Friday, September 20, 2013


I've thought about how I would start this post. About what I would say. I've made it a point to be honest because I'm a bluntly honest person. And you can't sugarcoat something like this.

So here's the reasoning behind my newest, and most favorite twitter hashtag #cowheart.

I was born twenty-three years ago with an ASD - atrial septum defect - meaning there was a hole in my heart between the top two chambers. (Quick anatomy lesson - you have four chambers, two upper, two lower.) Only we didn't know I was born with this. I played fourteen years of soccer, starting travel when I was eleven. I was a three sport athlete during high school, including when I went to Holland, Belgium, and Germany for a week to play over there. I played my first year and a half of college, too.

And still nobody found it.

The heart palpitations started spring of 2012. They continued periodically for the next year. Doctors like to think that anything that goes wrong with the average college student is stress related. Which, maybe, could have been it. It had been a hell of a last six months or so, what with things going on at home, getting three D's on my transcript, and finding out that I wasn't going to graduate that May. But things like that don't really make me anxious.

But they didn't go away when I finished in December and moved back home to wait the four months to walk across the stage. So we kept at it. My primary care physician referred me to a cardiologist, who, first, hooked me up with an event monitor for a month. That was my wired for sound period, where I wore a monitor for a month straight and only unstuck myself to shower. If I had any palpitations I was to push the button, wait for it to stop screeching at me, and then call the recording in for the medical center to then send to my cardiologist.

There was nothing on the monitor at the end of the month. Still, I kept having palpitations where I thought my heart was just going to up and quit. So he decided on doing an echocardiogram. (An ultrasound, pretty much, for your heart.)

That's when, in March of 2013, they discovered the hole. We just didn't know how big it was, and because there was no baseline for this kind of thing, he decided he would monitor it. I had the instructions to carry on like normal - work, refereeing, whatnot - and did just that. Carrying on like normal involved going down to a soccer tournament in Gettysburg, taking a train to Chicago to take exams, and working 25-35 hours a week as a waitress. It also included getting a second job because my student loans went into repayment this summer.

A few weeks into July it was time for another echo. A few days after I had gone in for the exam I got a phone call from a nurse. One of my valves wasn't...functioning properly. And there was some enlargement. She royally freaked me out completely, and it took a visit with my cardiologist in order to basically be calm again. He did agree that the hole was larger than we had first thought, and that, as it appeared to have grown larger in a short amount of time, wanted me to have it patched. So he sent me to a cardiologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Originally, when we talked with the cardiologist, he was going to use a little device like a double-sided umbrella to patch the hole. He needed a better picture of it, where it was and how big it was, and we scheduled a TEE - they knock you out, put a camera down your throat, and take pictures of your heart from the inside. It would give them what they needed to know. We scheduled that.

After the TEE is when things changed rather drastically. They learned the hole was huge, and couldn't be patched the little device. Using the device would have allowed them to go in through the leg, and involving a minimal hospital stay. And a shorter recovery time.

But you can't do that with a hole in your heart the size of a half dollar.

I had open heart surgery August 29. It's a heady thing, to know that in order to have a longer life expectancy you have to have your sternum cracked, heart stopped, and the hole patched with a piece of cow. Medicine has come a long way since they first started doing this type of repair, but it's still batshit crazy to think about. I was scared. Even when you know it has to happen, it's still terrifying on a certain level.

One of the things I remember from those first post-surgery moments in CVICU is writing "I love you" on my sister's palm with my finger. I stayed in ICU for 24 hours, and was moved a stepdown unit the next day. I was in the hospital three full days following ICU. I've since been back home.

I'm doing really well. We're following the recovery plan - dictates diet and exercise - and while it's driving me nuts to not be able to move my arms above my head or lift over ten pounds, I manage. I've done a bit of reading, some writing, and I've watched a whole lotta episodes of CSI:NY, and Flashpoint on Netflix. But it's also given me a lot of time to think about what I want to do with my life, and what my next steps are after I've taken my 12-14 weeks to heal properly. I've got an idea. But that's a blog post for later.

As for the cowheart? Well, I'm part cow. I joke that I'm Iron Man, and the family jokes that whenever anyone eats steak we're eating my new relatives. Sometimes a little humor goes a long way. And right now I'm just taking it day by day.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Windy City

To say it's been a while is an understatement. Rather than dump everything on everybody all at once, I'll go slow.

Back in May I submitted an application to the Illinois State Police to try and get in their forensic science trainee program. I figured it was a long shot - I wasn't sure which option that I would be qualified for - and it was the application from hell. My twitter feed can attest to that. But I sent it off to Illinois and hoped for the best.

Then I graduated from college with a BA in chemistry.

About a week, week and a half later (I think) I got mail from Illinois telling me that I had passed the education requirement and could come take my exams. It was like being accepted to college all over again, and I legit jumped up and down. Then figured out arrangements to get myself out to Chicago for a few days.

I took an AmTrak train for the first time.

