Please welcome Margaret Dilloway as our newest WU contributor! Margaret is the author of three published novels (How to Be an American Housewife, The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns, Sisters of Heart and Snow) and an upcoming middle grade fiction book (Momotaro Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters), and can often be found giving helpful advice in WU’s Facebook group. We’re thrilled to have her join us!
Sometimes everything we do seems to take on equal importance, like spotlights trained on every prop onstage when the lights should only be on the actors. And then some invisible hand wrests away control.
Last spring, I published my third women’s fiction novel. I was also working under contract on the second book of Momotaro, my middle grade fantasy series, the first of which publishes this year. Thus my days from spring on into summer were spent writing and obsessing about writing, and numbers and obsessing about numbers, and generally bemoaning all the writing things and fretting about what would happen next. You know. Typical writer stuff.
Then, in June, I visited a new cardiologist.
I should have known how it was going to turn out when I walked into the UCSD cardiology courtyard that day. Nice place, I thought, seeing the fountains and benches outside the brand-new facility. But this’ll be my last visit. It was the kind of foreshadowing that reality shows use, displaying footage of too-cocky contests bragging about how they’ll win, only to be immediately booted.
I’d been going to see a different cardiologist for a genetic condition called noncompaction cardiomyopathy for the past five years. It runs strong in my family; both of my siblings have it, and my mother and two of her sisters died from it. Basically, the heart walls are supposed to be smooth, but for us they’re spongy, which can lead to the muscle flabbily and ineffectively pumping. There is no cure, only management of symptoms. Symptoms range from none at all, to heart failure.
My old cardiologist had told me everything looked stable. To come in if I ever fainted.
This new cardiologist conducts research into the condition, a relatively newly discovered thing. He has about a dozen patients with the disease. As such, he’s more experienced and proactive. The monitor I’d worn, he told me, had revealed a run of ventricular tachycardia. Too many of those and you can go into cardiac arrest and die.
The solution was a pacemaker and defibrillator. Grim Reaper insurance. A mini-paramedic team accompanying you wherever you go.
As I listened to him talk, I felt all the emotions expected in such a big-stressful-news situation: panic, worry, sorrow. But underneath that, my pragmatic writer’s brain rubbed its hands together gleefully. “Damn. So this is how a doctor speaks when delivering news like this. I wonder when I can use it in a story?” We are buzzards, writers.
Over the next few months, my luck worsened. The two procedures I was originally supposed to have—the pacemaker/ICD and an ablation—turned into four as complications arose. The last was the worst, a week-long emergency hospitalization to correct a dissected femoral artery and blood clot, with six weeks’ recovery afterward.
During those months, I realized a few things about writing. [Read more…]