Thursday, August 4, 2011

An Uphill Climb

This blog goes out to my Uncle Nicky and Eddie Paradiso.


Today was the day. Another year had gone by. I felt the equivalent of tumbleweed passing by.

It was odd all around.

I just received news that Eddie, a friend I skated with for years, had passed away. Forty-nine years old. Pancreatic cancer discovered in April. Dead by July.

This was on top of the passing of my Uncle Nicky who fought for three years until he could fight no more.

Another friend’s dad was going in for a biopsy.

What the hell was going on?

I had to focus.


I always walk into a roomful of stares in this office. Older people with walkers, wives holding up their husbands, and vice versa greet me in my running shorts and football tee.

I’m not here to be tested. I am here to break the rules.

They call it a stress test. You get on a treadmill and they jack it to College Hill scale and say, “go”.

It is my secret wish to never go to this place again. For now, I am here to show them, that is, show me, where my marker is. Today it is 15 minutes.

Eight years ago, because of well-documented treatments, I had emergency triple bypass surgery. Eight years of scars. Eight years of head shaking from therapists. Eight years to make a 5k my marathon.

It all comes down to 15 minutes on a treadmill. Every year I have extended my time a few seconds more. Last year it was 14:30. I could have gone longer but I was talked out of it and they pushed the big read, bozo button that stops the treadmill.

Not this year – 15.

I’ve had the same nurse for three years running. I like her. She talks a lot. I get the whole life story from the kids in the neighborhood to the fact that one of her workmates can’t even download a ringtone to her phone. She talks to me while the time passes on the treadmill.

“Joe? Joe Mazzenga?”

I am the only one in the room and someday I’m going to not answer just to see if they come over and check an ID or something.

It’s not the nurse. It’s not my nurse.

Her name is Faith. She’s a little thing standing about five foot nothing with silver starfish for earrings.

Truth, I can tell she might be new to the place.

Harder truth? She is quiet as a mouse.

The silence brings back all of the thoughts and questions. What if I don’t make my goal? Does that mean I am taking a step backwards?

The old technician from last year is waiting for the both of us. He’s never overly friendly. He just likes to take cold gel, a blunt instrument, and stab my ribs in an effort to impale me. No worries, I’ll show him too.

I am sore. Everything aches. I just need 15 minutes.

We go through all of the paces, wiring me up, asking me the same questions, and finally hooking up a battery belt in a last ditch imitation of the 6 Million Dollar Man (

“Your BP is 106/60. Ready?”

I want to shout out, “No! Wait. Group hug!”

“Yup.” That’s all I got.

Stage 1 is a walk in the park. Okay, maybe with a breeze in your face and a slight uphill. Here is where my old nurse would start talking about dancing, her son in college, or her boyfriend that needed a job.

Faith just looks forward. “A little steeper. A little faster.”

I keep thinking she will sprout wings and grant me a wish. “What is Stage 2?”

“Excuse me?” she asked.

“Sorry I thought you wanted it in a form of a question.”

Lo and behold. Things got faster and steeper. I think she did it on purpose.

To be quite honest, screw stage 1 through 3. I know I have these. Cut to the chase. Stage 4 and I am usually running uphill for real.

“Steeper and faster.”

Keep thinking and breathing. Since there is no conversation, all I have to do is breathe.

Fourteen minutes have passed. I can do this now. I know that for sure. I want to high-five someone.

Now I sense a presence. The old tech.

I look over my shoulder and he is watching intently, arms folded.

“Fifteen minutes,” Faith states. She is now smiling. “Want to go over?”

I had to ask. “Did you change the test?”

I wasn’t running. I was walking very fast. I was breathing but I wouldn’t call it all out gulping for air.

“Yes. I want to go fur-”

“No. Shut it down.”

What’s with the old man tech? Is there some sort of train coming through he had to catch? An old man tech convention where they were giving out prizes?

I was peeved.

“Shut it down.”

Faith hit the big red, bozo button and my 15 minutes-plus faded into a sagging ramp slowly puttering to an inchworm’s crawl.

I have to throw myself onto the bench where Vlad the Impaler hits me with a blunt instrument.

I wait for Faith to leave for a moment.

“I could have gone farther.”

“I know. If you go beyond 15, and something happens, she will be to blame.”

I think he just wanted to go to the convention.

Fifteen. The new goal conquered.

Dammit, I am having my cardiologist write me a note next time. Do I sound bitter?

Faith is back with water. It’s over. All of the tension that was built up over the days has faded now. It’s back to the real world. I want some sort of bad plastic trophy or maybe those lick on stickers to celebrate.

Eddie, I skated with you for years. I went to your Facebook page and saw you actually had an ID. I wanted to hit the ‘friend request’ but I knew that was now futile.

Uncle Nicky, you and your smile will always be with me and my family.

To Uncle Nick and Eddie – I may someday see you again, smile, and maybe even skate.

I dare say not for some time, though. I have a little Faith seeing to that.


  1. “No! Wait. Group hug!” :). I think the tech guy stopped it cause he saw your work pager going off. And because I can't figure how to just leave my name, the Argentino.

  2. Nothing like kicking a little ass at the stress test Joe!

  3. Way to go!! Keep up the good work!



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