One 11 hour train ride later I was in the Windy City for the first time, riding the L and trying not to get lost on my way to the hostel. My sense of direction is a little murky when I first get to a place, and I wound up taking a taxi from, well, the west side to somewhere a little more...safer. All the way to The Bean.

The Bean is really cool because it's this giant steel (I think) coffee bean-looking thing that, when you stand in front of it, reflects everything around you. It's really cool. It's a total head-screw when you go inside because you see yourself in fifteen or so different places.

I hadn't realized there was a time difference between Chicago and New York. Going back in time is not overly easy on the body, and I called it a night early. Mostly because I wanted to let everything just settle and sink before I had to take what was basically two civil service exams the next morning.

They went really, really well. The way that their tests work is that you get your score when you get done, but you don't exactly know your grade. So I walked out of there knowing how I had done. I took two exams because I'm qualified for two options. Then I had the rest of my time in Chicago to do whatever that I wanted before I got on the train that night. I took a water taxi out to Navy Pier, did the swing ride, and then walked the streets looking for a place to have Chicago deep dish.

Which is the best pizza I've ever had.

A couple weeks after I came home I got my grades in the mail. They were quite clear on the website that they only really offer interviews to those who make A's, which means you're extremely qualified.

I have an A on both exams. I'm extremely qualified and just waiting for them to call me to come back for an interview. It's a step. And now it's just a waiting game. Though I'll take any excuse to wander back to Chicago.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Two for the Rent

Matthew Winchester is about as good a best friend as anyone - Topher Stanton included - could ask for. He looked past the Stanton billions and simply saw Topher. So it's no big deal when Topher comes out as bi during their fall semester senior year.

Except it throws Matt's already muddy perspective on his own sexuality into a tailspin. Having a girlfriend doesn't seem right, and watching Topher attempt a fledgling relationship with another man doesn't sit well, either. Losing Topher's not an option, so Matt sucks it up and buries it all in the proverbial closet. 

While Topher might be emotionally conflicted on where his best friend stands in his life, he's not an idiot. He can see Matt's frayed edges and knows something's gotta give, but he's had too many important people walk out on him to lose Matt the same way. It'll be a miracle if they make it Christmas, let alone graduation in May.

Topher slammed open the door to the apartment and shut it just as viciously. The cats scrambled across the hardwood, disappearing of all places, into the bathroom, and Matt turned on his cushion, staring wide-eyed at his roommate.

He undid the top buttons on his double-breasted, calf-length dark gray peacoat with trembling fingers, allowing the two halves of the fabric part without actually removing it completely.

"What the hell is going on, Matt?" Topher said, his voice odd in the silence of the apartment.

Blindsided, Matt tried to buy himself some time. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"You. What the hell is going on with you, Matt, because last I knew when I first came out to you in September, you weren't a homophobic asshole!" Topher gripped the sides of his coat with white-knuckled fingers. "But I swear to God that you can't stand the idea of me dating anyone."

"Where in hell did you get that idea?" Matt demanded, rising up on his knees and keeping the back of the couch as a barrier between them. "And I'm not homophobic, you asshole." He wasn't. He wasn't sure what he was, but he knew he wasn't that.

"Then what is your goddamn problem?" Topher looked at his breaking point, and Matt hated himself for putting the two of them in this position.

"I don't have a problem with you," Matt said carefully, looking at Topher's nose instead of his eyes. He opened his mouth and had to glance away from Topher's face; the words wouldn't come.

Topher, however, could read between the lines well enough. "Why did you break up with Charlie?"

Matt rested his elbows on the back of the couch, scrubbing his face with his hands. "She wasn't...she wasn't what I wanted." No, that wasn't quite right. "She didn't feel right to me. When I held her." When he kissed her. When he put his arms around her and held her tight. She was curvy in all the places he wanted her to be flat.

He licked his lower lip, glad his coat was wool as a lesser fabric would have split from the tension or been marred beyond repair. Topher made Matt's gray eyes briefly, swallowed thickly, and whispered, "Why did you stop playing football?"

Either Topher was operating at a higher brain wave than the rest of the human race or he was damn good at connecting invisible dots Matt wasn't aware he'd left out in the open.

"Why did you stop playing football, Matt?" Topher repeated, louder. He took a step forward. "You love it. You absolutely love it and you've played for years and you were a freshman starter and you gave it up. So why did you do it?"

"Why is this important now?" Matt shot back, gripping the cushion like his life depended on it.

Closing his eyes, he swallowed again, like he was having to force it past a lump. "Why, Matt? You gave up dating Charlie, you gave up playing football - "

"Does it honestly matter? Does it seriously fuc - "

"Yes it matters, because it doesn't make any goddamn sense!" Topher's chest heaved. "What the hell are you hiding? From me?" 

Anybody In There?

*tap tap*


Anybody out there? Or, should I say, anybody in there? I know it's been a few months. Life got kind of nutzo for a little while - I'll fill you in a little bit - but for now, I'm back. And here's hoping this twenty-something workaholic can remember to type a few non-fiction messages every once in a while.

"The difference between life and the movies is that a script has to make sense, and life doesn't."

-Joseph L. Mankiewicz