I never should have pushed up that hill.

My wife and I were out for a beautiful day on our bikes in Creve Coeur Park. After traversing several miles, we were headed back to our car when we got to a hill that takes the bike trail up and over Creve Coeur Mill Road. It’s kinda steep, so she got off and walked her bike, but I pushed my way up to the top.

When I got off to wait for her, I felt a little dizzy, so I sat down and leaned against a concrete barrier that separates the bike path from the Page Avenue Extension. Then I felt really dizzy, so I laid down on some grass next to the wall, sure that the feeling would pass by the time she reached the top. It didn’t.

When my wife got to the top, she took one look at me and gasped at the lack of color in my face. As she handed me the water bottle, I told her I was just light-headed, but would be fine soon. After a few minutes, I stood up, took one step, and immediately got back on the ground. I’d had this sensation a couple of years ago when I got overheated playing tennis on a summer morning. It passed after ten minutes and I went on with my day.

By the time I’d been on the ground for ten minutes, several other cyclists had stopped to help (I noticed that none of them were out of breath from the hill!). One man offered water as he stood over me to provide shade. A woman, a cardiac nurse, took my pulse and asked me if I’d ever had a heart attack before. I assured her I’d never had a heart attack and wasn’t having one now, since there was no chest pain. I knew it wasn’t cardiac — I was just overheated and dehydrated.

I was still on the ground after 20 minutes and in no mood to leave that horizontal plane, so I told my wife to call 911 for an ambulance. They sent out a crew from Monarch Fire Department House #3 on Olive, which got there in five minutes and parked on the highway on the other side of the concrete wall. They hopped over, checked me out, and decided I’d be better off in the ambulance. So they rolled me onto a board and hoisted me over that four-foot wall (not a small accomplishment considering my size), put me on a gurney, and stuck me in the back of the bus.

An EMT named Brad assessed my situation as he asked what medications I was on, took my blood pressure (a little low), gave me oxygen, and put an IV of Ringer’s lactate solution in my arm. He said he wanted to do an EKG and apologized for having to cut my t-shirt off to apply the leads to my chest. Ironically, it was the souvenir shirt I’d bought after climbing Diamond Head in Hawaii with my wife and daughter 11 years ago. Everything looked fine on the EKG, and I was starting to feel a lot better in the air-conditioned ambulance. But to be sure, Brad told the driver we were going to Missouri Baptist Medical Center.

My first thought at that point was as if I were a 6-year-old boy: I get to ride in an ambulance with the lights and siren going! My second thought, as a 56-year-old man: I wonder how much this is going to cost!

While the ambulance whisked me down the road, one of the onlookers helped my wife get our bikes back to my car, about a half-mile away. My wife then drove over to meet me at the hospital.

At MoBap, I was put in an emergency room with a nurse named Adrienne, who hooked me up to another EKG, took my blood pressure and other vitals, and asked me for details on what had happened. I told her that I was almost back to normal, but needed to use the bathroom. She said she couldn’t allow me to walk, but would bring me a “bedside commode.” I hated the sound of that so much I told her I’d hold it in for awhile longer.

After another ten minutes, she had all of my information and figured I was stabilized, so she told me she’d have a doctor come see me soon. I insisted she let me out of the bed to take care of business. She relented, and called for an orderly to bring a wheelchair. When I got out of the bed, I looked back to see that some of the grass and straw from the ground I’d been laying on had stuck to my sweaty clothes and was now in the bed — along with two crawly bugs. I pointed them out to Adrienne who, as she plucked them away with her hand, said that was nothing compared to the stuff she’d had to deal with in patients’ beds before. Two words came into my mind: Bodily Fluids.

The orderly took me to the bathroom and left me alone — so much so that when I was through, he was nowhere to be found. So I walked back to the room, pushing the wheelchair all the way. By then, my wife had arrived, having stopped to give the front desk our insurance details and other information. I filled her in on everything that had happened and told her I was now fine and ready to leave.

At that point, a technician showed up and said he was ready to take me for a chest x-ray. I politely said, “No, thanks.” He stopped in his tracks, smiled, and said, “Okay, I’ll just cancel that.” I turned to my wife, who we call The Family Ombudswoman (a/k/a The Fixer), and told her, “Get me out of here.”

She tracked down Adrienne and had a quick discussion with her, which ended with Adrienne bringing in a form entitled Against Medical Advice. She had filled in the particulars, which she showed me, then turned it over and revealed that under “Possible Consequences of Patient’s Departure Against Medical Advice,” she had written “Death.”

I laughed and told her that she was absolutely going to win that bet, because we’re all going to die eventually. Then I signed it, but before I could leave, I mentioned that my Diamond Head t-shirt was in shreds, I couldn’t take the hospital gown with me, and no one in the building would want to see me topless. Adrienne got me a blue paper scrub top, which I pulled on, and we headed for the car.

I told my wife I would drive us home, but she gave me a look that said, “Get in the passenger seat and keep quiet!” I did, and for the entire ride, all I could think about was how much I regretted not saying to myself at the bottom of that hill, “I think I can’t! I think I can’t!”