Not Rocket Science

Behind the Pulse

When I collapsed in public two weeks ago, I could hear everything happening around me, but could barely respond. Making sense of it all was even more difficult.

Stas Orlovski, "Head With Cactus," 2010.
Courtesy of the artist and Mixed Greens, NYC.

“Are you all right? You look funny.”

I feel funny. I feel funnt. I feel feely. I’m—not feeling altogether confident about this whole sitting-down thing. There may be issues with it. Not that I want to make any trouble, heavens, no. Don’t want to cause a fuss, make a scene, do the do. I feel swimmy. Swammy. Swoony. Did I say swoony? Here’s what I feel: like my head weighs more than the world. That’s why it’s sinking downwards towards this table. My head is a gas giant, bending space-like in a deepening gravity well. Down, down. Pulling orbiting moons with it—my ears, my eyes, my lips. My voice. A volume of vapor is. Is. I think I might pass out, actually.

“Put your head down on your arms. Can you breathe? Is your heart pounding?”

Breathe. I remember that. You don’t normally have to think about it, do you? Pretty sure not. These breaths are ha-ha-ha-half the speed they should be. No, wait: double. Triple. Numbers don’t interest me much today. These arms are quite interesting, though—I can count them: one, two, one, two, one, two, one, two, funnt. Feely. Farction. Myocardial infarction, that’s the posh word for heart attacks. There is no way I’m having one. No way, despite the family history of heart disease. I refuse to allow it. My heart is fine. I can feel it thumpy-thump-thumping right now, one, two, one, two, one one one one oneoneoneoneoneone. My brain feels all fizzy. I can hear you, and I want to talk back to you with words, but I’m not allowed to. My mouth says it’s not allowed.

“Can you hear me? Try lifting your head up.”

I confirm that I either can or cannot hear you. My mouth will or will not inform you of that when it feels the time is right. My gas-giant head, however, is certainly not to be lifted. The gravity well is sinking, space-time is bending below my chin. I cannot and will not lift my head up, but if you’d like it to sink slowly through my arms, through this table, through the crust and the mantle and down to the core, there to melt into component elements—yes. Yes, that will be no problem.

Oh, hello, look at that. Big black shoes. Big-black-shoes man has arrived. He’s talking to me now.

“Listen lad, I’m a doctor. My name’s Tom. I’m going to put you down in the recovery position, OK mate?”

Tom. Or Tim. You look like a Peter or a Steve. I like you. You have a kind face. You’re going to help me recover. You’re gripping my wrist very tightly, taking my pulse. No need, I can tell you, it’s oneoneoneoneoneone and twotwotwotwotwotwotwo. Isn’t it terrific? So fast. They have rapid pulses in space, you know. I think I’m going to be sick. No I’m not. Yes I am. The fizzy bits of my brain feel fizzy. No I’m not.

“Has someone called the paramedics?”

No need for that. Let’s not be hasty. Let’s not do anything stupid. I’m sure, given a few days of rest down here in the recovery position, and perhaps a massage and a warm bath and delicious cold beer, and a walk through a shady forest on a hot summer’s day with my family and a decent picnic, and a day on the beach and no interruptions: I’m sure, given all of those, that I’ll be completely fine and all better. I can walk home. Let’s leave the emergency services to their emergencies, and I’ll just lie here on the ground. It’s nice here. I can see everyone’s shoes.

“We’re just putting some coats on you to keep you warm.”

How many coats? I can feel the coats. There are lots of coats. I can feel all the coats piled up on top of me. My top half, my coat half, feels coat-cozy and lovely and warm. My bottom half, my ground-half, feels cold. It wants to shake with cold. My left arm is tingly. It seems to be about two seconds behind the rest of my body. My brain commands: Left arm, twitch! There’s a gap of two seconds. Then twitch. Something seems amiss, there. Should get that checked out. Oh, hello, look at that. Big black shoes. Big-black-shoes man has arrived. He’s talking to me now.

“Hello, mate, can you hear me? I’m just going to put this on your arm and take your blood pressure. Can you tell me your name?”

My name’s funny. Feely. My name’s about two seconds behind the rest of my pulse. My name’s a fizzy head and tingly limbs and gravity wells sinking past the orbit of Jupiter. My name’s a massive pile of coats and I may or may not be sick all over your Big black shoes and fizzytingle fizzytingle holy shit I feel so weird right now. And SNAP: I’m sort of conscious and aware and my mouth seems to be happy with the whole talking thing now, so I’m going to carefully open it ... there ... and my brain is going to give the command and I’m going to tell you my name, albeit with a bit of dribble escaping my flippy-flappy lips as I do so. And after that, if you’d be so kind, I’d love that massage. 


Postscript. Two hours later, we’re in the medical center. Someone fetched my wife from her office while I was lying and dribbling on the ground. The paramedics could find no evidence of myocardial infarction, or indeed of any other sort of farction, in, out, or sideways. They shaved my chest and fitted me up to a heart monitor, and everything was normal. They scratched their heads a bit. I felt a bit less dizzy. They brought me here.

I just want to lie down. Sitting up is unpleasant, but possible as long as I have a direction to loll my head in. My head’s doing that. Lolling. Standing is very hard. Walking? Puh. We have to walk the length of the waiting room to see the doctor. He examines me while I sit and loll and shiver.

“I think it’s a virus,” the doctor says, more to my wife than to me, because frankly I don’t look like the sort of person who can take much in at the moment. I loll. She listens.

“Take him home, put him in bed. Lots of rest, lots of liquids. It should sort itself out. He’ll feel better when he’s lying down.”

I mutter a few words but I’m not completely sure that they make any sense. I say “Thank you.” God, I love the NHS. Breathing like someone in labor, I lean on my wife’s arm and we stagger outside into the sunshine. A friend takes us home. Finally, delightedly, I’m lowered into bed and it feels so good. Now I can relax. It doesn’t matter how far my space adventure takes me because I’m safely strapped into my padded zero-gravity pod. I orbit Saturn and fall asleep listening to Radio 4. My wife closes the bedroom door quietly behind her. Sensibly, she has left a bucket beside me on the bed, just in case.