Us creative types, when we can’t sleep we write. When overwhelmed we try to make some sense of it by creating our own narratives. But I don’t have to tell you that. I watched Oprah on TV last night, campaigning, reminding us that NOT voting is disrespecting our ancestors. A great-grandmother I never knew inspires me in this piece. And here we are, on the eve of the midterms. I am repeating myself to comfort myself as I did when I wrote this piece in 2016, still in shock. It happened right here.
THE NIGHT BEFORE I VISITED the clinic for the last emergent appointment available that week, I had the rabid squirrel dream (the one where I rip them apart with my bare hands as they puncture me with pinpoints of venom) and even though I lay safely under my high-thread-count summer blanket, my pulse was erratic and the pressure on my collarbone was punctuated by the dull airless thuds of skittering squirrel toes. I had been diagnosing these symptoms on my own for two months as anxiety, humidity, heat and Donald Trump. No more than any normal sensitive person’s reaction to the politics of the summer of 2016. It is summer after all and my tiny office, where I work as a psychiatric nurse practitioner amid my many careful relationships, is missing an AC vent. I am more worried about the vicarious trauma truffle in my brain than any missed squeezings from my heart or the struggle to pass air into my lungs in what I describe not as vertigo, not as dizziness, but as a sense that I am simply going to drop. I decide that I have reached maximum saturation from work and worry and that I have to tough it out because that’s what people like me, pink bunnies and women in pantsuits, do.
So I wait until the very end of the week to schedule my own appointment so that I don’t have to cancel any of my patients. My trusted nurse practitioner has retired after indicating to me that maybe it’s time for me to, as well. It is the last appointment of the week for the clinic where some provider who will probably look twelve years old (probably a Bernie-or-Buster because we are in Vermont, or maybe a rural of the old Take-Back-Vermont ilk who means well but whose family has always been Republican and why stop now) will check my blood pressure sitting, then standing. The youngster will glance at the picture of Hillary’s proud bicep pinned to my chest, will tell me to drink more water, stop working so hard, exercise more. Relax. Maybe get a quick rhythm strip. There may be a hint of condescension. Because of my advanced age, my weight, my politics. I think I already know how this will play out.
“So it’s a thing.”
“Yes,” agreed the kindly gray haired male physician. He could have been a healthy- my-age or an exceptionally well preserved decade older. Not the youngster I anticipated, whose clinical reasoning I could have ignored. This guy was Norman Rockwellian. He tipped the glossy red and white graph paper of my EKG towards me.
“So, like, it’s not stress. Not the heat. The humidity?” Not even the stupidity I thought but didn’t say because I was batting back big sloppy tears and nothing here warranted
humor. Certainly not the kind expression on this Marcus Welby’s face, and I am over- whelmed with gratitude for this. “Not Trump?”
“No. Not stress. Not Donald Trump.”
As I leaned forward I tapped my hand over my sternum. As we spoke my platelets sticky with fibrinogen slid along as they had always done, plasma propelled by the electrical current of my now suspicious septum.
I refuse to go to the hospital.
It gets worse, doesn’t it. Now that it’s November, wrapped in similarly high-thread-count sheets, seasonal flannel, but with the same element of privileged catalogue acquisition as my summer ones. The air has changed. It is no longer humid. The world has tipped off -axis, like the left-leaning deviation of my now not-to-be-trusted heart. Nothing is recognizable here. As if my lungs don’t understand oxygen, even though I am told by a host of cardiologists and beeping machines and documented values that I am stable. It’s nothing I did, with words like “inherited, idiopathic.”
“Lucky you,” my leading men say. I am “supremely sensitive” to the beta-blocker, says the one who reminds me of Omar Sharif. “You’ve taken good care of yourself.” Another assures me that my chance of sudden cardiac death is under one percent as he smiles and suggests I buy those odds. But I do not feel perfused. I am choking. Dropping. Everything is wrong. The cell phone on the nightstand tells me it’s 4 AM and the election is over, the floor listing under my feet. These are not my slippers. Not my squirrel toes. Not my Golden Retriever who trips me in the pre-dawn gray hoping for a treat.
There must have been a moment when my great-grandmother in Russia woke with a weight of anticipation, thinking to herself, “something’s really wrong here.” As the weight that she would slowly, one by one, say goodbye to her family as they left to escape the Pogroms settled in on her in one dark morning. A weight that maybe made her feel for a moment that she would drop, but maybe she couldn’t. People like us don’t just drop. Maybe she stumbled outside for one last look at a vegetable garden or clothes hanging on the line. Tripping over a dog, slapping away a squirrel.
I take some Tylenol and wonder if an extra Metoprolol would help despite the one percent risk of more nightmares. I pull the flannel covers back over my head and commune with her, this great-grandmother whose name I never knew, who died in a suspicious fire soon after sending her youngest daughter to America. Whose anxiety follows me through generations, gnawing at my septum. A sudden shared geography.