Holter monitor

Holter monitor

From an unfinished fiction project

People talk about hitting the bottom like its a major accomplishment. A milestone. But as long as there’s still breath in your body, you can always sink lower. I know this, because I’m sitting through the inter-departmental meeting wearing a Holter monitor. It sounds like halter — a fun, ’70s-retro top. Instead it’s more like a bomb, strapped to my chest with all sorts of wires running out the bottom of my blouse, connecting to a box that looks like a pager and fits in my pocket. Sort of.

I can’t focus on the meeting because I’m having a panic attack over how ridiculous I look. Or maybe no one can tell. The thing is to remember at everyone else is too busy worrying about how they look to care about how other people look. Except of course that’s a lie because the all-time-number-one-pastime of everyone everywhere is people watching. Okay, the all-time-number-one-pastime of everyone everywhere is drinking. But then people watching.

I’m wearing the monitor because I have this thing where my heart flutters. Just now and then. But what if? That’s what I keep thinking. What if I have an undetected heart murmur and it’s getting worse and soon the blood will be gushing. Either in or out, I’m not sure. Or maybe I’m having a heart attack.

What I have is anxiety, but the symptoms are the same as a heart attack, which makes me more anxious, which makes my heart flutter more. And I can’t catch my breath, and my chest hurts and so does my left arm. My right arm, too, but especially my left.

Maybe this time I’m hitting bottom. That’s what I thought in the doctor’s office. Not the regular doctor, but a specialist. A woman younger than me with a sleek ponytail and a lab coat. Those Dansko clogs in patent leather.

She hands me a gown. Tells me, as if we’re best friends, “These are so horrible, right? But everyone has to wear them.” And then she apologizes for the office being chilly.

In a gown and running shoes, with electrodes taped all over my chest, I jog on a treadmill. It’s called a stress test, I assume, because running in a thin cotton gown with not nearly enough snaps, is awkward and embarrassing, and therefor really stressful. The specialist in the Dansko clogs chews the tip of her pen and makes a few notes on her chart. “You don’t seem tired,” she says cheerfully.

“I ran five miles this morning,” I tell her, trying to adjust the gaping gown.

“Oh cool!” she says. “So you’re a runner.”

“Yes,” I pant.

After a few more minutes, the doctor slows the treadmill and I’m allowed to change back into my work clothes. Of course she doesn’t find anything, but she also can’t send me home empty-handed, can she? So she tapes me into the Holter monitor with its wire tentacles. I’m supposed to tuck the monitor into my pocket like, oh yeah, I just have this thing. No biggie.

As soon as it’s attached to my chest I’m very, very sorry. I’m sorry I came here. I’m sorry I let the fear take me this far. I’m sorry that I haven’t beaten the anxiety and now I’m covered in wires. I’m turning into Seven of Nine (only shorter and much less threatening). Mostly, I’m embarrassed of being healthy.

I am healthy. I know this. The only thing wrong with me is my head, but not in a tragic way. I just have to get through the inter-departmental meeting without anyone noticing my Borg hardware, and then it’ll all be fine.

Unless the monitor finds something.

Unless this is actually a bomb.

Unless a meteor hits the Earth, which could happen at any minute. Think of that and tell me your heart doesn’t flutter.

When characters come to life

Image from Refinery29.com

Image from Refinery29.com

This spring and summer I rewrote a YA novel that I started 10 years ago. Just going back to an older piece of work was an adventure in embarrassment and wondering what the hell I was thinking. And, to add to my whole I-want-to-hide-under-my-bed-forever feeling, one early reader pointed out all of the typos, stupid phrases and character flaws — including the many ways in which the main character wasn’t engaging.

To that reader I am forever grateful, and should the book ever see print, he will be properly acknowledged. Every writer should be so lucky as to have a reader who cares and takes the time that this guy did. Criticism — especially thoughtful, sensitive, constructive criticism, as I received — is a gift. But sometimes even the squirmy, mean kind of criticism is key to growth.

So my character grew. She got tougher and sassier. She got a point of view and a better wardrobe. And, at the book’s conclusion, I even dared to gaze four years into her future and see who she’d be not as a high school kid but as a college grad about to start her own life. I found that I liked her then. I liked how who she had been set up the groundwork for who she’d become. Continue reading