Night Shift: I Am the Doorway – Vague Medicine

“I rolled my wheelchair over to the bookcase and pulled down the battered medical encyclopedia that I’d had for years. The book was maddeningly vague. It could have been anything, or nothing.”

This story was written in the seventies, so it pre-dates the internet as we know it, specifically, WebMD.

Several years ago, I started having a sharp pain in my chest, on the left side. It was the oddest, most startling sensation. The best way I’ve found to describe it is: it was as if someone was taking a large toenail clipper and snipping inside my chest. My heartbeat wasn’t irregular, I didn’t feel any lumps in my breast, and I could breathe just fine. So what the hell could it be?

I shrugged it off. Maybe I had pinched a nerve. But it would happen even if I hadn’t moved. Just SNIP! sharp pain, suddenly, without warming. I couldn’t even place it. Was it in my breast? In my muscle? Lungs? Heart? I didn’t know.

After a while of this, without it getting better, I went to my doctor. I told him it would come & go, different times of day, non-related to times of particular stress. He did all of the typical in-office tests: listened to my heart, my lungs, checked for lumps … but he found nothing either.

He prescribed more tests. In the lab.

A few hours later, I was having an echo-cardiograph done. This only amped up whatever anxiety I may have already been feeling. See, as kids, we all got echos done. We got echos done because we discovered that my sister had Marfan’s Syndrome, a genetic disease that, well, long story short, it effs with your aorta. Guys, it’s decidedly un-good. At the time, the doctors gave us other siblings the all-clear, but here I was in another sterile room with another lab coated woman slathering gel on my boobs and rubbing a metal balled mouse-looking thing over me while I could hear the steady whoosh-whoosh of my heartbeat amplified and on the screen.

The smell of the gel had gotten better, but unfortunately, it was still cold as hell on my skin.

Whoosh-whoosh.

Tests were inconclusive. In other words, no one could figure out what the hell was going on with me, so my doctor prescribed me acid-reflux medicine.

Nope, wasn’t acid-reflux.

He prescribed me anti-anxiety medication.

Nope, wasn’t panic attacks (i’ve had those; they feel much, much different), but hey, thanks for the Valium.

After a while, the pains lessened until they just went away.

Until they came back.

It had been months. Then, without warning, BAM! snip snip snip. This time, they were more frequent and more painful.

I got seriously freaked out, so I consulted the internet.

We know the road well, don’t we? You put in your symptoms – in this case, moderate, sharp, sudden pains on the left side of my chest – & you get a list of possible causes. Except when you enter moderate, sharp, sudden pains on the left side of my chest, there is a big red box that pops up, telling you to seek help at your local Emergency Room immediately.

Do not pass Go; do not collect $200.

So. Hell. I walked the three blocks to the closest hospital, told ‘em I had chest pains.

I felt a fool.

They don’t mess around, but I could sense that while they were doing their jobs (chest pain = VIP treatment), they were also kinda like, “Bitch be exaggerating.” I got every test you could possibly do, save a colonoscopy, pretty much. EKG, MRI, other tests that involve letters…. The scariest portion of the whole night was when they thought it was a blood clot, given that I was a woman over thirty who was on the pill. So they Xrayed or whatevered my legs, too.

Several – several - hours later, they sent me home with nothing but a personalized plastic bracelet and an enormous medical bill.

To this day, I still have no idea what causes the pains. Right now, they’re latent / in remission / not snip-snip-snipping my goddamn chest, but who knows when they’ll show up next.

So I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for poor Astronaut Arthur here, with his big medical book and itchy hands and HOLY CRAP WTF IS GOING ON?!

Night Shift: Night Surf – Captain Trips

“In spite of it all, I didn’t want to die.”

Here we go with the earliest incarnation of the Captain Trips scenario – the flu bug that wipes out the planet, save a few lucky people.

(guess that depends on what your definition of lucky is, eh?)

King gets into this in more detail in his novel The Stand (next on our list, after Night Shift here).

Give me someone who wants to die and I’ll give you someone who already has.

And that’s about all I’m going to say about that.

Night Shift: Graveyard Shift – Besides, It Was Hot

“This ain’t no unionized shop, and never has been. Punch out now and you’ll never punch back in. I’ll see to it.”

My dad was a Union man. Truth be told, even though he’s retired, he’d probably still consider himself a Union man.

(unsure if it merits capitalization, but hell, it’s my little spot in the world, screw it if i’m wrong)

He was a Union Steward and Union President of the NALC in my hometown. That’s National Association of Letter Carriers to those of you who give a damn. Yup, I’m the mailman’s daughter. Literally.

For damn near my whole life, he walked from door to door, making sure little Billy got his college acceptance letter, hand delivering the box of cookies to Old Missus Flanagan, tossing the Diaz family dog a Milkbone on his way out the apartment complex’s front lawn.

People mock the USPS and its workers and, I suppose, some of that is warranted. Hell, if the offices in Chicago and my neighborhood here in Brooklyn are any indication, I can see why. They treat customer service like it’s a contagious disease.

But for my Dad, it was his pride. He got up long before dawn, donned his blue shorts in the summertime and his longjohns in the winter. He walked all day, five to six days a week. It’s no joke; he walked through ice storms and blizzards, record heat waves and floods. All so you and yours could get your copy of Sports Illustrated on time.

It took a toll. He was fit – calves to rival any bodybuilder – but pounding the pavement like that, day after day, it takes a little something out of a man. The knees hurt. The back aches. Heck, the papercuts alone!

But the Man wanted more. Wanted to combine routes. Wanted to force the carriers to walk across lawns when they weren’t welcome to. Wanted things I can’t even say because my Dad did such a great job of keeping his worries from us kids growing up.

Dad fought. He struggled with management. He would be Union President for a year and at the end of his tenure, it would take so much out of him, he wouldn’t run for another term. He’d just be the Steward instead. Like that meant he gave less than 100%…. Yet sure enough, a year down the line, he’d up and run again. He was a champion for workers’ rights in the USPS in my hometown.

That may seem like small potatoes to some. Small town, small post office, small problems. But I think we all know by now that the small stuff is the most deceiving, yeah? Oh sure, the big stuff is what everyone remembers, but the small stuff, shit, the small stuff is where differences are made.

And if it’s the difference between management cutting pensions for hundreds of hard-working men and women who gave their lives for the job and my Dad – and others like him – standing up and demanding that their contracts are upheld, well, then, bravo small potatoes. Because those small potatoes are people’s lives.

We forget this, when we talk about Unions nowadays. We forget that most Union folk aren’t Jimmy Hoffa. They’re not some cigar-smoking, power-hungry blowhard. And they’re not lazy sons-a-bitches who want to get paid for nothing, no matter how certain sects want to paint them with that same wide-bristled brush. They’re real people with real problems and families and sore knees and bills and they just want their fair share. They just want to be treated with respect. Because they’ve earned it, damnit.

Because no one wants the ending of this story. No one wants to be forced into unsanitary, unsafe working conditions. And certainly no one wants to feel as if their only way out is, like Hall here, down.