Positivity goes a long way…

I recently joined a Facebook group called “Tetralogy of Fallot” thinking that I would have the chance to connect with other adults with TOF and possibly talk to parents of children with TOF.  What I saw kind of blew me away.  Most of the group members, or at least the active group members are mothers of very young children with TOF, and generally pretty under informed about this defect.  Many of these mothers ask questions about the positive “heart” affects of vitamins or supplements on their baby or ask about possible learning disabilities for their growing TOF children…  All I can think is, “Really?  There aren’t any magic pills that are going to cure TOF!”  I guess on one hand, I can understand that they want to be as informed as possible on the defect (and any possible difficulties that come from it) and they can hope with all of their heart that their child is as healthy as they can be.  As a patient myself, I can’t even begin to imagine all the things that ran through my own parents minds when I was diagnosed and through my three open heart surgeries and countless other procedures.  All I know is what *I* went through.

But one of the things I noticed about this group is the enormous amounts of prayer requests.  Now, I’ve mentioned before that I’m an Atheist.  But just because I’m an Atheist doesn’t mean I’m heartless (emotionally speaking).  I was talking to my Dad last week, letting him know about my upcoming catheter ablation procedure and Dad was pretty calm about it and true to his form, even offered me a bit of a joke.  He mentioned that my grandma had been worried and suggested that I call her to let her know too.  (Now, this isn’t to say I wasn’t going to call her also to let her know, but that did give me an extra push to not put the phone call off.)  Then Dad said, “You know, your grandmother told me that if you weren’t an Atheist, she’d pray for you[r health].”  That actually made me chuckle a bit.  I mean, I get it.  I understand that a lot of people in the world believe in God and even in the power of prayer.  It’s not something I believe in, but who am I to say she can’t send out a little prayer for my good health, or for a successful procedure?  If it would make her feel more comforted, then by all means, go ahead.  It actually warms my heart that she loves me enough to want to pray for my health, since that’s something she believes in.

So that takes me back to this group and their insane amount of prayer requests.  Prayer requests for things such as a working heart valve that will never need to be operated on, no need for a pacemaker later in life, no infections, no complications, etc.  Some of these things are just unavoidable.  There is a (very) good chance that the heart valve in question will start to leak and will need to be replaced as the child grows up.  It’s just a fact of life for patients with TOF.  Depending on the severity of the defect (because everyone is different), it’s possible that her child will need a pacemaker or even a defibrillator at some point in the future.  I never thought I would be faced with needing a defibrillator.  My heart has always been healthy enough for me to run and play as a child, and exercise as an adult.  But right now, there is a 10-20% chance that I’ll need a defibrillator implanted to control my SVTs (Supra Ventricular Tachycardia).  These are just facts of the condition that those of us born with this defect will have to deal with as we age.

I’m not saying to stop praying if you believe in it, but I am offering a more realistic approach that you can take as a parent.  Be strong.  You’re their parent, there will be times when your child will be scared.  Hell, even as an adult, they’ll be scared shitless.  It’s just a fact.  I know you’re scared too, but be emotionally and mentally strong when they can’t be.  Educate them to about their defect.   There will come a time when they’ll go to their doctors appointments without you and will need to understand their history and will need to understand the terms that the doctors are using.  Teach them to understand their body and to know their limitations (as prescribed by a doctor, of course).  They will always know they’re different than other kids, and forcing them to sit on the sidelines (so to speak) because their body can’t do as much will only widen the gap between them and other kids.  And lastly, be positive.  Positivity goes a very long way.  Hell, I’m 31 years old and I still pull on my parent’s positivity and strength when things start getting rough.

Stressful Stress Test

So I finally called my Cardiologist like a good CHD patient, and ended up in and out of the doctor’s office(s) all last week.  All within one week I had the iRhythm Ziopatch slapped on my skin, had a consultation with my Cardiologist (who allowed me to take the stupid event monitor off as I’d pushed the button at least 10 times in 2 days), had an Echocardiogram and was scheduled for a stress test.  I had the stress test two days ago, and let me tell you – doing this test was ri-di-cu-lous.  The test was called a Supine Bicycle Echo Stress Test.  Now, you can certainly Wikipedia that shit, but let me go ahead and tell you what the fuck this test was.

