Heart of Gold

I’ll never forget that day in my cardiologist’s office. “Roy, you’ve got to give up sausage, smoking, fried food, Ding Dongs, and salt.

I said, “Doc, why don’t you just give me a lethal injection right now?”

He told me there was a better solution. Heart of Gold Clinic. “I hear they work miracles over there.”

Heart of Gold. They sounded like wonderful, caring doctors.

“But they’re expensive.”

“I’ll pay anything, Doc. But I ain’t about to give up poker night with the boys.” Fried shrimp, hushpuppies, Coleslaw, fries, and all the Budwiser you could drink. Big cigars and raunchy jokes. By 5:00 a.m. the smoke was so thick you couldn’t see halfway across the table.

Even though I was willing to pay whatever it took, I didn’t have much money to spare. Maybe if I had put off buying that new pool table and the 60-inch high-def TV. Oh, and my extended cab, 4×4 diesel pickup truck. But a man’s gotta have his boy toys. And how was I to know this heart trouble stuff was gonna come along and kick me in the butt?

Anyway, that’s what insurance is for, right? I could handle a small co-pay. So I made an appointment at the Heart of Gold Clinic. The secretary told me to get there early for registration. No problem, I thought. It would be the usual questions about medical history, insurance and employment.

But instead of handing me a clipboard of forms, the secretary led me to the finance guy’s office. He explained that my procedure would not be covered by insurance.

“How much money are we talking about?”

When he told me, I think my heart literally stopped beating. For like three or four seconds.

“But don’t worry,” he said. “We a have finance plan for every need. Very few of our customers pay cash.”

He said customers. Didn’t he mean to say patients? I should have realized right then and there that something was funny about the Heart of Gold Clinic. But it was my only hope—unless I wanted to start exercising.

“How much monthly payment can you afford?”

It’s so clear to me now. I should have noticed it at the time. He sounded like a car salesman. They never want to talk about the bottom line. It’s only about whether you can afford the monthly payment. Later you find out you paid $5,000 too much.

I was afraid to lowball him. Somehow I couldn’t see him making a counter offer. And this was life or death. “I could probably handle $300 a month.”

“Hmm.” He messed around with his computer for long enough to make me nervous.

I was about to blurt out a bigger number when he said, “I think we can make that work.”

The printer on his desk began to spit out a bunch of pages. I wish now I had read them before I signed.

Dr. Milca Hue was a small Asian woman. Quite beautiful. In fact, I would have asked her out if my divorce had been final. She seemed very smart. There was nothing to make me hesitate about going under her knife.

She explained that my new heart would be made of space-age plastic and electronics. The dang thing had four computers in it. But don’t ask me about computers. I don’t know squat.

My surgery was a complete success. I felt like a new man. And the best part was that I didn’t have to give up any of my bad habits. This newfangled heart keeps all my arteries cleaned out. So, whatever the thing cost, I figured it was worth every penny.

And the coolest part is the remote control. When I go to bed I set it on Sleep Mode, and sleep like a baby.

When I need extra energy for football with my buddies, I just crank it up, and I can play like a maniac. It’s so much better than my original equipment.

But that $300 monthly note got to be a problem. Especially after I traded in my year-old pickup. The new model was so hot. I just had to have it. But my new truck note is $895 a month.

That’s when I started having trouble paying my bills. As hard as I tried, I could not cover everything. I didn’t want to be homeless. And I sure as heck didn’t want to be truck-less. So I skipped my Heart of Gold payment for a couple of months. What were they gonna do? Repossess my heart?

I was surprised when I got a text message one day—warning me that my account was past due. It urged me to re-read my contract. I had two days to bring my account up to date.

I thought, what are they gonna do about it? Send a guy over to break my legs?

The next day I got another text message. YOUR ACCOUNT IS 60 DAYS OVERDUE. CONTRACT OPTION K WILL BE DEPLOYED AT MIDNIGHT.

Are you kidding me? I wasn’t gonna pay it now even if I did have the money.

But as midnight came around, I started to get anxious. Would there be a knock at the door? No. It had to be a bluff.

Still, I sat in my kitchen watching the clock. It’s one of those atomic clocks, so I knew it was accurate. As the second hand clicked its way toward 12, I began to sweat. Only fifteen more seconds until midnight.

Ten seconds. I felt my heartbeat begin to race. I checked the readout on my heart remote. Pulse: 92. Higher than my normal resting rate, but no need for alarm.

Five seconds. Pulse: 104.

Four seconds…three…two…Pulse: 127.

Midnight.

Pulse? The display had gone blank.

I felt the side of my neck with my fingers, desperately trying to find a pulse. It wasn’t there.

They were killing me for non-payment.

I checked the clock. I don’t know what I was expecting.

At five seconds after midnight, my heart started beating again.

That was scary, I thought. Must be some kind of glitch in the software. I would get it checked out the next day.

As I began to relax, I laughed at myself. What was I thinking? That my heart was being controlled remotely by somebody at the clinic? How ridiculous. They had made me paranoid with those weird text message warnings.

Then, at twenty seconds after midnight, my heart stopped again.

Six seconds later it restarted. I panicked. Was this a pattern? My heart stops for five seconds, six seconds, seven… At that rate I would be dead before an ambulance could get there.

My phone beeped. It was a new text message. PAY BY MIDNIGHT TOMORROW OR THERE WILL BE NO RESTART.

I was hopping mad. They can’t get away with this, I thought. I would show this text message to the police. Then the message disappeared. I didn’t delete it. It was just gone. Their earlier messages were gone too.

The next day, I found the money to bring my account up to date. And I’ve never been late since.

I probably should try to warn other people about Heart of Gold. But I know they won’t listen. They don’t want to take care of their bodies. They don’t want to have to work at getting into shape. They just want an easy fix.

They’re fools. Just like me.

But at least now I understand what Heart of Gold really means.

You get the heart. They get the gold.

THE END

Copyright © 2010 Robert Burton Robinson