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1:58 p.m. - 2001-10-11

"YOU'RE NOT CLAUSTROPHOBIC...ARE YOU?"

Soooo...this morning I went in for a stress test on my heart.

Only because I was foolish enough during my initial checkup to say "Yes" when the doctor asked if I had experienced any chest pains recently.

I got to the doctor's office right at 8 a.m., because I am now playing "Devil may care" with the receptionists in doctor's offices. Usually, I try to get there fifteen minutes ahead of the time I'm SUPPOSED to be there, so I score some brownie points for punctuality.

It don't work that way, Harvey.

Getting there fifteen minutes ahead of schedule makes you look like you have nothing better to do with your time, so they figure you have plenty of time to sit in their office all day and read dog-eared copies of BASS Fishing Magazine from 1993.

So now I show up right under the wire, sign my name on the waiting list, pee in a cup and in any potted plants in the general vicinity and then take a seat and pass out.

I've become an old pro in the waiting room now. I know that if you HAVE to go to the doctor, either schedule an appointment for the first thing in the morning or the first one after lunch. Any time after that and you're going to be waiting like Mariah Carey thinking her sanity's coming back.

I'm called back at 8:10 by a guy who is a dead ringer for Curly from The Three Stooges.

He weighs me (I've lost ANOTHER pound...go me!) and takes me back to a room where there's about five nurses and two other patients.

"Take off your shirt," he tells me.

I look around. There's nine people in this room with he and I included in that figure. Everyone else has their shirts on.

What's wrong with this puzzle? Other than the fact that I'm kinda shy about getting half naked in front of a crowd?

I decide that rather than argue and come off as a big puss baby, I'll just remove the shirt.

The chuckle level in the room went up a few notches.

I sat there on the cold vinyl table as Curly hooked all kinds of electrodes on my chest. He then wrapped a blood pressure thing around my arm.

"You scared of needles?" he asked me.

"Nahhh," I replied. "Years of heroin addiction will cure you of that."

...He didn't get the joke.

So he starts thumping the crook of my elbow repeatedly with his fingers which was starting to get on my nerves. Finally, he starts thumping my wrist and decides to put the IV in my wrist.

I've never had that done before. I've got a thing about the crook of my elbow... I'm kinda sensitive there and don't like people touching it, LET ALONE shoving sharp metal objects in there.

So an IV in the wrist...why...I think I can handle that, Curly.

W-R-O-N-G.

He gets the needle and jabs it in my wrist.

"Ooof!" I think in my head.

He begins jamming the needle under my skin as far as it would go.

I'm feeling like he's shoving a sharp broom handle in my arm. I look down to see if the needle has made it to my elbow yet. It's a good two inches under my skin and forming a two-inch long lump in my arm.

Yahoo. Gawsh...do you think we can jam a catheter in my pecker once we're done here, Dr. Mengele?

Finally, he finishes, and turns the IV drip on which sends a cool sensation up my arm like a liquid York peppermint patty.

He then tells me to get on the treadmill. I'm going to start walking on the treadmill and every three minutes, he's going to change the angle and the speed, so that I'm walking faster and more uphill.

He asks me if I walk much and I scoff at him. "Two miles every morning," I sneer.

This is going to be a piece of cake.

I need to preface this by saying...I haven't been on a treadmill since Ronald Reagan was in office. And I was about 100 lbs. lighter than too.

So we start the thing up and I'm strolling along, looking out the window at the parking lot below. I'm still a little self conscious over wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, tennis shoes and a chestful of electrodes.

We make small talk. He asks me what I do and I tell him I write coffee table books. Automatically, that makes me about the most boring person in the world to him. I could have said I was a film projectionist at the local theater and he would have been more interested in my life story.

Three minutes go by and he says he's going to speed it up a bit. No problem. I'm here for the long haul, Curly.

He sets the controls up a notch and I'm walking more uphill now. I feel my breath starting to catch and my calves begin aching. An hour of this? I don't know if I can make it.

After three minutes of that, I'm huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf. He asks me if I can go one more minute at a faster level and a higher incline.

Stupidly...I say "yes".