My appointment was at UCSF at 1pm and of course, they ask you to be there 15 minutes early. Because I live in the East Bay, I had to leave my house at 11:30am to get to the hospital in time.  Just getting to the hospital is a trial in itself.  I’ve decided that either Google Maps or my phone seriously despises me.  Halfway across the Bay Bridge, my damn phone lost signal and Google Maps tried to turn me around on the fucking bridge!  Google decided that I needed to exit the freeway, turn around and go back across the bridge east bound only to exit at Treasure Island then go BACK west bound.  WTF, Google?  Don’t you people have fucking satellites that work properly?  Lucky for me, Google did that to me the week before so I learned my lesson and ignored the route change.

So I got to the hospital with plenty of time to spare, I took the elevator up to the third floor and checked in at the Electrocardiography room.  They took my ID and my insurance card (like I’m really going to send someone else in to take this stupid test for me…) then was instructed to wait across the hall in the Pediatric waiting room.  Okay, fine.  No problem.  So I sit and I wait… and wait… and wait.  Finally I’m called and lead into the room where the test will be performed.  I took one look at the machine I’d be using and thought WTF?  There was a pedaling mechanism attached to a gurney.  For reals?  I have to lay down while pedaling this contraption?!?  Fine, whatever.  I’ll do whatever you people want me to do.  I came prepared in my comfy workout clothes that haven’t been worn in a month, and now I gotta wear a fashionable hospital gown.  Well, I guess my sports bra isn’t needed if I’m going to be laying down, huh?  So I get “comfortable” on the half gurney and the nurse proceeds to hook me up to the EKG machine.  As I soon found out, this wasn’t your ordinary EKG machine.  This son of a bitch was on steroids!  She stuck at least 20 electrodes on my chest, stomach, arms and legs and even said at one point that she ran out of room.  Ya think?

When she’s finally finished placing the gazillion electrodes, she looks at me and says, “Now, baby, I need to give you an IV…”  Fuck the what?  Aww, hell naw.  All I could think of (besides running, though with my heart as wacky as it has been I wouldn’t get very far) was a song I made up before one of my catheter tests when I was a kid.  It was titled, “No IV for me”.  My parents even videotaped me singing my little tune.  I seriously thought that if I made up a song and asked the doctors nicely that they wouldn’t give me an IV.   (I was sadly mistaken.)   So I decided to be a big girl, suck it up and say okay.  (I mean, what choice did I really have?)  So I looked at the nurse and gave her the warning that I give EVERYONE who needs to stick me with a needle.  My left side is easier AND my veins roll.   I’ve had nurses leave to get more experienced ones when they hear that information.  Not this woman.  She was confident in her IV implanting abilities.  She tells me that they have to put it in the right side since they’ll be doing an Echo during the test.  Wait.  Did you just say DURING the test?  Yeah… So not only will I be laying down pedaling, they’ll be doing an Echocardiogram too?  Well, fuck me sideways this is going to be fun.  Oh, and speaking of sideways…  the bed will be tilted at a 15 degree supine (think a sideways decline) during the test so they can get the best pictures of my heart.  Sonofa… Fine.  Whatever.  So the nurse prepares my right hand for the IV… deep breath in… and she misses the vein.  Motherfuckingshit, that HURTS!  Now this is why I hate IVs.  When they don’t get the damn vein on the first try, they try, try again!  No!  If you miss it, pull out, damnit!!  Don’t sit and dig around in my hand trying to find the vein!  Just cause you don’t feel it doesn’t mean that *I* don’t!   Mission IV Attempt #1: Failed.   Then she decides to try my elbow-pit on the right side.  You know, the crook of your arm (I like saying elbow-pit more).  Aaaaannd another deep breath…  No go.  AGAIN.  Okay, now I’m getting mad.  She’s nice, so I don’t want to bite her head off, but DAMN.  That shit hurts like hell!  Mission IV Attempt #2: Failed.  This time, she realizes the err of her ways and decides to go get a more experienced nurse.  Gee, thanks.  Ya could have done that two tries ago.  Before she left she tells me that my veins roll faster than a speeding bullet.  Nice Superman reference, lady, but that’s not making me like you any more.

