Take My Pulse

Entry by: writerYNKGHTYLDE

4th September 2015
PANTING. That’s all he could hear at first. Ringing in his ears, rushing through his brain.
His breaths were short. The air was cold, causing him to gasp. September’s morning chill was sharper than he’d imagined. He could feel it sucking down into his lungs.
His feet felt like lead, just about lifting off the pavement. His knees were stiff, clicking every time they stretched out from their inflexible joints.
But his legs, miraculously kept moving, as if they had a life of their own, kept his momentum going forward.
Jonny didn’t know where he was going. Didn’t know where he wanted to end up. All he knew was that he needed to keep running.
It would keep him in some sort of shape for old age if he ever got that far. More importantly it kept his mind occupied. Stop, and he wondered too much about life.
At its most depressing moments, like a friend’s funeral the previous week where he’d stood in the pulpit and read a eulogy, he wondered what was the point of it all.
The church had been packed. He knew the church wouldn’t be packed when his time came. His decisions, where the job always came first, had jettisoned friends along the way.
He’d moved around so much with work, he’d long since put the barriers up. He was difficult to get to know, almost impossible to get close to.
It made moving jobs, moving homes, moving lives easier. It saved a lot of heartache. But ultimately it meant he was destined to be alone, or if not alone, then certainly lonely.
His mind wandered back to the present. His run. His body ached. But the horizon was broadening. He could see mountain peaks emerging in the distance. And the top of his own hill, the personal summit of his run, approached.
He surged on defiantly. Lifted his legs more, quickened his feet, stretched his knees further, pushing on now to the brow.
That’s when he felt it, like a drug being pumped into his veins. That’s the moment, the feeling he craved. His legspan lengthened. His breaths deepened. His arms pumped. He was coasting downhill. God that felt good.
“Yes,” he shouted out loud, all the emphasis on the final ‘s’. “I can do this.”
It had started with a text.
His phone had buzzed.
It was next to his bedside.
He picked up the phone. Bleary-eyed he pressed the button, and read the message.
Four words.
“You better be running!”
It was like the kiss of life.
Four words which were enough to catapult him out of bed, into his running top, shorts, socks and trainers before he’d even had time to wake up.
And before he’d had a chance to think what day it was, he was out there. Running.
Not just any running. Proper training. Marathon training.
He hadn’t run since he was at school. And he was rubbish at it then, all gangly legs and knees knocking together. Always out of breath. And that was 30 years ago.
Yet, here he was, less than two years from his 50th birthday, setting off on a training run for his first ever marathon.
A few weeks earlier he couldn’t even run a mile. Not even half a mile. Not even 100 yards, without stopping, without walking.
Now he was preparing to run more than 26. In 11 months time. Eleven months to go from 0-26.
Or die, trying.
Death. There it was again. The ‘D’ word.
Even his children reminded him of his mortality.
“Don’t die dad,” said so nonchalantly, dismissively even, by at least one of his two teenagers wandering across the kitchen in shorts and t-shirt, before they buried their heads in cereal boxes and headed quickly back to their bedroom computer screens, leaving him alone downstairs about to set off for his daily run.
The irony was they’d be better off if he did croak. Financially certainly. Mortgage paid, for starters. Otherwise he was going to be 67 before it was fully paid up. Still almost two decades away. Something else to lose sleep over. Especially if he lost his job. What would he do then? He couldn’t even start to think how life would pan out without an income. Best not think about it. It only made him sweat, and feel further stranded and trapped.
As for emotionally? Would his wife, his children, mourn his passing? He doubted they’d even notice he’d gone. Or at least not realise he’d never come back, never run back through that front door again. Just run, and disappeared. For ever.
That’s what it meant to be Jonny. 48. A man. A husband. A dad. A son. But surplus to requirements in every capacity.
As now a completely 'useless' son, he thought of his own dad, lying helpless in a care home bed.
His father had been active until his mid-70s. But despite a love of hill-walking he’d always been overweight. He’d never run, never really exercised to any serious degree.
Now he couldn’t be moved from his bed, or even turn over, without nurses calling for a giant medical crane. Upsetting and sobering to witness all at the same time.
Totally immobile, his dad had now also gone past even being able to communicate.
Jonny spent his entire visits squeezing his hand while his dying father lay fast asleep, mouth wide open, pale complexion, just skin and bone, not responding to any touch or speech, not even when Jonny bent his mouth to his father’s ear to whisper: “I love you dad.”
He’d feel his dad’s feeble, weak pulse, it was the only way he knew he was still alive.
