“He’s getting paid and laid.  It must be the shades.”
          Evan stood next to Jeremy’s desk grinning broadly.
          “No way,” his young coworker said, a smile gradually broadening on his face.
          “Yep,” Evan touted.
          “You cleared it with Melissa?”
          “Of course I did.”
          Melissa was the marketing manager at Ray-Ban.  Evan’s company, T9 Solutions, was ultimately responsible for producing the ad, but Melissa would have to approve the final product.
          “I mean, I know this is going in Playboy, but…”
          “But what?” Evan asked.  At six-foot two, 220 pounds, he towered over his colleague, even when Jeremy wasn’t seated.  He wore a full beard with a trimmed moustache.  His skin tone was medium brown.  “You don’t think it’s sexy?”
          “Oh, it’s plenty sexy,” Jeremy said, returning his attention to his monitor.  “If you say it’s a go, it’s a go.”  He quickly typed the tagline and positioned it mid-right of the models.
          Evan walked around his desk and looked over his shoulder.  “Wait, what happened to the other models?”
          “I thought we were going with this guy?”
          “I like him,” Evan said, staring at the smartly dressed man sporting the Ray-Ban product.  His eyes narrowed.  “But it won’t work for this tagline.  You had the one with a woman and man, the guy with the slim-fit suit…”
          “Oh, yeah, I still have it.”
Jeremy did his magic, and the new image replaced the first.
“Yeah, that’s him,” Evan said, scrutinizing the photo.  “I like that.  He definitely looks like he’s getting paid.”
          “And from the look in her eyes,” Jeremy said, referring to the female model, “I’d say he’s getting laid.”
          “It must be the shades!” they both said and laughed.
          The male model sported a pair of sleek Ray-Ban’s.  He was young, cool and confident.  He was a mover and a shaker.  He didn’t look like he ever stressed about a mortgage payment or a relationship.  Even the woman devouring him with her eyes barely caught his attention.
          “This is a winner,” Jeremy declared as he positioned the rest of the printed information on the ad.
          “Yeah,” Evan agreed.  “But I need that tagline to pop.  Why don’t you–”
          “I got you,” Jeremy said as he adjusted the font, color and size.  “How about this?”
          “Shift the–”
          “Got it.”
          Evan chuckled inwardly as his coworker made the adjustment.  After working together for fifteen years, he would swear Jeremy could read his mind.  Sure enough, he shifted the last line, “Must be the shades,” in the direction Evan was going to suggest.
          “Okay, what do you think?”
          Evan patted him on the shoulder.  “My man.  Send it to me,” he said as he stepped away from his desk.  “I wanna run it by Gwen before we tinker with the graphics.”
          “Sent,” Jeremy said before he was twenty paces away.
          Evan accessed the file on his iPad and headed for his manager’s office.
Working as a content marketer wasn’t on his radar when he majored in journalism 24 years ago.  Back then, Evan envisioned himself winning the Pulitzer prize for a hard-hitting Exxon exposé.  Or maybe he’d find himself reporting from the frontline of whatever war-torn Muslim country the United States decided to attack by the time he graduated college.  But life has a way of taking you in different directions.  As far as divergent paths go, he was happy with the way things had turned out.
          Gwen was manager of their print ad division.  Since he’d been with the company, Evan had the pleasure to shine in all departments: print, digital, television and radio.  He didn’t have a preference, when it came to the work, but he always enjoyed working with Gwen.  Although she was only ten years his senior, she gave off motherly vibes that made him long for his family in Washington.   She had smooth, dark skin, a slim figure and serious eyes that were known to be extremely critical of the work her department produced.
          “Morning,” Evan said as he stepped into her office.  “How was your weekend?”
          “It was a weekend,” she replied without rising from her seat.
          “You can’t refer to a weekend with the same dryness you’d refer to a Monday.”
          “I kept the grandkids Friday night, took them to dance and karate practice Saturday morning, dropped them off, caught a movie with Richard, dinner at Cheddar’s and worked all day Sunday,” she informed him.
          Evan chuckled.  “You make your family time sound like a chore, but I know you loved every minute of it.”
          Her smile was subtle but not lost on him.  “What about you?” she asked.  “Did you get anything done this weekend?”
          “Not on the business side, but I got right to work when I got here today.  Check it out,” he said, offering her his iPad.
          Her smile was unmistakable this time.
          “Did you clear that tagline with Melissa?”