Nurse #2 walks in and I ask, “Are you my Kryptonite?”  “I hope so”, she said.  Yay!  So I repeated my words of warning and she walks right up to my left side, looks at my elbow-pit and goes to get the IV kit.  Finally!  Someone who listens!  Trust me, ya’ll.  I’ve been dealing with this for a LONG time.  I know my body, yo!  Hopefully final deep breath in and… done.  Whew!  I really didn’t want to have to slap a bitch.  Mission IV Attempt #3:  Completed.  Alright, IV in, let’s get this show on the road!  I wasn’t able to eat much before the test (no food or drink 4 hours beforehand) so by this time, I’m starving!  Wait, what’s that?  You need to do a preliminary Echo before we start the test?  ::sigh::  The Echo tech came in and instantly started chatting it up.  Which is pretty unusual for an Echo tech – most of the time, they’re focusing on the pictures they’re taking rather than talking with me.  But this guy was a Chatty Cathy.  He started talking to me about Glee and how his wife makes him watch the show and how she “forced” him to go to the concert…  I’m thinking, “Dood, you know waaay too much about the characters and the actors themselves to NOT be a willing viewer…”  But I digress.

We finish the Echo and now it’s time to wait for the Cardiologist on staff to come in and supervise.  So I wait.  And wait.  And wait.  Fuck.  Now I have to piss like a race horse.  How the fuck am I gonna pedal this motherfucker while having to pee?  Then finally, two hours after we started prepping for the test, we’re ready.  By this time, I’m hangry (hungry and angry, thanks Logan Jedi for this gem) AND I have to pee.

The test is about to start and they tell me that I have to pedal at a certain speed which will be dictated by the lights on the machine.  Yellow on the left means I’m going too slow, yellow on the right means I’m going too fast and green in the middle is (obviously) a perfect speed.  Every 3 minutes, the machine’s resistance will increase.  First interval, it was at a 10.  No problem, I got this shit.  Three minutes later, it switched to a resistance of 30.  Okay, this is a bit more difficult.  So I tell them what I’m feeling, which is a little bit of the PVCs (Premature Ventricular Contractions), but I’m able to tell them in a complete sentence so they know my lungs are good.  I’ve gotta have great lung capacity to be able to talk as much as I do!  Three minutes later (6 minutes in), the resistance goes up to 60.  Holymotherfuckingfuck.  This shit is hard.  At this point, I’m thinking they don’t even need the yellow light on the right, because who the fuck could pedal too fast at this resistance?!  Maybe Lance Fucking Armstrong, but not this chick.  So I start to tell them that I’m having trouble keeping up when I’m interrupted by the Cardiologist yelling, “STOP!!”   I slowed down and stopped and felt the arrhythmia.  Whoops.  Did too much.  Apparently, I had an SVT (Supraventricular Tachycardia) while pedaling.  This was the reaction they were anticipating seeing, so I guess it wasn’t much of a surprise.  Even though I was done (a short 7 minutes later), they made me lay and wait… and wait some more.  Doods, didn’t I tell you I’m starving and have to pee?  Let me out of this damned contraption!!  I was finally released after two hours and 20ish minutes.  Leads off, IV out, relieved and on my way home.  Yay!

Too bad this story doesn’t end here…  Now I have to (mentally) prepare for the consultation with the Electrophysiologist scheduled for next Tuesday…

My Heart Buddy

When I was a kid, I knew I was different.  I couldn’t run like the other kids, my heart would sometimes beat in a fast, erratic rhythm, and I had a long, skinny scar on my chest.   I had a handful of close friends and a great family, but I didn’t have anyone that really understood what I went through.  That is, until I met Gabe.  I was scheduled for my second open heart surgery, but the first I would actually remember.  I was more mad than scared to be having open heart surgery.  I was in the sixth grade and I was missing so much!  I would be missing out on the annual sixth grade vs. teachers softball game, the “graduation” Great America trip, and the last day of Elementary school.

We checked into the hospital on May 31st, 1992 (the day before my scheduled surgery) and as I was watching TV in my room, I heard a knock on the door.  It was a boy about my age asking if I wanted to play cards with him.   I was wrapped up in my own mind and my own fears, so I ended up declining.  I found out later that his name was Gabe and he was also scheduled for open heart surgery.  Our surgeries were to be performed on the same day – his was first, then mine.  Even though I declined that first request to play cards, we both came out of the surgery with something in common and we became best friends.  Our hospital stay started and ended on the same day as each others, our recoveries similar except for my inability to breathe deeply.   We each left the hospital after exchanging phone numbers and addresses (since this was waaay back in the day before cell phones or pagers) and gave the promise to keep in touch with each other.

