Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Stress Test

The Hobo Philosopher

My Nuclear Stress Test

By Richard E. Noble

Actually, I thought marriage was the ultimate stress test. When the Doctor asked me if I ever had a stress test, I told him that I’ve been undergoing a continuous stress test for the last 35 years, I’m married. He said that didn’t count and that I would have to have his stress test. So there you go.
Okay, so I need a stress test. No big deal. I walk, ride my bike, I even have a treadmill in my bedroom. We use it primarily as a clothes rack and occasionally as a bookshelf. The cats like to sleep on it also. I feel pretty good. What’s to worry about with a routine, everyday stress test? But what about this nuclear stuff?
So there I am over in Apalachicola sitting in a room with a bunch of other stressed out people waiting for my stress test.
After the usual extended wait obviously designed to jack up my blood pressure which I assume is all a part of the stress test, I’m escorted into a room by this little girl. To me she appears to be no more than 12 or 14 years of age. She assures me that she is out of high school, has been trained, and is old enough to be doing what she is doing. Sure, I heard that before, I was in the navy.
She asks me if I would like to see some pictures of her twin daughters. I say no, probably if I’ve seen one, I’ve seen the other. She didn’t laugh and I still didn’t believe anything she had to say. But what difference does it make. This is just a little stress test. It is not open heart surgery.
Basically they have this machine similar to the one I hang my clothes on at home. She gives me a little speech and tells me that if I feel any pain in my chest, just let her know and she will stop the test.
Before I got onto the machine, she stuck me with a needle and put some kind of receptacle in my arm.
She starts up the machine and I start walking. Everything is fine. But then every three minutes she jacks up the incline and the speed of the belt. After about 3 or 4 increases, I’m going fast. Actually, I’m going about as fast as I would like to go.
“Okay,” she says. “Are you ready for another increase?”
I say, “You’re kidding me! I’m just about running now.”
She smiles and jacks up the machine another notch. Now I’m running. I can’t remember the last time I ran. I think I was playing basketball for the grammar school league.
“You don’t have to run,” she says. “You can just take bigger strides.”
“Yeah right! I think this is about it.” I tell the little girl. “You can turn off the machine anytime now.”
“The test isn’t over yet, sir. Are you having any chest pain?”
“No, I’m not having any chest pain, but my calf muscles are in agony. My thighs feel like they are about to give way. My back is hurting and I can barely hang onto this thing.”
“Okay are you ready for another increase?”
“You can’t be serious?”
“If you start having any chest pains, let me know.”
“Chest pain! What do you have a thing with chest pain? What about all these other pains? I’m going to be on the floor in about 30 more seconds.”
At this point, Igor from the “laboratory” comes in with a hypodermic needle and starts shooting me up in the receptacle in my arm with what I assume is the nuclear waste that they have been telling me about for the super scan later.
“Okay,” says Little Lulu. “One more time. Just hang in there for fifteen more seconds.”
“Fifteen more seconds?” I’m panting like a sled dog on the last mile of the Iditarod. My lungs feel like they are about to explode, one of my sneakers just feel off and my pants are sliding down. “I ain’t going to make it, sweetie. This is the end of the road. Turn off the machine or you’re going to be scraping me off that wall behind us in a second.”
“Just fifteen more seconds.”
“That’s what you said twenty minutes ago. I’m done here! This is it!”
She smiles. About 20 minutes later she finally turns off the machine. I stumble off the treadmill and find a chair. I’m panting, my lungs hurt and I can’t stop coughing.
“Do you have any chest pain,” she asks.
I can’t believe this. How did a young girl at such a tender age become so sadistic? What did old people ever do to her? Maybe her grandfather used to beat her when she was even smaller than she is now.
“What do you call this place, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib?” I sputter between gasps and coughs. “Why didn’t you have me push my car across the Apalachicola Bridge?”
She smiles.
I didn’t have to wait for the results of the test. I knew I passed. I was still alive. Obviously if you drop dead on the walking machine you flunk.

“A Little Something” is R.E. Noble’s first book of poetry and it is now on sale at Amazon and locally at Downtown Books along with Hobo-ing America, A Summer with Charlie and Honor Thy Farther and Thy Mother. Richard Noble is a freelance writer who has lived here in Eastpoint for nearly 30 years.