Sunday, June 19, 2022

Not Even Not Zen 260: Biomythography - Note 32, The Telltale Heart Part II

Biomythography - Note 32
The Telltale Heart, Part II

In the morning, I got up with the dawn. My window didn't face east. Nevertheless, light crept in. I didn't need to go to work because it was a Saturday. But I felt motivated. I put on my backpack with gym clothes in it. It had been a week since I'd practiced Tang Su Do. I'd promised my teachers that I would keep up with the katas and one-steps.

"Hey," to my surprise, there were a couple other people in the gym, a guy and a girl. When I walked through the open doors and glanced around, it looked like they were running laps. Above us, I heard distant, metallic clanks. They echoed. Someone was using the universal weight room. "Mind if I take the corner next to the pool?"

"Sure!" the guy shouted. "We're set up at the other side."

"Thanks." Belatedly, I realized he was one of the students from the Shotokan karate class. I had watched his class but it simply wasn't Tang Su Do. It wasn't right for me. The kicks and punches all instilled the wrong reflexes for my style. Even a traditional Tang Soo Do class would probably have seemed weird since my instructors had customized our forms.

My body needed a warm-up before all the kicks. After a few push-ups and sit-ups, I ran through a series of martial arts stretches. Then I started the forms. First kata, second kata, third. Eyes closed, I took a meditation break. When I felt fresh and calm, I began the fourth kata.

Two steps in, something went wrong. My body died. But I was standing. Although I didn't move, actually couldn't, my awareness increased. The back of my head seemed to expand. My spine felt warm. The ligaments around my elbows strained. Everything fell quiet.

The blood in a human body makes a noise. I'd hardly ever noticed that before. Now I noticed. Because it was missing.

My heart was silent.

As I listened for my heart to re-start, I felt my body collapse. I blinked. The karate guy and his girlfriend were standing over me. My head had fallen all the way to the floor, it seemed. My heart kick-started with a racing sound. It sounded so loud, I could barely hear anything else. Inside my chest, it revved like a galloping horse or a dam bursting to release a flood.

"Fine?" The guy above me in his white t-shirt started to smile. I became aware that he had been talking.

"Are you all right?" asked the woman next to him. "Why did you fall?"

The smile on the guy's face started to fade.

"You're not okay," he said as he reached out for me. I stretched toward him. Something felt wrong with my arm. It wouldn't lift far enough. He grasped it. "Wait. Don't stand up yet."

My legs weren't obeying me. I'd felt this way before when my body was exhausted from long workouts. Push, push, push, and eventually my legs and arms would resist the push. They would refuse. For a moment, this felt like it. My mind refused to accept the horrible rebellion, the limbs giving up. My built-in reflexes from athletics pushed against my dead extremities. After a second, my right leg kicked out. Then my left.

The horrible flooding in my ears receded a bit.

"You're cold," he said. "But you were sweating a minute ago."

"You fell down like someone shot you," the woman said. "I thought you might have broken a tendon."

When I let go of the fellow holding my arm, he let go, too. My hands went to my sides on the polished, wood floor. I tried to turn and press myself into a sitting position. The effort would have knocked me down if I'd been standing.

For a few seconds, I sat, panting. My mind went back to a scene in the doctor's office when I was a teenager. I'd had pneumonia. The clinic had taken an x-ray of my chest. The films of my session arrived while I was sitting in a chair on a white tile floor in a salmon-painted room with my doctor and my mother. The doctor smiled for the assistant who handed him the packet. He snapped the films up onto the whiteboard one-handed. He leaned back and frowned. He crossed his arms. His mouth fell open.

"Your heart is too big," he announced. He closed his mouth and seemed to recover.

"That's good, right?" I laughed.

"It's really, really big and heavily muscled." He did not laugh with me. He did not crack a smile. "Um, you're young. You're an athlete, right?"

"Swimming and karate, I guess."

"Do you do lots and lots of it?" His eyes searched the images of my chest.

"He's not ready for the Olympics," my mother explained. "But he trains with a national group. There are some Olympic swimmers in his lanes."

