I dropped five figures on a trip to scuba dive down the Blue Hole, and on the boat ride, I faint. I’m told by the diving instructor I should go see a doctor, he can’t in good conscience let me satiate my deep sea hard-on. I agree, I probably should see a doctor, take a rain check. Feel a bit dizzy – it must be exhaustion from the flight. Tomorrow is a fresh one.
Belize doctors aren’t the fleecing charlatans as you’d think. My dentist back home milks me for a golden tit, but this guy, an American ex-pat – looks Indian – seems genuinely concerned, tells me my blood pressure reads at 170/105, and I should not go sink myself into ocean depths, “crushing upon crushing upon crushing upon crushing,” he illustrates with his hands like he’s warping a balloon shape for children.
I argue about this. “Doc! This would relax me. I need this! Can’t have scuba diving off Lake Michigan be the only notch on my wet suit belt, my only aquatic terrain explored, this is what I’ve been building to, this is why I started a carbonation company in the first place!”
He waggles his fingers.
I tell him he’s a scam artist, probably in elaborate con with the resort, and airline, to make me waste a five figure sum on a trip that’s a bummer and probably tipping me up to 180/120.
I call my wife and tell her and she laughs, tells me this is just what a vacation without her expertly crafted itinerary would be like and it’s what I deserve for taking a solo vacation and leaving her at home. She goes on to let me know she’s been telling me for years to check my blood pressure. I ask her when. She apologizes if I didn’t hear it, says it must have been under her breath.
I confess; I did feel somewhat of a bloating from within. Not fat, something blood related, that started when I decided to stop lugging carbonation tanks and manufacture them on my own, sell them on my own, take on the problems and logistics of it all on my own. Pressing air upon air upon air upon air in through a nozzle, hoarded within the greedy confines of titanium cylinders, all the while clenching my own vessels, compressing blood cells that if caricaturized would look like burger puffed football coaches yelling from the sidelines.
“I deserved this trip,” I tell her.
“Yes you did. Yes, you did. Go lay out on the beach.”
“I hate sand on my feet. It irritates me.”
“Well, wear sandals.”
“I didn’t fucking bring sandals. I gotta go. I gotta go eat something.”
“Eat something healthy.”
“Go ahead, take it out on me and not your heart.”
“Thanks. Love you.”
I pig out on garlic bread and garlic parmesan salad because I hear garlic lowers blood pressure. While I pick at ice berg lettuce, I think, what if I fulfilled my teenage fantasy of suicide? Old day dreams of tying my legs to cinder blocks and knocking off into the local pond, but revised now to a deep dive, down under the weight of a sloppy Poseidon. Then I can glory in the ripping of veins and the ocean spewing in, making tame this little affliction of cardiac tension.
I unwind with a beer at the pool bar. There’s a delivery of kegs, the little hiss of the tap opening, the sound both therapeutic and annoying. It’s symbolic of hard work’s reward, how I imagine most everyone feels.
I settle into the Jacuzzi for a bit. Hot water, warm air. I’m breathing deeper. I look around at different posts that indicate high voltage is tucked below, yet I don’t see the typical At your own risk warning signs for pool and hot tub usage. I could swear I’ve seen some in the past warning to consult a physician regarding use if you’ve got high blood pressure. Here I sit; guilty party of ignoring my ex-pat doctor. He had a pager on his hip, but I didn’t think to get that number so I could dial him up, buzzed in a Jacuzzi, asking permission after the fact.
But, I think, how, for a Jacuzzi to elevate my blood pressure…shit, that just doesn’t make any damn sense. Warm relaxes. I can feel it soothing me, oozing the moisture in my internal organs. My blood vessels dilate, yes, circulation eases and flies around the red piping. No wonder there aren’t notes posted, this place knows well enough to ban bullshit.
After awhile, some kids come waltzing down unsupervised. These little ones, both younger than 6 I’d guess, are wobbling around, jumping in the pool, chasing each other, jumping in the hot tub, trying to dunk one another’s head under the bubbles, laughing, getting up, dripping, running in teeter totter patterns, making me dizzy. How they’re not dizzy is a fucking mystery of science. I feel like I should remind these children how to behave, filling in for dad who’s probably off drifting down the Blue Hole, thinking it’s all good because there’s bound to be a chump like me sitting around ready to be subbed in, an over qualified baby sitter. This stresses me out. This isn’t in line with a vacation, so I get up, dripping, and stomp off to my hotel room.
