I was attending Hamilton Elementary School in Schenectady. I was sent to the nurse’s office for a routine exam. This was exciting for me since it represented a great adventure. However, the outcome was not pleasant. I was taken aside to a place where I could talk to the nurse privately. She told me that there was a problem and that I could not participate in gym class any more. She gave me a 3 x 5 card with a single word on it, and she told to inform my parents that what was written on the card was the problem.
On the way home, I studied the card. The single word was cardiac. I did not show the card to my parents because they were Italian immigrants and did not read English. I was not familiar with the meaning of this word, but I knew how to use a dictionary. I picked up one in the school’s library the next day and looked it up. The meaning gave me to understand that my problem had something to do with my heart.
Not understanding what the word had meant to convey to my parents bothered me. I did not mind missing gym. I got to enjoy my time in Study Hall while the other kids were running around on a field playing with one ball or another.
I never shared my concern with my parents since I felt they’d worry. I was doing enough worrying for both of them. They never knew that I was excused from gym, because all they knew about my classes at school is that I was getting the kind of education they had missed out on.
Every so often, I’d feel a twinge in my chest near where my heart was located and I’d wonder if my body was on the verge of having a heart attack or something worse. I was 20 when I finally learned what the word meant. I was being examined for induction into the U. S. Army. I told the doctor that I was afflicted with something called cardiac and asked what that was. He responded that my heart beat about 20 percent faster than normal. This was not unusual and would not make me a 4F. I was glad about this since being a 4F meant that a candidate for the Army was too ill to be inducted. This determination was deemed a disgrace at that time since our country was at war and it would not have been pleasant news for anyone to hear.
I was inducted into the Service and performed the same duties as everyone else, marching, running, calisthenics, etc. During these periods, I’d wonder if I was abusing my heart and would have to pay a price at some point. Gradually, I learned that having a heart that beat faster than normal was not anything worth worrying about. Year after year went by. Whenever I’d need a physical exam, the rapid pace of my heart was always detected but it never caused a doctor to express alarm. It was characterized as being fast but within normal limits. I had been born with this condition. It did not even have a name. In life, whenever I needed to, I shoveled, dug, painted, and pushed. But why had that nurse handed me that card with the single word on it. Subtly, it had changed my life. Gradually, I came to understand that even subtle changes have meanings though we may not understand them at the time.
I was in my early 80s when I learned that I needed bypasses and a new valve for my heart. Having this work done gave my heart a new start. A pacemaker followed a few years later. Today, as a nonagenarian, my heart beats faithfully every day. It doesn’t beat fast any more. Of course, I must admit that I don’t shovel, dig, paint, and push a great deal any more. That helps.
As I pen this,
I cannot help but wonder why
so long ago
a card with a single word was handed me.
Will the answer e’er be mine to see,
or was it destined
ever more to be