Non-Cardiac Origin – Stephen O’Reilly

Too much coffee?

That night, fear came in through the window and found my open, somnolent mouth. Dusty, alien wings flutter against calcium rods. I watch the duvet vibrate in the watery morning light.

At the hospital, the doctors are delighted and a troupe of clammy-handed students come to grope and question.

A splash of joules across my chest is indicated and a nurse wires me up, the watching cardiologist nudging a female student.

“Ever see this before?”

“Just on TV.”

He winks at her and promises that she can press the red button.

She looks at me lying bare-chested in the bed and giggles into her hand at the prospect.

These strangers are the last humans I will ever see.

Milky peace sliding into a wrist. Darkness seeping into my eyes. After all my bravado, in the end, how meekly I succumbed like some ailing pet.

When I wake, they are gone. A passing nurse glances at the steady stream of spiky, phosphorescent facts above the bed and tells me I am fine.

My tongue is swollen. Bitten.

The metallic aftertaste of blood and drugs.

I am afraid.

*      *      *

The next day.

“I shaved his groin for you Bridget.”

“Ah, thanks.”

I smile at the relief evident in poor Nurse Bridget’s voice. The groin in question vaguely but effectively dodged all morning.

They want to thread a tube through an artery there and go look for the fear.

Poke at it in a darkened room, amid machinery hum and cathode glow.

I can’t care, filled to the hairline with anxicalm.

Afterwards, I am deposited back in a busy hallway, on a trolley with a single sheet of paper no-one can read. Nurses huddle, deciphering in whispers, nervous of the author. He must be an awkward sod.

Non-cardiac origin, they decide eventually.

“Tea? Toast?”

“Coffee,” I tell them, tired of being afraid.


STEPHEN O’REILLY lives in Galway. He has previously been short listed for both a Francis MacManus and a Sean O’Faolain Short Story Award. He is a recipient of a Molly Keane Memorial Award and his work has been published in various collections in the UK and Ireland.

Image via Pixabay

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