          “Of course I did.”
          “Who came up with it?”  Her eyes continued to study the ad.
          “You think anyone in this building besides me can come up with something this brilliant?”
          “So modest you are.”
          “You know I’m kidding.”
          “It’s okay,” she said.  “You’ve got a right to be proud of this.  You do amazing work.  I love it.”
          “Thank you.”
          “You and Jeremy put this together?”
          “Yes.  We have a little more work to do on the graphics.  Wanted to get your opinion before we finalize it.”
          “You and Jeremy should go into business together.  Every time you…  Evan?”
          From her perspective, her esteemed colleague’s eyes fluttered as he swayed briefly before falling quickly to the floor, like a toy robot that had its battery pack unexpectedly removed.
          From Evan’s perspective, there was a slight tightening in his chest before the world swam in dark gray and black dots, and he felt himself sliding down a dark tube.  The experience was oddly comforting.  He didn’t have the wherewithal to reach out and try to break his fall before he impacted the thin carpet.
* * * * * *
          He awakened in the back of an ambulance.  Two EMT’s were busy affixing telemetry pads and leads to strategic areas of his torso.  His shirt had been removed.  He lie flat on a stretcher, part of his vision obscured by an oxygen mask affixed to his face.
          He sat up unexpectedly.  His brain rewarded him with a sensation of vertigo.  He squeezed his eyes closed to ward off the dizziness.
          “Whoa there,” the man on his right said.
          “Evan, you need to lie back down,” the woman on his left advised him.  She placed a hand on his chest and prodded him in that direction.
          Evan didn’t fight against her, but he braced himself up with an elbow and maintained his position.  When he opened his eyes again, he saw the back of the ambulance was open.  Gwen stood in the parking lot, her expression as worried as he would expect.  Jeremy stood a step behind her.
          “Evan, could you please lie back?” the female EMT said again.
          “Wait a second,” he protested.  “I just woke up in the back of an ambulance.  Is it okay if I ask some questions?”
          He thought his voice sounded muffled behind the oxygen mask, but the paramedics seemed to understand him perfectly.  They removed his mask.
          “What happened?” Evan asked.
          Gwen stepped forward.  “You passed out in my office.  You weren’t out that long.  The ambulance showed up less than five minutes ago.”
          “I’m alright,” Evan said to the male EMT.  “I think I’ll be fine.  I don’t need to go to the hospital.”
          “Do you have a history of heart problems?” the paramedic asked.
          That question was too specific.  By then Evan’s head had cleared enough to fix a look of How could you? on his manager.  Gwen pursed her lips and actually rolled her neck slightly, as if to say, So what if I did?
          “Yes,” Evan grudgingly told the EMT.  “CHF.”
          “Then you definitely need to let us take you to the hospital,” the EMT said.
          “Can’t I take myself there?” he asked.  “Or Jeremy – he can take me.”
          His coworker nodded in agreement.  “I can take him, if that’s okay with you two.”
          “It would be best if we make sure you’re stable first,” the female paramedic countered.  “We can do that now, but in the time that will take, we would’ve made it halfway to the hospital.  It’s best if we take you, just in case.”
          “Yeah, but–”
          “Hush you,” Gwen said.  “You need to let these people do their job.  Scared me half to death when you fell out.  I’m still shaking.  I don’t know if you’re being macho or fool-headed right now, but these people are here to help, and you’re gonna let them.  Now lie back and let them do their job.”
          Evan sighed in resignation.  The problem with having a boss who gave off motherly vibes was sometimes she took the role too seriously.
          “Can I, can I at least call my wife first?” he asked the paramedics.
          One of them retrieved his phone.
          He cringed as he unlocked it and phoned Delores.  Fortunately, the call went to voicemail.
          “Hey, baby.  I’m, uh, I’m headed to the hospital.  I think I passed out at work, and they called an ambulance.  I’m okay, but they insist on taking me to the ER.  I’ll, uh, I’ll call you when I get there.”
          He sighed again and returned his phone to the EMT.  He continued to plead to his manager with his eyes as they affixed his oxygen mask.  Her expression remained resolute, but he saw fear and concern too.  He hated himself for making her worry about him.
          He lie back, and the paramedics resumed applying stickers to his skin.  A monitor mounted on an IV pole awaited the heart rhythm the electrodes would provide.