And stay in touch, we did.  I lived in the Bay Area and he lived a bit further south in Watsonville so we would call each other when we could, but mostly we’d write letters back and forth to one another.  One of the first letters I received was signed, “Your heart buddy, Gabe” and next to that was a picture of a small heart with one stitch in it.  My reply back to him was similar, only my heart drawing had two stitches in it.  Gabe and I would talk about everything under the sun; our friends, our annoying siblings, our transition from 6th to 7th grade, and our hearts.   My friends didn’t understand how anyone else could be considered my best friend, especially a boy, but what they failed to realize is that Gabe and I shared a special bond which resulted from our surgeries.  He understood my fears when we found out I needed to have a third surgery a little more than a year after the second.  Before I was to have my third surgery, I received a package in the mail from Gabe.  Inside was a small stuffed brown bear that I still have (packed away safely in a box) to this day.  My little bear went with me everywhere, even into the operating room for my third surgery!  We helped each other get through tough times and encouraged each other to talk to our parents and doctors when we weren’t feeling well.

Even though we lived over 60 miles apart, our parents would drive us to see one another, but as we got older and got our drivers licenses, we started making the journeys alone.  As we graduated High School, we each went our separate ways and eventually lost touch.   A few years after graduating High School, I found myself back in my hometown and decided to reach out to him.  I went to visit him and found that not much had changed in the few years I had been away.  The base of our friendship was still present, and his parents even still had a photograph we had taken together framed in their house.

We’ve since lost touch again, but I know that our paths will cross again and when they do, our heart bond will still be strong.

Getting through

For the past week or so, I’ve been noticing my heartbeat is slightly more… abnormal than usual.  At first, I attributed the feeling inside my chest with the PVCs (Premature Ventricular Contractions) that I usually feel about once a month (if you catch my drift).  Then as the week went on, they continued but were a bit different than normal.  My chest has felt a little tighter, my breath a little harder to catch and my heart a bit more “fluttery” than usual.  Now, any “normal” person would find a reason to explain all of those things.  You haven’t eaten as well as you should have, haven’t exercised near as much as you used to, just a bit more stressed than normal… But for someone like me, someone with CHD, the imagination (as I would rather call it that than paranoia) runs wild.  Is my Pulmonary valve finally starting to fail after almost 19 years after being implanted?  Is my Aortic valve doing what a “normal” TOF patient’s does by failing?  Am I eating too much salt, or taking in too much caffeine?  Or am I really just stressed the hell out and am I having a version of a panic attack?

None of this will be explained by my own brain.  I know I should call my cardiologist, but there’s one thing stopping me.  My overwhelming fear of the thought of another surgery.  Even know, as I think of it, my throat constricts and tears well up in my eyes.  I’m just not ready for another surgery.  I know I’m well past the “warranty” time period (as I like to call it) of my Pulmonary valve replacement.  19 years ago, they said the valve would last 5, maybe 10 years.  *Maybe* 15 if I’m lucky.  Well, I’ve proved to be lucky as this homograft valve has been happily doing it’s job for the past 19 years.  But the older I get, the more aware I am of my own mortality.  It’s not something I talk about, and not even something I allow myself to think about too often.  If I did talk about it, or think about it too much, I’d be a tiny little ball of paranoia and depression.  That’s certainly no way to live my life.  So I choose to approach tough things by either a.) avoiding it or b.) laughing about it.  Or you know, a combination of the two of those things.  But sometimes, my imagination gets the best of me and I think about what will happen when I have to have that next surgery.  How will I react to the days or minutes before I have to go in again?  When I was a kid, I didn’t really understand the gravity of the situation.  I didn’t understand that there was a possibility of not making it through the surgery.  As an adult, that possibility is staring me straight in the face, making me think of that rather than all the positive outcomes.  As a kid, I would bargain with God.  I still believed in God and I prayed and promised that if I made it through the surgery, I’d go to church.  I’d be good.  Which, let’s be honest, I didn’t go to church when I made it out of surgery.  As a matter of fact, the older I got, the more I questioned *everything*.  As an Atheist, I don’t have a God that I can bargain with the next time I am preparing for surgery.  I have to stay positive.   And let me tell you, that’s no easy feat.  Have you ever tried to paste a smile on your face when your brain is telling you to sob hysterically?  It’s confusing as hell.  So instead, I collect my thoughts, direct them to something positive and happy, close my eyes and breathe deeply.  Unfortunately for me, this meditation exercise does little to calm my fluttering heart, but does relax my mind and allows me to calmly call my cardiologist to talk about these feelings.  Maybe I’m just stressed out.  Maybe falling off the exercise wagon really is affecting me.  Maybe it’s something more.

