CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "Dad says it was a heart attack," I heard the voice outside my room say. "She was walking across the yard and just dropped over, dead."
"Wow," someone said.
"And he thinks it was a heart attack?" another person asked.
"Do chickens have heart attacks?" said another.
Instead of an answer, I heard laughter. A few seconds later, a woman wearing hospital scrubs entered my room and began talking me through the preparations for my test. I recognized hers as one of the voices.
"So," I asked, "I have to know. Do chickens have heart attacks?"
Although I know of no poultry in our family tree, I was about to get on a treadmill while covered in electrodes and it suddenly seemed important to know.
"Dad says they do," said the technician.
"So is he doing an autopsy?" I asked.
"I suppose," she said. "In a manner of speaking."
Finding out whether or not one's heart is about to explode is a far more pleasant experience when those caring for you have a good sense of humor, as did nearly everyone I encountered while a patient at Thomas Hospital last week.
The chest pains had started a few weeks before, somewhere around the same time I took four 13-year-olds to the beach. Coincidentally, I'm sure. I shrugged away the clenching as being heat- and dehydration-related, but would occasionally give in to concern long enough to Google a carefully chosen, vaguely worded symptom, like "boobie cramp." Denial perpetuation is a long-practiced skill.