A 50-year-old man is showering when he experiences pressure in his chest and throat associated with profound fatigue. An ambulance is called, and the emergency medical personnel inform him that he is having a heart attack. As he lays bare on his bed, his emotions switch from shock to indifference to a sense of calm with acceptance of impending death.

The narrator is a poet and a foreigner. In the hospital, his complicated name gets truncated to "Me'med" for convenience. He emigrated with his family from Zagreb to America in 1996, but still wakes from sleep haunted by memories of Kalashnikovs firing in Sarajevo.

He has stents placed in two obstructed coronary arteries and is immediately asymptomatic. At the Washington, D.C. hospital where he is treated, the narrator encounters a collection of fellow-foreigners: an elderly Slovak roommate suffering from Alzheimer's disease, a young Somali nurse, an African echocardiographer, and an Indian physician. A few days later, when he is discharged from the hospital, he feels fear and insecurity even though his medical problem has been fixed.

The narrator's world is now different. He is no longer who he was. When he returns to his apartment, hints (cigarettes and ashtrays) of his prior life are missing. He has a chance to change, another opportunity to restart his life.


When the narrator of this short story becomes sick, everything suddenly feels foreign to him - his own body, the medical staff providing his care, and his past life. Strangers (medical personnel) "assault" his privacy. He becomes more than a participant in his myocardial infarction; he's now a detached observer too. His heart attack has a surreal flavor. The narrator describes his interaction with the ambulance personnel in a manner that suggests a diminution of his body: "The bodies of all those people around me were unnaturally big, while my body had shrunk" (p. 215). And, "The ease with which these strangers shift my body through space creates an impression of my own weightlessness. I am what is left over of me" (p. 217). 


Translated from the Bosnian by Celia Hawkesworth.

Primary Source

Best European Fiction 2013


Dalkey Archive Press

Place Published

Champaign, Illinois




Aleksandar Hemon

Page Count