I’ve just gotta get through today, and the next day, and the next.  Until that day comes when I’m in the hospital again, scared as hell.  I have to remember to stay positive and be thankful for everything I have in my life.

20 years of gratefulness

As I was looking at the calendar, I realized that June 1st marked yet another “surgiversary”.  My 20 year anniversary since my second open heart surgery!  I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since my Cardiologist told me that at some point in the past 11 years, my VSD patch had reopened and needed to be replaced.  20 years since I was at Lucille Packard/Stanford Hospital as a patient.  20 years since I met my “heart buddy” Gabe.  20 years since my surgeon “messed up”  causing me to go back under the knife a year later for a pulmonary valve replacement.  As an 11 year old girl, I didn’t have a real clue about what an open heart surgery entailed.  I didn’t know that that particular experience would start shaping me into the woman I am today.  I also didn’t have a clue that as I was being operated on, my grandparents were (most likely) worrying about their youngest granddaughter rather than celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary.

Reflecting on these past 20 years, I realize that there are so many things I am thankful for in my life.  Might as well count some of them off.  20 of them, to be precise.

1. My parents – for them, I am the most thankful.  They stood beside me when I was scared, when I was happy, and even when I was a complete shithead.

2. My brother – I couldn’t be happier to have his crazy ass as my little bro – I just wish we lived closer so we could go on crazy adventures together.

3. My love, Rahsaan – Words cannot begin to explain what I feel for this man.  He’s everything I could have ever hoped for in a partner.  Funny, patient, understanding, loving, and honest.

4.  My best friend Ana – She’s been with me through almost every surgery, almost every procedure.  Even when we didn’t talk much in our 20s, she never stopped being there for me.

5.  The Been Had Friends – If I believed in it, I would say that these people are my kindred spirits.

6.  Music – All sorts of it.  There’s nothing like a good song that hits the “emotional spot” to help you laugh or cry or smile or helps you let out a little anger.

7.  Bacon – You haven’t have a top 20 awesome things in life without bacon.  Yes, I know it’s not heart healthy and that’s something I try to pay attention to… but it’s just so damn delicious!

8.  The beach – Ah… the beach.  My happy place.  I’m never wrong at the beach, I don’t have a heart condition at the beach, I’m just me.  The best and simplest version of myself.

9.  Smut novels – Man, are these books entertaining.  I don’t care that each one of these books end the same exact way, I love every single minute of reading them!

10.  Giggling – This really has to be my favorite sound in the whole entire world.

11.  Roller coasters – There really isn’t much in the world like strapping yourself onto a giant metal track and letting back a bloodcurdling scream… followed by non-stop giggles.

12.  Babies – Damn, I love me some babies.  I feel like Fat Bastard everytime I see a sweet little baby I say, “Git in my belly!”.   I just want to nibble their fingers and fat little toes.  ::sigh::

13.  Girl’s Night Out – Just thinking about having a margarita (or two) with my closest girlfriends makes me smile.

14.  Bruce Willis – I know, random, right?  But damn, without Bruce Willis the Die Hard movies wouldn’t have been as awesome, Pulp Fiction might not have been as entertaining, the Fifth Element probably would have sucked… Plus, you know… he’s dead sexy.  I could go on, but I think you get the point.

15.  Soccer – Have you ever felt that rush after scoring a goal?  If not… you should!  It’s incredible!

16.  Cupcakes – I could really eat the shit outta some cupcakes.

17.  Making mistakes – Seems strange, right?  To be thankful for the mistakes I’ve made… But I really am.  I learned from each and every one of those mistakes.  Each of those choices, and let’s be honest, each of those ex-boyfriends.

18.  Trees – I could be scientific and say that I’m thankful that trees (and plants) help produce oxygen.  You know, photosynthesis and whatnot.  But what I think of when I think of a tree is roots, strength and stability.

