I rubbed the middle of my chest. Took a deep breath. I was definitely not getting the oxygen I needed. This had to be my imagination. That, or I was coming down with one heck of a cold. There was no way I was this out of shape…
I called Tim. Maybe talking about it would help. I explained what was happening, and immediately shifted to denial. “It’s probably nothing more than a cold. Just a chest thing going on. Anyway… I think I’m okay now.”
“Take it easy and don’t do too much,” Tim instructed. I laughed and told him again that I was fine and promised not to do too much.
For a few minutes I sat there, resting, while waiting for the repairman. But then I grew restless and returned to vacuuming. The breathlessness returned instantly, so I called Telehealth Ontario, to ask their nurses for an opinion. The nurse calmly went through her endless list of questions, and then said, “You need to see a doctor sometime today as a precaution.”
I called my doctor’s office, recounted the details and symptoms yet again, and asked for the first available appointment. The nurse assured me there was no need to rush—the symptoms didn’t sound too concerning—she would fit me in the next afternoon. I agreed to wait.
Shortly before noon the repairman arrived, in perfect time, just moments before Tim came home for lunch. They sorted out the problem only to discover they needed to order a part before repairing the furnace, which meant a cold house for one more night.
After lunch I decided I was well enough to go to work, teaching grade ten math.
I absolutely loved teaching! I had a delightful class of adolescent and adult students, ranging in age from sixteen years old to twenty-four. Some students had tried the class before, but struggled to grasp the concepts. I invested everything in first understanding, and then teaching what I had learned.
I would learn a few days later, in the hospital, that in a matter of weeks their marks had gone from the ‘sixty percent and less’ that they had averaged with the other teacher, to eighty percent and up. It wasn’t that I was so miraculously gifted, but rather, I understood how difficult math could be to grasp, so I took time to explain what I struggled with.
My students and I enjoyed every minute together. We studied hard and laughed a lot. When I arrived in class—late—that cold November day, they were all studying intently but stopped to cheer in welcome at my entrance, and to ask how I was doing.
“I’m …pretty… good, “ I said hesitantly.
“Are you upset about your furnace?… Is it going to cost a lot to replace it?”
“Oh no,” I laughed. “A furnace is a furnace. They can be replaced. It’s not about that,” I paused. I wanted to inform them of my health issue, without overwhelming or worrying them. “I just don’t feel too well.”… I paused…, “so… if I collapse, call 911, it could be my heart.”
I spoke playfully and everyone laughed—including me. I didn’t think that it really could be anything that serious, yet I instinctively mentioned it, in humour, so that they would respond quickly if I collapsed.
The classroom quieted as everyone returned to their lessons. I seized the opportunity to study the next day’s lesson. I wasn’t really a teacher, after all–at least not a licensed one–and this day I had to learn algebra for the following day so that I could teach effectively. I had only excelled in business math, problem solving and basic math. Algebra, geometry and other ‘strange’ math required a great deal of effort and study, on my part.
As I sat there, quietly studying, the feeling of un-wellness suddenly lifted and I felt instantly normal. It wasn’t until it was gone that I realized how unwell I had felt. To put my class at ease, I thought I should tell them.
“Well, whatever it was, it just passed—I’m feeling better!” I announced enthusiastically.
“Gas?” a student asked.
There’s one in every class! We all burst out laughing. The student, having had a moment to contemplate his impulsive response, apologetically acknowledged it was poor judgement, and said he was glad that I was feeling better.
The day at school ended without incident. At home, our children and the smell of a roast beef dinner greeted me.
I would quickly feed them and then head out to pick up Tim who was still at the office. We had shared a vehicle since early marriage, to cut costs, and for the most part it had worked out very well for us. It was nights like this that it became more challenging.
Exhausted, I crashed on the couch, intending to rest for only a few minutes but, instead, I fell sound asleep. The unusual fatigue should have alarmed me, but I overlooked the signs again.
Aside from fighting the fatigue, dinner with the children was uneventful. As soon as we were finished, I sent them to get washed up and ready for their children’s programs at church.
Moments later, I returned to the couch with a phone in hand, suddenly aware that I was really not well. I called Tim.
”I’m sorry, I can’t come pick you up…. I really am not well,” I said. “I don’t know what it is but I have this overwhelming sense of danger, like I shouldn’t be driving. Do you think one of the other guys would give you a ride home?”
I felt foolish, like I was wrestling a ghost, and the ghost was winning. My symptoms were undefined and I was staying home based on a vague ‘sense’ that something was very. I wasn’t in pain and even the earlier symptoms of breathlessness were gone.
Fortunately, one of the truck drivers at the feed mill, who lived not too far from our home, was still there and agreed to give Tim a ride home, but it would be another fifteen minutes before they could leave. I was relieved.
It was 5:30pm, and with a fifteen minute drive, the wait for Tim to return would not be long. What the driver didn’t mention, and what under normal circumstances would not have been an issue, was that he had to make a stop on the way home.
To be continued…
© Trudy Metzger
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