Saturday, January 18, 2014


     I couldn't catch my breath as  I climbed the eight cement stairs leading to the second floor of our rented casa in San Miguel de Allende.  I'd accidentally left my cell phone in the bedroom and needed to catch the call before the ringing stopped and what was labeled caller ID read UNIDENTIFIED.  I caught the call but couldn't breathe.  So, this is what it's like to have a heart attack?  I'd read many times that women suffer attacks differently from men, that the pain is less acute and often feels like the flu with extreme fatigue (check), pressure in the heart area (check), even faintness (check.)
     I grabbed the phone, pushed "answer," and, in a breathless voice nothing like that of Marilyn Monroe, told the caller (our house sitter) that he'd have to wait.  I lay the phone on my chest -- maybe that would calm things down -- and waited until my breath slowed before talking.  But I had trouble, mumbled "just a minute," and again laid the phone of my chest.  So, this was what it felt like to have the old heart go wacky?  What hospital in this small colonial town would be able to save me?  Were there ambulances in Mexico or just the ominous looking black police vans, sometimes with men in fatigues and guns bringing up the rear?  What about my Spanish class later the next day?

     Maybe it was the stress that did me in.  The temperature in Chicago had plummeted again to the single digits, and the gas forced air heat in the back of our home was blowing cold air.  Our house sitter couldn't work in the kitchen without a small electric fan running up a bill only the electric company could love.  We'd been warned that our 20-year-old heater had already outrun its lifetime and that it was only a matter of time before we'd have to replace it to a tune of close to $20,000.  It was a no brainer: Keep the damn thing running through the winter.  We needed to save money or take out a home equity loan before even considering a replacement.
     But nobody imagined one of the coldest winters on record with some polar something or other from Alaska and north sweeping with a vengeance down into the lower forty-eight and turning state after sate into a frigid and snowy nightmare only an Eskimo could love.  We midwesterners (at least some of us) are a hearty lot, but the unending single-digit and lower temps had caused intolerable cabin fever, a loss of retail revenue, outrageous heating bills, and a slow but steady universal case of Seasonal Affective Depression.
     So, back to my "heart attack."  In time, my heart rate returned to normal, my breath calmed, and I realized that most likely it had been a mini panic attack instead.  It was 9:30 p.m. and I hadn't heard back from the heating and cooling outfit in the States that would ostensibly make an emergency call to fix the heating problem.  Thank god I'd purchased some kind of deal that provided after-hour and weekend service calls at no additional charge.  This was one time when additional "insurance" might pay off.
     I won't know until I call the house sitter in another hour (It's 7:30 a.m.) whether or not the furnace was fixed or whether he'll have to suffer a very cold kitchen and my husband I will face the expense of replacing the furnace, rendering our two-month stay in Mexico a fool hearty decision and my plans for redoing that same kitchen a deferred dream.  (At least, we'd get the new wood floors because I already paid a 60% downpayment.)
     Just before falling asleep, I ticked off a list of my current maladies:  sleep apnea, migraines, medically-controlled epilepsy, and SADD that I'd thought had been erased by getaway stays in warm climes but now replaced by panic attacks when things go awry back home.

     I am getting old after all.  But several of my friends have already gone to those Pearly Gates way before their time, and I'm still standing, holding down the fort.