He informed me that they were going to be shooting some dye into my body now that would allow them to take pictures of my heart. I wouldn't feel anything and have no side effects. I said that was fine...inject away.

The next thing I knew, I wanted to vomit. My fat was jiggling like I had accidently swallowed the cast of "Baywatch".

He counted the seconds down for me as I gasped for breath and hauled ass on that treadmill, holding back the tears of pain and exhaustion.

I made it seven minutes. The normal person makes it between seven and eight minutes.

I was told to sit down. I had to quit shaking first before my legs would even support me. I sat down, wires were pulled out of my body, electrodes detatched and I was allowed to put my shirt back on, which bummed all the other people in the room out because now they'd have to resort to meaningless conversation for entertainment, rather than my rolls of blubber.

"What's next?" I asked innocently.

"You're not claustrophobic...are you?" he asked.

WTF??

Well hell yeah, I'm claustrophobic, Curly! What kinda coffin are you about to put me in?

Apparently, in order to take pictures of my heart, they need something more than your average Polaroid camera.

Here, they make you lie down on a cold, plastic bed. Then they slide you into this machine where the roof of the machine is inches away from your face.

Did I say "inches"? Scratch that...."An inch".

I told Curly I'd give it a go and laid down on the table. Curly walked out and it was now Shirley's turn to deal with my ignorant ass.

Shirley made me put my hands over my head and slid me into this thing. As the lower part of my head went into the machine, I said "Whoa".

Like I was Roy Rogers or something. I coulda said "Stop." Or "Hold on Shirley, I'm about to have a major freak-out here."

Nope.

I said "Whoa".

"What's wrong," Shirley asked.

"I don't think I can do this," I confessed.

"Yes you can," said little Miss Positive. "Just close your eyes and don't think about it."

Now ... I can do that when I'm having sex with someone I really don't want to have sex with. But when I'm being put into a heavy machine that is so powerful it can take pictures of my heart...that's always been where I've drawn the line of being able to close my eyes and block something out.

I held my breath and said "Okay". Mainly because...Shirley was a looker. She looked more like her name should be "Candace" or "Alexis".

Not "Shirley".

I closed my eyes and she slid me inside this metal tomb.

Shirley informed me that if I needed her, to just call her name.

"Will you be in the room?" I asked.

"No," she said. "I'll be in the cafeteria having breakfast."

I should have started thrashing and screaming right then and done some damage to this multi-million dollar machine.

But I didn't.

Luckily, she was kidding. She said she'd be nearby and could hear me completely.

I laid there, wanting to cry, but once again...I didn't want a babe seeing me cry because I was claustrophobic. So I just laid there.

I prayed that the hospital wouldn't be bombed while I was in there and have this humongous metal contraption collapse on me.

I tried to add up the carbohydrates of everything I ate yesterday.

I promised God that if He let me live through this with a shred of dignity left, I'd go home and clean my dog's ass with a warm soapy washcloth tonight.

I started thinking...this wouldn't be half bad if they had a tiny TV screen in front of my eyes and I could watch TV or something to get my mind off the fact that the air supply is limited in this contraption and there's no way I can get out of this on my own free will.

Fifteen minutes went by.

And they actually went quicker than I thought they would. Before I knew it, the machine made a noise and everything got silent.

Shirley came back in the room, pulled me out of the machine and said "How was it?"

I lied.

"Piece of cake," I grinned. "Let's do it again!"

Little did I know...I WOULD be doing it again.

Tomorrow morning....8 a.m.....more dye injection and one more fifteen minute trip into the electromagnetic coffin from Hell. Then I'm finished.

Thank God...no treadmill tomorrow.

I dunno if I coulda done that again and survived it.

I don't know if I can get back in the metal tomb either.

I guess I have no choice.

So kids...one more time...LISTEN TO ME...put down those smokes...quit eating that junk food...get out and walk and walk and walk.

DON'T END UP LIKE YOUR UNCLE BOB.

Scared and freaking out inside a giant machine like a big baby.

Now then...if you'll excuse me ... I have a rancid dog ass that needs some tender loving care...

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