19.  Advances in technology – I think this one is self-explanatory.

20.  My heart defect- You know, as much as I hate having a heart condition I know it shaped me to be the awesome person I am today.  There are still going to be days when I wished I believed in God so I could have someone to blame.  So I can shake my fists and scream, “Why?”  But for the most part, I’ve come to terms with my heart defect. It comes with a lot of trials and tribulations, but nothing could make me more grateful.

My To-Do List

I’ve seen so many lists floating around everywhere like 1000 awesome things and 101 things to do in 1001 days that I decided I would finally put my own “to-do” list down on paper… or rather, write it in this blog.  I’m not calling it a bucket list, because, well, I hate the thought that I need to get all these items done before I leave this Earth.  Plus, I’m such a procrastinator, I’d end up like Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in the movie “The Bucket List”, waiting until my final week to complete everything I want to do.  So, in no particular order, my to-do list.  30 items listed, one for each year I’ve been alive.

1.  See the Aurora Borealis

2.  Make a difference in at least one persons life (for the better, of course)

3.  Enjoy a pint of Guinness in a pub in Ireland

4.  Have children

5.  Watch the sunset in Oia, Santorini (Greece)

6.  Get my Bachelor’s degree (and eventually my Master’s) in Geophysics

7.  Find out which is better – Texas or Memphis BBQ

8.  Sell at least one of my paintings

9.  Dance in the rain

10.  Be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune

11.  Have my superhero painting returned to me, or recreate it bigger, badder and better

12.  Run a half marathon

13.  Never miss an opportunity to tell my friends and family how much I love and appreciate them

14.  Learn how to swim

15.  Swim with the dolphins

16.  Go back to Paris

17.  See the Outback

18.  Eat *real* NY pizza

19.  Go to Arlington National Cemetery to visit Kenny

20.  Watch the sunrise AND the sunset in Bora Bora

21.  Eat at all the hotspots featured in my favorite Food Network shows

22.  Learn how to shoot a bow and arrow

23.  Take surfing lessons

24.  Get at least 5 kills while playing paintball

25.  Increase my skill level to advanced at Microsoft Excel

26.  Complete a triathalon

27.  Buy an awesome Android Tablet

28.  Beat Super Mario Bros for the Wii

29.  Find happiness in every day, even if I feel like shit

30.  Hear my doctor tell me that I don’t need any more open heart surgeries

31. Participate in a flash mob

Carpe Diem

As I stand in my front yard with tears streaming down my face, I watch his car disappear down the street.  I think of those five fateful words that Eric said to me that morning, “I can’t do this anymore.”  Just like that, my marriage is over.  Try as I might, I cannot stop the flood of tears or the feeling of my heart shattering into a million pieces.  I think, “What did I do wrong?  What could I have done to make him still love me?”  I know in my mind that asking those questions would not make Eric turn the car around and love me again.  I sit in my living room nearly eight years later to the day, and I think of those questions again.  However this time I ask myself, “What is it that I’m looking for?  What drives me to make the decisions I make?”

It all started when my best friend Andrea and I decided to take a trip across the Bay to San Francisco during Fleet Week to see her husband who was, at the time, stationed on the USS John Paul Jones DDG 53.  As John guided us around the ship, instructing us to be careful so we would not walk into the “knee knockers”, we came upon the galley.  I distinctly remember the smell of Cup ‘O Noodles wafting in the air as I laid my eyes on the most beautiful man.  John introduced Andrea and I to many of his shipmates, but this one was different.  As he wiped his hand on his dungarees, he held it out to me and introduced himself.  I was so struck by him, that I couldn’t remember his name, so I called him “the cook”.  A few months later, as I was starting to lose hope my phone rang and on the other end of the line was Eric, the cook.

As Eric was stationed in San Diego and I lived in the Bay Area, we kept in contact over the phone.  We would talk almost every day for hours upon end (you can imagine the phone bill I had that first month!)  We began planning our life together, taking things as slowly as our eighteen year old selves would allow.  We talked about getting married and having kids of our own, even picking out a name for our first daughter (Tiffany Rose – Tiffany after his sister and Rose after my great grandmother.)  I moved to San Diego only a few months into our relationship and he proposed to me at the beach on our one year anniversary.  Our wedding was scheduled for the day that would have been our two year anniversary, but the Navy had other plans.  Eric was to be sent on a six month deployment just a few weeks before our wedding date.  The wedding was moved up to accommodate his job and soon after we found ourselves in a long distance relationship again, this time with me in the States and him in the Middle East.

