Shannon O’Connor

From Heart to Soul

Whoever decided to put all the subdivisions of Cardiology together in one office didn’t know what was coming. How can up to four hundred patients walk into a doctors’ office in one day? Sure, there are eight front desk people, and almost twenty medical assistants, but some things are overwhelming for anyone.

In the beginning, it was just Cardiovascular Medicine. There were less than one hundred patients a day, and it was manageable. After that, ICA, or Interventional Cardiology Associates, and Vascular were added to the office, and it got busier. But when EP, or Electrophysiology, was moved upstairs, was when the bedlam began. That’s when it started with more than three hundred, almost four hundred patients a day.

And the patients were needy. They could all have heart attacks at any moment. Heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the world for the longest time, but cancer is creeping forward slowly.

Sometimes I thought I would have a heart attack in that office. It didn’t help that almost all my relatives who died from natural causes did so from heart attacks. I was in the wrong place. It was too personal for me.

One day, I was sitting at my desk, and the manager, Amber, was sitting next to me because we were short-handed and some people were at lunch. She didn’t usually work at the front desk, but she did in emergencies like that day.

A patient left her area. “God, I feel like I’m in the looney bin,” she said.

I cringed. I hated when people said things like that. Everyone in Cardiology said similar things all the time, because they thought it was so crazy in the office. I took those remarks personally.

I had spent time in a psychiatric hospital when I was young, and most people now would never guess. The places I had worked before, I had never told anyone about my past, because I thought the people who worked there were too uneducated and illiterate to understand mental illness.

I thought that if I worked at a hospital my coworkers might have more sympathy for people to people with medical problems, including mental illness. But that wasn’t true.

I was sick of it. I had to say something to Amber. But I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I figured out a way.

After the lunches were over, and Amber went back to her office, I decided to go and talk to her.

I knocked on her door.

“Could I talk to you for a minute?” I said. My stomach was sinking. I didn’t want to do this, but I thought that I must.

“What can I do for you, Jen?” she said.

“I know it gets kind of crazy in here with all these patients,” I said. “But that remark you made…”

“What did I say?”

“You said you felt like you were in a looney bin,” I said.

“Oh, that, yeah it’s crazy in here.”

“Well, I take that remark personally. I have relatives who’ve been in psychiatric hospitals, and I don’t think it’s anything to joke about.”

“I’m so sorry.” She put on a serious face.

“Everyone says stuff like that all the time, but if you’ve ever known anyone in a place like that, or if you’ve gone to visit them, you know that it’s not funny.”

“Is it someone close to you?”

“My cousin who I’m close to. It happened a long time ago, and she’s much better now, but I still remember what she was like in that place when I went to visit her. It was horrible. It’s scary in there.”

“I can imagine. I won’t say anything like that again about looney bins or anything like that.”

“Thank you.”

“And if I hear anyone saying anything to that effect, I’ll say something to them.”

“I think that this is a hospital, and nobody here is joking about heart attacks or cancer, so we shouldn’t joke about psychiatric issues. I don’t think it’s right. It’s a medical issue just like anything else.”

“I completely agree. Thank you for letting me know this.”

I walked out the door. That was one of the hardest things I ever did. Amber scared me a little, because she was so intense and real, but she was a nice person deep down.

I didn’t want to tell anyone in Cardiology that I was a former psychiatric patient. I had enough problems dealing with the hectic office and patients being angry, and my coworkers slacking off not doing their jobs.

Life changes and moves on. My life had changed, and it had been a long time since I had been a patient in a psychiatric hospital. I took my medicine, and I went to therapy. I was better, but I didn’t like being completely in the closet. I could be partially in the closet for now, peeking out the door, trying to see if anyone was out there ready to see me. I had to keep things to myself for the time being, because I thought I didn’t have the status to announce my history to the world, because that was the way my life had to be.

I was used to things being this way, and I preferred people not knowing my background. I didn’t want to tell people that I had lived a secretly amazing life; if they only knew what I had to get through to be where I was, I would win awards! I would have to prepare my acceptance speeches for some time in the future, when I would be comfortable and open as a morning glory on the vine on a spring day, reaching for the sun.

Back to Top of Page | Back to Fiction | Back to Volume 15, Issue 2 – Summer 2021

About the Author

Shannon O’Connor holds an MFA in Writing and Literature from Bennington College. She has been published in Oddball Magazine, The Wilderness House Literary Review, 365 Tomorrows, previously in Wordgathering, and others. She can be found on her blog She lives in the Boston area and works in a hospital.