portion of the artwork for Christine Simokaitis's fiction

Cardiac Arrest
Christine Simokaitis

In my other life right now, I’m having a heart attack. At first I think the pains in my chest are heartburn or gas. I’ve watched Heart Disease: Secret Killer of Women a few times now, and I know how those symptoms can be mistaken for something else. They can be deceptive.

But anyway, right now, there’s this intense burning and pressure as everything—rage, anguish, confusion, plus all the other stuff I haven’t even gotten to yet—builds up, causing inflammation and almost completely clogging my arteries. Nothing can get through; it’s too much all at once.

I clutch my chest and try to tear the skin to get at my heart, as if to squeeze or rub it. Something to ease the pain because the pain is—almost—unbearable. And then it is unbearable and I pass out while I’m waiting in line at Starbucks. I had been thinking that there should be a separate line for those of us who just want a cup of coffee, but then I was thinking of it as a fucking cup of coffee. I was SO fucking annoyed by all the fucking people with their stupid fucking la-de-la lattes.

I had this really clear moment, noticing how out of proportion my anger was. Then the clarity was gone and I started with the pain and the clutching and tearing. After that, it was like I was simultaneously in my body and floating above my body, and, at the same time, briefly, I was a barista.

They talked about out-of-body experiences on Heart Disease: Secret Killer of Women, with interviews of heart attack survivors and what it was like for them with the projection and displacement and strange objectivity.

Once I pass out, events unfold much like a CPR instructional video I once saw in class, with different people following appropriate steps in their proper order:

1) A woman leans over me and shouts in my face to see if I respond, "MA’AM! MA’AM, CAN YOU HEAR ME?” When I am unresponsive, she:

2) Phones First and Phones Fast. “Somebody call 911!” she shouts. A man in a suit talks into his headset while shelling out change. He says, “Yeah, the woman right in front of me. (pause) I don’t know. She passed out or something.” He takes his drink and glances at me on the floor. “Dead? I don’t think so. I’m sure someone called 911.”

Another guy is taking a picture on his phone while a woman holding a baby snaps at someone near the condiment bar, “She said ‘call’ not ‘text!’ You can’t text 911!” She turns back to the counter and points at a drink, “Is this my skim, extra-hot, caramel vanilla double shot?” A barista nods distractedly, cradling a land-line receiver between his chin and shoulder while loading coffee beans into the grinder. “Yes,” he says into the phone. “Someone is administering CPR.” At that point, he turns on the coffee grinder and I can’t hear the rest of the conversation.

When the woman leaning over me is sure that an Emergency Medical Response Team has been contacted, she:

3) Stops, Looks, and Listens. She turns her head so that her ear is near my mouth. She watches my chest to see if it rises or falls. Once the assessment is made that I am, in fact, unconscious, she:

4) Begins CPR: counting aloud.

Meanwhile, someone else is going through my purse, looking for an ID. She finds my driver’s license and phone which she checks for contacts.

What she doesn’t know is that some of my Favorites aren’t really my favorites anymore. There’s been a big shake-up in the ranking of the people in my life, but I’ve been lax in updating my information. But at least they are alphabetized. The woman presses the first button. My girlfriend picks up and, thinking it’s me, says, “Hey. I’m in my spin class. I’ll call you back in like five minutes, OK? I can’t hear anything! You sound so funny!” She hangs up.

Next the woman with my phone presses the number listed as “Perry’s.” A man is looking over her shoulder at the phone and she glances up at him and they shrug at each other like, who knows, it’s worth a shot. Someone on the other end picks up and says, “Perry’s Pizza! Pick up or delivery?”

Next she tries my Almost-Ex, but he never picks up my calls.

Meanwhile, CPR continues, with rounds of two breaths and thirty compressions.

The man leans over the woman’s shoulder and points to a name on the phone. Maybe try this one—who do you think that is? The woman looks at where he’s pointing and says, “Philomena?” She shrugs and taps the button to call.

Sirens can be heard now, and in a moment people are clearing out of the way to let the Emergency Response Team members through with the stretcher. The woman doing CPR does not stop counting compressions until one of the ERT says, “Well done, ma’am. We’ll take it from here.” The woman stands up and backs away to allow them to lift me onto the stretcher. She brushes off her pants and someone pats her back, gives her a thumbs up and hands her a cup of coffee. The woman smiles and accepts the cup. Applause erupts.

The people trying to reach my contacts put my phone back in my purse and hand it to one of the Emergency Response Team members. They don’t know that the call to Philomena has gone through and is still connected. What they do know is that they suddenly feel as if everything might be OK, like all of Starbuck’s has been cast in warm sunshine. Most chalk it up to the ambulance and the tubes and medicine. But from where I’m watching, I know. It’s not about that. It’s about faith, about light. It’s about letting in the light.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 42 | Fall 2013