* * * * * *
          Jackson Memorial was not a pleasant sight, but it was a familiar one.  After being denied the request to exit the ambulance on his own two feet or at least be wheeled into the ER by wheelchair, Evan relented to his caregivers and allowed the process to play out as they wished.
          He remained in the ER long enough for his nurse to declare him stable and for his cardiologist to arrive at the hospital.  Dr. Davi initially diagnosed him with congestive heart failure eight years ago.  Evan hoped his fainting spell was insignificant enough to warrant an immediate discharge.  Dr. Davi approached his stretcher with a smile, but she did not deliver the news he expected.
          “How are you Evan?”  She was a slight woman in her late fifties.  Her middle eastern accent was mild.
          “I feel fine,” he said.  “I fainted or passed out at work.  Not sure what that was about.”
          She didn’t respond as she assessed his rhythm on the EKG monitor mounted above his bed.  She removed the stethoscope from around her neck and plugged the earpieces in her ears.
          “Could you take a deep breath?” she asked as she placed the chest-piece near his heart.
          Evan complied.  She repositioned the chest-piece and continued to listen.  Her smile returned as she returned the stethoscope to its perch around her neck.
          “I’m sending you to the cardiac tower for monitoring.”
          Evan rolled his eyes.  “Is that really necessary?”
          “I don’t anticipate keeping you overnight.  I know how you feel about being here.”
          But how could she truly know?  At 42, Evan understood he was past the prime of his life, but he didn’t feel like he was over the hill – at least he didn’t want to feel that way.  He certainly didn’t want to have the word terminal hanging over him, but every trip to the hospital seemed to propel him towards that destiny.
* * * * * *
          Jackson Memorial had three floors in the “heart tower.”  Cardiac ICU, on the first floor, was for those critically ill.  Cardiovascular ICU on the 2 floor housed heart surgery patients.  The third and fourth floors were cardiac telemetry.  Evan was sent to C3 on most of his visits, as he was on this date.  His wife called a few minutes after a PCT got him settled in.
          “Hey, baby.”
          “Evan, what’s wrong?  Are you alright?”  The dread in her voice made him feel worse than he already did.
          “Yes, baby.  I’m fine.  I fainted at work, or something like that, and they called 9-1-1.”
          “Where are you?  They took you to the hospital?”
          “Yeah, I’m back on C3.  Dr. Davi wants to observe me for a while, but she says she doesn’t plan to keep me overnight.”
          “Okay.  I’m sorry I’m just now getting your message.  I was in a meeting, and I had my phone on silent.  We have a couple of hours left in school, and I was supposed to stay to meet with the attendance committee.  Do you need me there?  Do you think you can handle this on your own?”
          Evan understood that his wife’s duties as an assistant principal made it difficult for her to take calls in the middle of the day.
          “It’s okay,” he told her.  “Don’t leave work.  Everything’s fine.  If you’re still working when I get off, I can get a ride to my office and get my car.”
          “Get a ride?  From who?  You don’t want me to come?”
          “It’s not that.  I just, I feel bad enough about what happened.  I passed out right in front of my boss, freaked her out.  I don’t need anyone else’s day to get disrupted by this.”
          “Disrupted?  It’s not like you’re calling me to bring you a spare key because you lost yours.  You’re in the hospital.  This is serious.”
          “It’s not serious every time I come to the hospital.  Sometimes it is, and you’re aware of those times.  Today it’s not.  If I’m still here when you’re done with your meeting, you can head this way.  But I’m sure I’ll be discharged by then.”
          After a pause, she sighed.  “Okay, Evan.  If that’s what you want.”
          He wasn’t sure if she really wanted to come, or if she was eager for him to give her an out.  He told her, “I’ll be okay.”
          “You’ll call me as soon as they give you an update?”
          “Yes, I promise.  Get back to work.  Don’t worry.  I’m fine.”
          “Alright.  I’m gonna call Sharelle.  If she’s done with classes for the day–”
          “Don’t call Sharelle.  She worries about me more than you do.”
          “Delores, could you let me come to the hospital this one time without getting everyone all worked up?  Just this one time.”
          “Alright, but you know you’re being stubborn.”
          “Fine, call me stubborn.  Don’t call Sharelle.”
* * * * * *
          Sharelle walked into his room an hour later, while his PCT was taking his vitals.
          “Daddy, what’s this I hear about you not wanting anyone to know you’re in the hospital.”
          “Yet, here you are.”
