceries on credit cards which had turned out to be just as bad an idea as everybody always said. It was a relief to get it off my chest, to info dump it all on this attractive, attentive stranger with the kind eyes.
Dr. Hoyle let me run until I was all out of words, and then he said, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your heart, Ford. But because there’s a family history of coronary disease I’m going to order some tests. Just to put both our minds at rest.”
“Okay.” No way. Not without health insurance. He was trying to be helpful, but what I didn’t need were more bills to worry about. Even I knew that.
“Do you have a regular family doctor?”
“Yeah. Up north.”
I’d wondered what the full impact of his smile would be like. It took him from attractive to downright handsome in nothing flat. It also shaved about ten years off him.
“I’ll tell you what I think. In my expert opinion, you’ve experienced a text book case of an anxiety attack.”
I felt my mouth drop open.
“You’re under a lot of stress,” he explained, as if I didn’t know. “I think this is just your body’s way of reminding you to slow down and take some deep breaths.”
The relief was incredible. Like Christmas morning and the governor granting your reprieve all at the same time. I hadn’t realized exactly how terrified I was until the danger was past.
“Then I’m okay? There’s nothing to worry about?”
“I think you’re fine.” Was it my imagination or was there a special emphasis in the way Dr. Hoyle said “fine”. “I’m going to prescribe something so you can get some rest. Who brought you in?”
“I drove myself.”
“You thought you were having a heart attack and you
“I…uh…it was late. I didn’t want to bother anybody.”
He let out a disbelieving exhalation. Not exactly a gasp. More like sucking in air to deliver his thoughts and opinions, but he restrained himself.
“I live alone,” I defended. What I was really thinking about was that health insurance I didn’t have—and the price of an ambulance ride.
“Well, Dr. Hoyle said, “is there someone we can call to come and get you now? A girlfriend?”
“I don’t have a girlfriend.”
“A boyfriend?” He was smiling, teasing me. It was West Hollywood, after all. But was there another question there? His eyes didn’t waver. Was he asking me for a reason? Or was I projecting?
“I don’t have a boyfriend,” I was startled to hear myself blurt, “I haven’t really come out.”
Dr. Hoyle didn’t bat an eyelash. “That’s another source of stress, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Yes, it is.” God. It was such a relief to finally say it.
There was a funny pause while I absorbed what I had just done.
“I’ll tell you what,” Dr. Hoyle said with brisk kindness, “I don’t want you driving just now. Not after all this. How about if I drop you off? I’m off duty—” he checked his wristwatch, “officially—as of three minutes ago.”
Reader Reviews (3)
Submitted By: jniffa on Jan 1, 2014Okay......where is the rest? The story was good and seems like a great beginning but it felt like it stopped right when it was getting good. I would like to read the rest of the story.
Submitted By: eightbitsprite on Jan 7, 2013Charming little story - it's quite short, but a lot about the characters is conveyed in the few words that Mr. Lanyon uses. Great comfort read.
Submitted By: christa82 on Oct 14, 2012A sweet story but overpriced. After reading the excert when I downloaded I felt I'd read half the book already.