In my young mind, it was kismet that I met Eric while he was in the Navy, as my father was in the Navy when my parents met during a Memorial weekend camping trip.  Their love was unexpected, as my dad was going through a painful separation from his first wife.  My mom tells me that they caught each other’s eye while she was goofing off in the camper, and she gave him (what she calls) a shit-eating grin.  As my mom and her best friend were sitting in her little orange MG ready to take off after the weekend was over, my dad approached her with a piece of paper on which he had written his name, phone number and address.  He pointed to his last name and asked if she knew how to pronounce it.  She said no, so he told her it’s pronounced just as it looks, “Mac-ill-moyle”.  Before she drove away that day, he told her, “Save your heart for me”.  Over the next several months, they called each other, exchanged letters and made many trips back and forth between Pt. Mugu where dad was stationed, to San Bruno where mom lived.  On one of these trips, they were talking about having her move to Southern California to be closer to him, but she needed a bigger commitment, so dad said, “Why don’t we just get married?”  While the proposal wasn’t the most romantic, their love has been.  They married only six months after they met, on the day that should have been their engagement party.  All the guests arrived, expecting to celebrate an engagement and instead they witnessed a wedding.

Many of their friends and family were counting the number of days after they got married to see if my mother would start showing, but it took four years for her to show.  Her pregnancy was routine, craving root beer popsicles and eating everything in sight, but it wasn’t until after I was born that the doctors told my parents that there was something wrong with me.  They told my parents that the reason why I turned blue was because I had a Congenital Heart Defect called Tetralogy of Fallot.  This defect would require at least one surgery to patch the hole that I had between my two ventricles. They performed my first surgery when I was 8 months old, but by the time I turned 11 the patch had come open and I had to have another surgery so they could fix it.  However, something went wrong during that second surgery, and a little more than a year later, I had to go back under the knife to have my pulmonary valve replaced.  I always knew that I was different from other kids.  Not only did I have a large scar on my chest, but I couldn’t run and play as much as my friends could and sometimes, my heart would beat really fast, which I later learned were called arrhythmias.  When I was 12, doctors wanted me to go in for a procedure so they could attempt to induce arrhythmias to find the cause and a treatment for them.  For some reason during this procedure, I went into cardiac arrest.  I remember starting to black out and I can still clearly see the lights that were above my face getting smaller and dimmer as my body was shocked back to life.  It was the most terrifying experience of my life.

Because of my experiences, I dreamt of things differently than other girls my age.  Instead of dreaming of a beautiful wedding, I imagined having a family to love.  But those dreams were interrupted when my Cardiologist told me that I would never be able to get pregnant and carry a baby to term like a normal woman because my heart would not be able to handle the strain of pregnancy.

I felt like I finally had my chance to be a mom when I met Albert.  From the outside looking in, he was perfect; he was older, funny, and sweet and had two great kids, Dalton and Christina.  As our relationship progressed, things changed.  He was no longer funny or sweet, but demeaning and critical.  I stayed through three long years of mental and emotional abuse, trying to find ways to end the relationship, yet always staying because I knew that if I ended the relationship with Albert, I would also be ending any relationship I had created with Dalton and Christina.  I may not have carried them in my womb, but I considered them my children.

I’ve lived my life searching for the fairy tale happy ending; the kind of love that my parents share, a house full of wonderful children, and a happy home.  As I was listening to my parents tell me about the day they met they started arguing over the details, but I could hear the laughter in their voices and picture the smiles on their faces.  As we’re talking, my mom starts to sing their wedding song (The Carpenter’s “We’ve only just begun”) and I could imagine my dad taking my mom’s hand and dancing with her in the living room.  They will be married 34 years this November and they’re still just as in love as the day they got married.  I remember the hard times they faced, but even more, I remember that they persevered through the difficult times in their relationship and that their marriage is stronger because of everything they have been through together.

I realized at a very young age that life is sometimes hard, but it is precious and can often times be too short.  Having been born with a Congenital Heart Defect, my aspirations to achieve my happy ending comes at a more accelerated pace than my peers. I strive to live every day better than the last and to not take a single moment for granted, because each day, I am afraid that this could be my only chance.