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Suddenly, the clock seems to be ticking more loudly

 Commentator Robert Chipkin's recent trip to the emergency room included a CT scan, which ruled out all the scariest possibilities.
Liz West
Wikimedia Commons
Commentator Robert Chipkin's recent trip to the emergency room included a CT scan, which ruled out all the scariest possibilities.

So often when one hears of a near-death experience, the mind turns to hospital workers holding defibrillator paddles, shouting, "Clear!" while a disembodied self hovers above, heading ethereally toward the light.

Then there are what I call the more common "nearby" death experiences.

Most people, if they thought about it, could come up with a list. And yet, some stand out through time. The No. 6 bus in Jerusalem that I boarded every day for a year and which I had completely forgotten about until I heard, some three decades later, it had been blown up in a terrorist attack. The World Trade Center, where I lunched in August 2001, that was only ashes and smoke by the time the September credit card bill arrived.

And, most memorably, a Monday — tax day, Patriots Day, Marathon Day a decade ago.

Our family lined up on Boylston Street to cheer my daughter crossing the finish line at 3 hours, 24 minutes. Not a personal record, but respectable — and life-saving, as it turns out. We were well out of harm’s way when the Marathon bomber struck 40 minutes later.

That was as close as I cared to come to my nearby-death-day until recently, when an attack of unexplained pain sent me kicking and screaming to the emergency room of my local hospital. After an initial examination and a boatload of painkillers, I was wheeled through a long corridor to “imaging” for a CAT scan.

"It's probably nothing,” I was told. But, of course, that meant it could be anything.

Einstein said that time was relative, but I didn’t need his hypothetical deep-space round-trip to feel time slow amid a meteor shower of imaginary cancer diagnoses flying through my head. Soon (a relative word if ever I heard one) the results came back that all the horrible had been ruled out, leaving me to deal with the simply treatable.

And so I have.

Yet, in that story of an hour flat on my back through the hospital corridors to what I am now calling the CAT-astrophizing scan, I have come up with a new kind of near-death — the one that starts with “probably nothing" and ends with "nothing … for now.”

As an aside, the radiology report noted a small growth on my adrenal gland. Nothing to worry about, the ER doc said. “Lots of people have them. They just don’t know it.”

“No treatment needed now,” the report concluded. “Check again next year.”

But all I heard was the emergency room clock: tick tock.

Robert Chipkin lives and writes in Springfield.

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