He couldn’t help but smile at her.  Sharelle took after her father in many ways, from her height to her skin complexion and full lips.  Always athletic, she was a business major at Texas Lutheran, awarded a full ride with a basketball scholarship.  She approached the bed with large, wet eyes.  It broke Evan’s heart to know she’d been crying.
          “Mama said you passed out at work.”
          “I did, honey, but I’m okay now.  It’s nothing.”
          “Well, what happened then?  Why would you pass out, if it’s nothing?  What’s going on with him?” she asked the PCT.  “What did the doctor say?”
          Caught off guard by the new energy in the room, the PCT’s eyes and mouth widened at the same time.
          “I – I don’t have any information about him.  Do you want me to get his nurse in here?”
          Evan said, “No.”
          Sharelle said, “Yes,” at the same time.
          “I’m waiting on Dr. Davi,” Evan told his daughter.  “She’s gonna give me an update and let me get out of here soon.  If you want to wait, you can hear what she has to say for yourself.”
          “I’m not going anywhere,” she assured him.
          They remained silent until the PCT got her numbers and exited the room.  Sharelle confronted him the moment they were alone.
          “Daddy, why didn’t you call me?  Why do you want to be at the hospital by yourself?”
          “I don’t want to be here at all,” he complained.  “But if I have to be here, I don’t need everyone in my life disrupting their schedule to come.”
          “Mama told me you said that.  What do you, you think you’re some kind of burden to us?”
          “I, I think over time it can be a burden,” he acknowledged.  “Yes, I do feel that way.”
          “Well, you’re not.”
          “How many times have you been at this hospital, on this floor or the ER or ICU?”
          “What difference does that make?  I’ll come here a million times to be with you, if that’s what it takes to get you better.”
          Evan bit his tongue to stifle his reply.  What if he wasn’t getting better?
          “Okay, well you’re here, so can we stop arguing about it?  I’m sorry I didn’t call you.  I honestly thought I was doing the right thing by not getting you involved this time, but I can see that I wasn’t.”
          She stepped closer to the bed and placed a hand on his cheek.  “No, it only made me scared and hurt at the same time.”
          Her touch melted his heart, as did the fresh tears in her eyes.
          “How do you feel?” she asked.  “Tell me the truth?  Does your chest hurt?”
          “The only thing I feel right now is love,” he said honestly.  “My chest doesn’t hurt at all.”
* * * * * *
          Dr. Davi came thirty minutes later with her prognosis, or lack thereof.  “Evan, I’m not sure what happened today.  Your vitals look good.  I didn’t hear anything new when I listened to your heart.  But passing out is not a good thing for anyone, especially a heart patient.  I need to evaluate you further, before I know what steps we need to take.”
Evan’s heart sank.  It sounded like she wanted to keep him overnight.
          Fortunately, she said, “I would like to schedule an ECHO, so I can get a good look at your heart.  You can do it as an outpatient.”
          “Great,” he replied.  He’d agree to a colonoscopy to get out of there.
          “You can schedule it before you leave or call tomorrow.  Your nurse will come and give you your discharge orders in a few minutes.”  She gave Sharelle a comforting smile.  “How are you, angel?”
          “I’m fine.  Worried about my dad.”
          “Yes, I know how you feel.  We’re doing the best we can to get his heart back to one hundred percent.”
          “I know you are.  We appreciate everything you’re doing.”
          When they were alone in the room again, Evan told her, “Why don’t you get back to school?  I’m gonna stop by the job to get my car, and then I’ll head home.  I’ll call you when I get there, to let you know I made it.”
          Sharelle rolled her eyes in exasperation.  “Why are you doing everything you can to get me to leave you alone?”
          “Because you’re twenty-one, and you need to be enjoying your college experience.”
          “I don’t know how enjoyable you think my night will be if I leave my dad in the hospital.”
          “I think–”
          “You think too much,” she told him.  “Maybe that’s why you’re taking so long to heal, because you’re too busy worrying about trying to do everything yourself.”
          “You are stubborn.”
          “When Mama called me, she said the same thing about you,” she said with a smirk.
          Evan couldn’t help but laugh at his mini-me.
          A nurse knocked on the door a minute later.
          “Hey, you ready to go?”
          “Yes, we are!” Sharelle said and began to gather her things.
          “Been ready,” Evan agreed.  “Don’t take nothing to get a brother up in here, but I feel like I need an act of congress to get out!”


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© Keith Thomas Walker
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