After drying off and taking a nap, I grow curious as to where my blood pressure is at. I’m feeling relaxed, downright snazzy. I go down to the pharmacy on the resort grounds and use their free blood pressure monitor machine. It looks like a cross between an ancient Atari arcade game and one of those handicapped shower stalls with a seat. I roll up my Hawaiian shirt sleeve and let the robot grip, a one sided arm wrestle, a competition of submission where I let this thing take stock of my inferior health. It tightens down, black matter pushing flesh. It grips tighter, harder. It holds. It holds for awhile. I think it’s broken, holding me hostage. I squirm, look around for help, and see none. My bicep’s becoming one with this malevolent diagnostic machine. I debate shouting but then it churns and beeps. I squirm some more while it continues to beep, and releases at last. I’m free. A yellow light winks at me.
My reading scrolls on the LED. 190/125. Is this possible? Can a man live at such a monumental systolic/diastolic match as that?
The machine is garbage. It took too long and freaked me out which threw off the whole reading. I shouldn’t take it seriously, I mean look at it, it’s like something I’d hunch over pumping in quarters to beat the previous high score, and yeah baby, I got the goddamn high score all right.
As I walk around the resort I can feel the pressure as though pressure itself donned a hat with a capital P in the band’s forward center, proclaiming champion fandom. This is all an easily identifiable quality of cardiac popcorn, crushing out, and crunching anything in its path.
The damn thing is getting into my head, a domino, a real affliction refracted through cued hypochondria. The pressure has mastered it’s branding. Pressure, pressing.
I’m frazzled the way I was in my early days as a business owner, tearing down an office corridor, hips knocking against paper piles too close to a desk’s edge, breezing onward, leaving the clutter for someone else, too much inertia in the self important spazz that I was. Pressure; learning from me. Blood cell see, blood cell do.
This feeling dissipates only after locking hold of me the remainder of the afternoon, the feint of a heart attack anxious to make its debut. An evening hunger serves to pull the illusion down and off the stage. For dinner I have unsalted chicken and maybe four spoonfuls of rice pilaf.
After washing it down with a glass of red wine – because red wine is good for all of this – I lay back in my hotel bed watching Puerto Rican baseball. I experience the most persistent succession of flatulence I’ve ever felt rip through down there.
I wonder if this is how blood pressure is released, like the twisting cap of a carbonated soda pop bottle. It’s gotta get out somehow. I rip and I laugh and I call my wife to tell her about it. How with each passing of gas, each digestive burst, my blood feels lighter, gentler, and I assure her I’m well enough to snorkel in shallow reef.
The next morning I’m out there and I know I’m right in this confidence. The water’s mighty, but my tissues don’t cave in the slightest as I descend into the liquid bully with capillaries so hard it’s a true battle of adversaries in the same weight class. The ocean winces. My blood proves to be the greater aggressor. My temples feel as though they change shape and my ears whoosh, but my chemistry has been preparing for this. A can of pop left in the sun. What the medical profession doesn’t realize: a docile pill meant to dissolve on the inside is a joke compared to the outer stranglehold of a nerve staying leviathan.
I try to gurgle something like “don’t tell my wife. Let her think wading is what did me in. The undertow is a bitch! Haha!” Then the feeling in my left hand dissolves. Chest grievances knuckle up behind the clavicle. They jerk and jostle, rousing muscular knots to spasm. My lungs heave and suck from the oxygen tank. The whooshing in my ears increases magnitude. Pressure, pressing, rearranges and flattens its letters to spell a grotesque etching of the word pain.
Dim images bob; hallucinations, memories of me as a young boy. Sheesh, I was a bossy child. Barking what to play to the neighbor boys and girls, the weak willed backed into friendship with me, while counting the hours, minutes until they had the excuse of dinner to return home. The flashes stop at boyhood. Would the rest of it just be redundant? Ah, how the body’s systems boss back when they’re frayed and tested. Just the blue of the goddamn sea remains as a vista.
The dark blue is pricked with pixilated little stars. The pixilation becomes worse than oncoming teeth. False equilibrium gorges on my swoon. My dizzy bow – like a dancer dipped and the curtain drawn shut.
Jeff Phillips is a washed up storefront theatre method actor. His short fiction has appeared in Seeding Meat, This Zine Will Change Your Life, and Metazen. He has dabbled with a few self-publishing experiments, among them are the works; Whiskey Pike: A Bedtime Story for the Drinking Mankind, Turban Tan, and Votary Nerves. He is a member of Wood Sugars Comedy and keeps a blog at TheIglooOven.com.
–Art by Bostjan Tacol