IT'S 8:30 A.M., AND I'M IN A SMALL, brightly lit room with a tube in my arm, and a woman I have never met before named Bette is scrubbing my chest with what feels like sandpaper.
"Some people really scream when I do this," Bette is saying.
I'd scream too, but I'm too busy pretending that there's no tube in my arm.
"There's no tube in my arm" is what I am telling myself in a soothing voice. "There's no tube in my arm. There's a TUBE in my arm. There's a tube IN MY ARM. OMIGOD THERE'S A TUBE STUCK RIGHT INTO MY ARM AND I'M GOING
TO . . ."
"I need to lie down," I say.
"You are lying down," Bette points out.
I suppose it goes without saying that this is happening in a hospital. Specifically, it's in the Stress Department. That's the real name. When Bette gets on the phone, she says, "This is Bette, in Stress."
I'm here to get what is called a Thallium Stress Test on my heart. The reason for this, according to my doctor, is that there is probably nothing wrong with my heart. That's what doctors always say: "There's probably nothing wrong . . . but just in case we're going to run a few tests."
"Probably nothing wrong" is the leading cause of health care in America today.
The Stress Test, like most medical procedures, was originally developed by the ex-Nazi researchers at the Institute of Punitive Medicine as a means of maintaining hospital discipline. If you're a hospital patient and you start to become irritated because the food tastes like Purina Rat Chow and they charge you $2,316.17 every time you flush the toilet, and you are foolish enough to complain about this, they'll say, "Sounds like we need to RUN SOME TESTS on you." And if you have the common sense that God gave gravel, you will never open your mouth again. Because the way these tests work is, whatever part of your body they claim they want to look at, they insist upon entering you via some OTHER part. If you have, for example, an ankle problem, they'll say, "What we're going to do is insert this one-inch-diameter exploratory garden hose into your eye socket and run it the length of your body, so you MIGHT EXPERIENCE SOME DISCOMFORT."
I won't even TELL you where they insert the hose if you have an eye problem.
So anyway, my doctor -- his actual name is Dr. Hamburg, but to avoid a costly lawsuit I will refer to him here as "Dr. Frankfurt" -- made the alarming discovery that there was probably nothing wrong with my heart, which is why Bette stuck a tube in my arm and sandpapered my chest and attached wires all over my skin and strapped a large electronic box to me so that I looked like a man being attacked by a crazed mutant home appliance.
I was close to passing out from the stress of all this, but I was thinking to myself, "Well, at least it's almost over, because there's nowhere else on my body for them to attach anything," when in walked Dr. Frankfurt, who ordered me to RUN ON A TREADMILL. With a TUBE in my arm. I bet no medical person has ever even considered doing such a bizarre thing himself.
But Dr. Frankfurt made me do it. While I was running, a small man who had been lurking in the shadows rushed in without warning and put thallium into my arm tube. This made me feel VERY stressful because thallium is basically atomic radiation, and I distinctly remember a horror movie from the 1950s when a man -- it might have been James Arness -- became radioactive and started glowing like a gambling casino and acting antisocial to the point where he had to be subdued by several branches of the Armed Forces.
The next thing I knew, I was in a wheelchair being rushed through the hospital halls with a terrified look on my face and a tube in my arm and radiation in my body, and I was thinking how only an hour earlier I felt fine, and now, thanks to Modern Medicine, people were looking at me in the same pitying way that they'd look at a recently run-over cat. And then I was wheeled into a department called "Nuclear Medicine," which are two words that do NOT go together at all, and they put me on a slab, and all the humans sprinted from the room, probably because of the radiation. Then a medical robot swooped down and examined my body very closely. It did not have a good bedside manner. It would peer at one spot for a while, and then go: "Whir."
"Is that BAD?" I would ask it.
"Whir," it would say.
It turned out that there was nothing wrong with my heart. Just as we had suspected all along. But I'm actually glad that I went through the Thallium Stress Test. For one thing, I know I'm okay. For another thing, I no longer need a bedside lamp. I just read by the glow from my body.