"Maybe it's normal." He stepped away from the x-rays. He nodded to me more like he was reassuring himself than anyone else. "It's probably normal. Still, some people with big, muscular hearts have been having heart attacks. They're young, too."

"Oh, what's doing that?" asked my mother.

The doctor seemed reluctant to guess. Eventually, he mentioned 'drugs' as a factor. There had been a former college basketball player in the area whose death had made the news. I'd read a couple of articles about him myself, and I knew he died playing basketball on a playground. The doctor said he felt that stimulant drugs and large hearts didn't mix. That player was one example. The doctor knew others.

"That's not a good combination," the doctor told my mother.

The death of Len Bias was three years in the future when I lay on the gymnasium floor. But there had already been a different basketball player who had died from snorting cocaine and from playing his sport not long after. He'd had a large, muscular heart. Like in my x-ray.

There I sat. After a minute, I felt better. I rose to my feet.

"Wait, wait!" the couple next to me shouted. Too late. I stood and started looking around, hands on my hips, trying to judge my embarrassment level. At the top of the cinderblock walls of the gym, next to the universal weights, stood a young man staring down at us. He had noticed, too. I had no idea how. But he stood on the balls of his toes, hands on the rail, and watched me with sweaty concern.

There was no one who had come in to play basketball yet. That was good. The plexiglass-backboard hoops raised and lowered on a crank. The one behind me to my left had been down in playing position. I wasn't on a playground but I was on a basketball court, a weird parallel with my thoughts. I had fallen twenty feet from the hoop. Funny.

"Can you walk?" the woman next to me said.

"Probably." I paced a few feet. My legs trembled. I almost fell. I stopped, turned, and tried again. I walked back and forth. Already, I felt stronger. Good.

"You should go to the doctor," the karate student advised.

"Well." I didn't like the sound of that. My gaze went to the clock on the wall. It was five minutes before seven. The nurse's office didn't open until noon, I thought, on a Saturday. "I don't think they're available."

"Go anyway," he urged.

For the moment, I decided to walk home to my dorm room. Along the way, I rested. I got more rest later. All the rest of the day, my physical improvements continued. By dinner time, my body felt nearly normal. Only a few close friends had noticed my weakness. Two of them, Thomas and Liz, urged me to go to the nurse. But it was a long hike and I didn't feel up to it. After dinner, my strength returned but the medical office had closed for the evening. We had only one nurse for the whole campus, after all. I promised Liz I'd go the next day to make certain I was fine.

The next day the nurse said that all my vital signs looked fantastic. I was in great shape.


In retrospect, I never took legal or illegal drugs without people around me doing them first. That pattern didn't come from any conscious choice I made. It seems to come from my instinctive level of trust (or mistrust). If no one is dropping dead, how bad can it be? Everything - alcohol, coffee, marijuana, tea, tobacco, prescription medicines, just everything - has fit the same social pattern of my life.

My friends in college kept telling me I acted the same under the influence. No matter how much alcohol I drank or pot I smoked or whatever, my behavior stayed the same. Maybe it was due to my secular buddhism or stoicism. Regardless, hearing the judgment so often affected my attitude. I assumed that, because I didn't care about the drugs, they weren't affecting me. After all, everyone kept saying so. But blood chemistry is different from behavior. The whole time, every drug and piece of food I ingested was doing whatever it did in me. The chemicals weren't paying attention to people's opinions.

I've used some recreational drugs, like coffee, in a medical way to stop asthma attacks. I've also inadvertently overdosed on coffee and benadryl (both vasoconstrictors) to give myself bloodflow attacks that resulted in literally blinding headaches. (I couldn't see clearly and needed to lie down in the dark for a few hours.)

When I get criticized by my friends for not trusting that a drug isn't having an effect, I have reasons for my attitude. When I regard legal drugs, like coffee, as if they need to be controlled, it really comes from the same reasons. And yet I still fall prey to social accommodations.

It would be smart to say that I stopped doing cocaine after a single, serious event. For a couple weeks, yes, I did. But it was a drug that seemed to be everywhere around me. My friends and girlfriends said I should do more. So I did. Dozens of times. I had the day-after reaction again, too, twice more. And still, for the sake of friendships and socializing, I kept going.

No comments:

Post a Comment