The Austin Chronicle

Cardiovascular Blues II

By Raoul Hernandez, August 31, 2007, 10:31am, Earache!

“I need to shave you,” he nodded, holding up a razor.

No kidding. A thick blanket across my chest and another across the shins left me a little… exposed through the middle. He looked down at me. I looked up at him. A woman in scrubs who seemed to have no purpose in this particular operation looked over his shoulder.

By this point, I really didn’t care anymore. They’d given me a Benadryl downstairs, shot me up with a narcotic here, then given me “something to make you forget.” Can I get a prescription for that last one later?

“Both sides,” added the attendant, lowering the blade.

The femoral artery needs only be tapped on one side of the groin in a cardiac catheterization, but I was no position to argue. And who the hell was this onlooker? You can have my phone number later, lady.

That wasn’t the problem anyway. It was the lab. Where was I, the Kremlin morgue? Cold stone rooms made of slabbed concrete dwarfing aging metal instruments went out with Stalin. Six Feet Under wasn’t this grim. Alien autopsy straight out of Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers. Two weeks later when my cardiologist laughs, “Was it as bad as you thought it would be?” I snorted ruefully about the hose-it-down auditorium at the embalming factory. Piece of cake Jay Trachtenberg said. Sure, if Hangar 13 is your final resting place.

“Will this put me out?” I asked when administered the drugs.

The nurse shrugged. “Some it does, some it doesn’t.”

Lovely. That’s when I heard the War drums.

To be honest, I can’t quite recall the exact order of events. I forgot. But I surely remember when the drums came on. Bomp, bomp, bomp. Coming from somewhere on high, muffled by many feet of cement.

I waited, for ages it seems. For a bass line. A guitar. The drums just kept beating.

“Eh, you can play CDs in here?” I grogged.

“Yeah!” enthused the technician. “Do you like U2?”

Very much. But “Sunday Bloody Sunday”? War?

And then I was out, because I don’t remember “Seconds,” and certainly not “New Year’s Day,” still my U2 grail. “Like a Song,” whose pounding tribalism nails me to the floor every time – nada. Like Peter Gabriel sings, I don’t remember, I don’t recall, I have no memory of anything at all. Until, of course – believe it or not – “Two Hearts Beat As One” came on, song No. 7 of War. I came to staring at a video monitor and fluttering images of a wire making its way through my body to my beating heart.

Maybe I fainted, passed out, because “Surrender” and the closing bell toll of “40” directly following “Two Hearts Beat As One” didn’t register either. They couldn’t have wheeled me out of the OR too long afterwards. In the recovery room, all eight consecutive hours – can’t toggle that Angio-Seal vascular closure device – I played both discs of Duane Allman, An Anthology over and over on my discman simply because I kept falling asleep and missing the slide sovereign’s live-wire invasiveness.

Several weeks later – no call from the Nicaraguan (?) woman in the operating room – I limped onto the Chronicle volleyball court for the first time in almost six years. Thanks to 50mgs of painkiller, I rallied like I do in my dreams: in perfect sync. The sweat, the grit, and fond farewell to a fellow M*A*S*H meatball surgery veteran of more than a decade. A sore trek to the showers finished the day.

I’ll live.

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