I couldn’t breathe. Not in, not out.
With my airways blocked, I couldn’t yell for help, either. I couldn’t even squeak for help. My lungs were as useless as Congress in a fiscal crisis. Something had gone terribly wrong while I was swallowing my vitamins.
My life flashed behind my eyes. I know, I was expecting it to flash before my eyes, too. But that’s the problem with clichés. Sometimes you can’t rely on them to perform as expected, not even in an emergency.
So I stood there watching the documentary of me. The film was a lot shorter than I expected. Grainier, and poorly edited, too. Think Night of the Lepus, circa 1972. Nothing wrong with a movie about giant, mutant, carnivorous killer rabbits, mind you. Classic B-rate science fiction. It’s just that I expected something more colorful, and gripping. Something along the lines of Avatar 3D, but with an actual plot and a lot more gratuitous nudity. Instead, it was boring. So dull that for a moment I felt grateful my life was ending. I didn’t just float toward the light, I sprinted.
Then, from somewhere deep in my throat, a gurgling sound.
My wife, Kerry, whirled around, saw that I was choking, and prepared to give me the Heimlich Manuever.
Then, more gurgling, and a gasp. It was water stuck in my throat, not a pill. I relaxed, and it slowly began clearing. I waved Kerry off, fighting for air.
This is ironic, I thought. Vitamins are supposed to make me feel better, not kill me. That’s why I dutifully take a handful of them before I go to bed every night.
I was standing at the kitchen window staring wistfully at the distant moon — I love the moon — when it happened. I was, in fact, waiting for it to happen. I wait for it to happen every night because I’m too impatient to take my vitamins one or two at a time. Instead, I swallow ten to twelve of them all at once, like a circus freak. I know it’s risky, but my pill-swallowing routine has become the biggest thrill of my day, and a matter of personal pride. Normally, it works out fine. Maybe I get a little indigestion from the garlic pill, or a bad taste in my mouth from the cod liver oil in the vitamin D. Unpleasant, but not life-threatening.
This time, I thought I’d finally blown it. Dishonorably offed myself with 1,000 International Units of encapsulated vitamin E.
Imagine the shame of seeing that finding on the coroner’s report.
But I was breathing again. I was all right.
Kerry looked relieved. A self-proclaimed expert on natural health, she prepares my daily cocktail of vitamins and herbs. She says they’re supposed to make me less grumpy, improve my ability to remember things like my phone number and, generally speaking, make me look like Mr. December in New York City’s 2012 firemen’s calendar. You know, the shirtless guy on the cover who apparently extinguishes apartment fires with mighty blasts of wind that he creates by rapidly flexing his well-defined pecks.
They’re also supposed to extend my life, although I’m not entirely sure why she wants to do that since I’m so ill-tempered, senile and ugly. It isn’t like I made us rich by inventing the iPad, either. Or even the Insta-Hang, the easiest way to put thumbtacks into a wall since the thumb. Most days, I just sit around muttering obscenities at the television, or sighing forlornly.
But Kerry seems to want me to live, and I don’t argue with her. It would be pointless to argue with her anyway. I haven’t won an argument with her since…well, since ever. I lost my first argument with her — over the appropriate volume for playing power chords on a electric guitar in a dorm room — before we even formally met, and my debate skills haven’t improved over time.
I can’t say I gained any valuable insights from my near-death experience. I don’t even care that I didn’t. I still regularly risk my life by taking my vitamins a handful at a time.
I guess I’m a thrill-seeker at heart.