In February 2002—when I reconnected with my friend Cotton and reminisced about his indigestion-turned-heart-attack from 20 years earlier—I had nothing to connect that up with. Thus, the memory receded into my personal unconscious.
It resurfaced briefly in mid-March when I received an email entitled “How to Survive a Heart Attack When Alone.” And a week later when I received a note saying the former was medically invalid, if not a hoax.
On April 16 I had a dream in which I saw “a plane crash on the western horizon and an explosion on the eastern horizon.” I sensed in the dream that my hometown was “under attack.”
On April 17 I had a dream in which, after presiding over “early court,” I was seated next to a woman in uniform on “the shuttle train to late court.” She said, “I’m not in the service, I just came for the entertainment.” From the train I see inside the courthouse several people who died years ago.
On April 21, after church and lunch, I went out back of my house to do some yard work. After an hour or so, I felt light-headed and decided I ought to head inside. Uncharacteristically, I wobbled and stumbled when I started in that direction.
I sat down. There was a dull ribbon of pain across my chest. I tried to breathe deeply, but the discomfort cut me short. The clues that had mounted since February came together. I knew what was happening. I didn’t have my cell phone with me. That limited my choices.
I embraced the fear and decided not to panic. I had to get to the nearest phone. That meant a winding, uphill and up-steps journey of about 200 feet. I made it inside; loudly announced, “I’m having a heart attack”; and lay down on the kitchen floor.
My son Ted called 911. Aware that I had worked up a sweat, I said, “I smell like a goat. I wish I could take a bath before the ambulance gets here.” The first EMT on site assured me he had smelled worse and asked where my pain was on a 1-10 scale.
“Seven,” I replied. For some reason, I was suddenly grateful this had not happened 24 hours earlier, when I had been in the Atlanta airport.
In the ambulance, I reported no pain reduction after three hits of nitro. The EMT said, “If your pain rating were 10, we could give you morphine.”
I suggested we try to generate some endorphins through laughter and began singing “Hindsight,” by Tim Bays and David Kent:
Well, there’s nothing like hindsight
To put things in a different light.
Everything seems so much clearer
Looking in the rear-view mirror.
I paused to laugh, struck by the aptness of the song’s lyrics. The reminiscence with Cotton. The stupid email about having a heart attack alone. The dreams about my home (where the heart is) being under attack and me being shuttled to a place where I saw dead people—a place of judgment, no less!
The EMT was not laughing. In the cab of the ambulance, hearing me sing, my wife Susan was about to lose it.
“Sir?” the EMT asked.
“Ten,” I said. And then sang some more:
From across the bar I could have swore she winked at me
And that cowboy by her side was only five foot three
So I moved in, I never thought he’d dare to stand his ground
Only to discover that he was sitting down.
Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.