Jonny shut the care home door behind and always walked out into the fresh air of the faded seaside resort where he’d grown up, where he’d had a happy childhood, where he had so many family memories, trying to wipe away his tears. He always wondered if it would be his last visit or if he’d see his dad again. His dad wouldn’t even know either way.
That’s why Jonny kept running. He was running away from death. He was running to feel alive again.
The next day his own pale body was stretched out on the perfectly pressed white medical sheets.
It was lying in a private side room at the small health centre in the suburbs of the city.
The female doctor leant over him in her white coat, prodding his stiff muscles hoping for a reaction.
His knee leapt. “That’s good,” she said, putting down the reflex hammer.
Jonny was coming to the end of an intense two-hour medical.
It happened every two years. His company insisted on it.
Normally he had white-coat fever, coming out in a cold sweat at the thought of such a medical examination.
He drank too much red wine, enjoyed too many corporate lunches and dinners, and had a lifelong love affair with chocolate which he was always ready to admit, but never willing to give up.
And to top it off before all his previous medicals he didn’t do any exercise of note, except walk the dogs, and his male doctor at his first ever medical had dismissed that as any form of a serious work-out right from the outset: “They’re always stopping to pee, no good for you losing weight Mr Robinson”, he’d said. That was Jonny told. He wouldn’t mention the dogs again.
But this year was different.
“I’ve started marathon training,” he said, expecting a round of applause. Well a pat on the back at least. He got neither.
“Let’s hope you don’t drop down dead. That wouldn’t look too good on my CV now would it?” came the female doctor’s reply.
What was it with these people?
Not satisfied with putting his body through its paces – pumping up the blood pressure jacket squeezing the life out of his arm, forcing him to do a third lung-busting wheeze on the test tube, or pressing and prodding her hand on his pelvis – now she was also challenging his mental capacity to actually complete what had become his life goal.
“So what motivated you to do a marathon, Mr Robinson?” she said.
“A friend,” he replied.
“Must be some friend. We’ve been trying to get you to exercise for the last 20 years, and you’ve always resisted before. What’s she like this friend?” she said.
“What makes you think it’s a she?”
“Let’s call it an educated guess,” the doctor replied.
“Well, I don’t know really. I’ve never taken the time to find out,” hearing himself say the words he could tell how ridiculous he sounded.
“It’s just we’ve got this pact. She knows running is good for me. And every now and again she sends a text to remind me to get out there. She has this uncanny knack of picking just the right moment, just when I might be flagging, just when I’m thinking of rolling over and going back to sleep, just when I can’t face it.”
Jonny elaborated. “I never want to run. I never want to take those first steps. But after a couple of minutes I find myself smiling, involuntarily, I don’t really know I’m doing it half the time.”
Jonny was on a roll now. He forgot he was in a medical centre. He was lost in yesterday’s run again.
“There’s just something so uplifting. Just yesterday I saw flocks of geese getting ready to migrate, a deer ran away from me in the woods, and the views of the September mist in the valleys and the peaks above, it’s like you’re privileged to see all this stuff while everyone else is asleep. It’s like a whole secret world is out there that I never knew existed before. And then there’s that moment after you’ve finished when you feel so alive.
“Take my pulse doctor, I’m sure, you’ll see.”
“You do know Mr Robinson that there’s a straightforward medical explanation for all of these feelings don’t you? They’re called endorphins.”
The doctor had a dry sense of humour, and a patter which she’d developed with Mr Robinson over the years. They sparred with each other.
She got out her stethoscope, pressed the cold metal to his chest and listened all around.
“Your heart sounds to be in good working order.”
Then she held her fingers to his wrist.
“And yes, your pulse is strong, I can indeed confirm you are alive!
“Right, you can get dressed again now. That’s your medical over for another two years.” she said.
But she knew there was more to say. She knew he needed more motivation if he was going to walk out of there feeling good about himself.
And while not wanting to praise him she was privately proud of his new-found exercise regime and wanted him to continue, knowing all the medical benefits it would bring, it certainly made her job easier.
“I’d say you’ve found yourself a lifesaver. You are truly a lucky man Mr Robinson. Most people go through life and never find what you have found.”
“I appreciate that every day. I really do,” he said.
“It’s life after the marathon, that worries me. For now, I have my motivation, I have my motivator. What happens when I lose all that?”
“Let’s not worry about that today Mr Robinson. That’s not going to happen anytime soon. You’re good for a few years yet. Just keep doing what you’re doing and we’ll see you again next time.”
Back home, the next day, Jonny was out there again, panting and wheezing.
Feeling September’s air once more, now he had an extra spring in his step, and felt more alive than at any time in the last 30 years.
When he got back through the front door, he sat down on the kitchen chair, no children around this morning, got out his phone, pressed the button, typed and sent his message.
“I ran.”