Defibrillator, Death, and Denial

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For three hours, the grasshopper-like chirps call out from the defibrillator. Three hours.

This entire time, I continue to write sections of my memoir, Drop Dead Life, trying to pretend the beeping isn’t there.

If the beeping is there, that means we really own a defibrillator. That means I actually need to be ready to pull out the child-sized paddles and jump-start my daughters’ hearts.

It’s been a rough few weeks. We just visited the pediatric cardiologist at the Oakland Children’s Hospital and this was the first year in which my new husband, Evan, and I were completely honest with Tatiana, 8, and Keira, 6, about their chances of inheriting their birth daddy’s genetic heart condition.

Fifty percent. Each of the girls has a fifty percent chance of getting Brugada’s Syndrome.

“Mommy,” Tatiana said, as she wiggled on the crinkly exam table paper, “So, basically, we’re doing all these tests to make sure we don’t die?”

My late husband, Erik, died at 29 from a problem with the electrophysiology in his heart. I was seven months pregnant with Keira on that Easter Sunday when Erik’s heart flicked off like a switch.

It was unimaginable. All of it.

I did every type of therapy possible: Endless hours of Post Traumatic Stress therapy. Journaling. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Vigorous exercise. Hypnotherapy. Chakra work.

I figured the only way to get over Erik’s death was to go straight through it, as painful as every step would be, and that the more time I spent healing, the sooner I would feel capable of being a good mother again, and eventually, a good partner to someone else.

And now, I do feel like I’m finally a good mother again. And a good wife. My life is happy, full.

But the beeping continues.

Tatiana and Keira’s cardiologist said, “In case there’s an episode, I’d keep the defibrillator in the house. Take it on vacations.”

So Evan ordered it immediately.

Then, as soon as the box arrived, he read the manual, inspected each part, and said, “You ready to learn how this things works?”

“No.” I continued changing our new baby’s diaper.

“Does this mean you’re not ready now, or that you’re never going to be ready for me to show you?”

“I’m never going to be ready, but I know I have to be. It’s just that I can’t do it right now.”

“Alright, well we have to do it soon.”

I know I have to face it.

The defibrillator is the only thing that could have saved Erik, if we had been aware of his heart condition. If we had known that he would slide down our kitchen counter and drop dead on the cold, white-tiled floor, we would have owned one.

“I can’t explain this,” I said to Evan, “but every time we talk about the defibrillator, it’s like I can’t even breathe. I can’t go there.”

Evan gets it. He knows me.

He knows that I will always be affected by Erik’s death. He knows I will constantly fear the same thing happening to one of our kids, or even him.

What Evan doesn’t know is that he left the defibrillator on when he took everyone else out to breakfast so I could have some time to write.

And now, I must force myself to go downstairs and figure out how to stop the beeping.


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