1. having attained full size and strength; grown up;mature:an adult person, animal, or plant.
2.of, relating to, or befitting adults.
3.intended for adults; not suitable for children:adult entertainment.
4.a person who is fully grown or developed or of age.
5.a full-grown animal or plant.
6.a person who has attained the age of maturity as specified by law.
I graduated reluctantly to adult cardiology this year. After 23 years of visiting an appropriately themed farm/barnyard pediatric wing, I entered the stale, poorly lit adult waiting room. It felt to me in some ways I was symbolically leaving a large portion of my childhood behind and I couldn’t help but feel a bit mournful as the fellow, blue-haired cardiac patients stared at me probably very curious as to what could possibly be wrong with me at my age. I went almost my whole life in the same hospital wing and moved without so much as a flinch… and it hurt, but only just a little.
I began going to my cardiology appointments alone a few years ago, but for whatever reason in that moment I found myself missing my parents -a plausible regression directly attributed to post traumatic stress caused by early childhood trauma. But as much as I appreciated them attending the majority of my appointments and procedures, I figured years ago that it didn’t make a difference. My cardiac health was very much a journey meant to be taken alone, always has been.
There’s an odd sense of isolation in being chronically ill and no amount of “I feel your pain” can truly establish solidarity with those who aren’t. You can be surrounded by a group of people, regardless of context and still feel entirely misunderstood. While I think this is true for most anyone for various reasons, I found it especially true growing up with a congenital defect. Numerous conversations with my parents, the scar, a significant difference in stamina from my peers, sitting out of activities during gym class, and even earlier in life with Sesame Street’s “One of These Things is Not Like the Other” distinctiveness/ executive function exercises all eluded to the fact there was something quite different about me, even before I could articulate what.
After some time, I got accustomed to the isolation and became almost appreciative of the fact that I was different because it gave me an avenue to further explore and experiment with different things such as hairstyles, music, and clothing choices with wild abandon. The “disease” part of “Heart Disease” was simply something that kept me separate (but only just a little). Something that I needed to consider before hopping in line for a roller coaster ride, a dip in a hot tub, or worth mentioning to nurses who hadn’t yet read my chart at the doctor’s office. A permanent label that had little to no interference with my general well being and quality of life. In understanding this I continued about my days just as any other “normal” kid would… for the most part.
My cardiology appointment was scheduled for 9am, but I arrived roughly 45 minutes early as usual. Hospitals never bothered me, at least not more than other things… certain plastics give off this smell that catapult me into trigger responsive panic attacks, for example. I like hospitals for the same reason I like bigger cities: general anonymity, I can walk around with my dollar twenty five cup of coffee and everyone leaves me alone about it, it’s nice.
The adult unit was everything I imagined and nothing short of bland. I counted how many looks I got from my new blue haired cohorts on my fingers while Adele played softly on the speakers. The doc was late, I spent about 10 minutes studying intently a hand painted plastic model of a heart, closing it then opening it again. Then she entered the exam room with an enthusiastic greeting.
I like my new cardiologist. I like intelligent brunette women who cut straight to the point. Tough broads who tell you what’s what and who are dead serious about it but when they smile, you know it’s because they mean it. I might have a crush on my cardiologist.
We talked about my liver function- less than normal but not spectacularly unusual for my physiology-, we talked potential risk factors going into my mid twenties and into my thirties- most of it inevitable given my history of complicated procedures-, we talked about how my causal use of alcohol which, really isn’t that big of a deal in comparison to other things. Then she laid it on me, real thick:
“You absolutely cannot have children”
Now, I’m 23 years old, do I think about kids? Yeah, I think about kids. I think about kids in a sense that they’re future leaders of the world and I hope the one replacing my feeding tube when I’m 90 washed their hands, I think about how kids are always sticky usually with jelly stains on their mouth and hands, I think about how kids ask a lot of questions I don’t know how to answer, and most of the time I think about how I feel sorry that they have to grow up in a world where Motörhead might be touring without Lemmy.
I always imagined being the cool aunt that babysits my sister’s kids for an afternoon and they come home with temporary skull tattoos and a few swear words to spice up their vocab to piss off their mom. I imagined taking my sister’s kids on overnights and letting them stay up “really late”, painting their nails black, and letting them eat shitty food and watch John Hughes movies. I always imagined my life would in someways involve children, but I never truly considered a life without my own.
Receiving the news hit me a little harder than I had anticipated and I spent the rest of the day repeating “what the f***” both out loud and silently. It brought a lot into question regarding what this means in terms of my romantic relationships now and in the future, my role as a woman in a morbidly child-centric culture, and the potential end to my namesake (that is of course assuming my sister won’t keep her last name if she marries or give it to her children if she has them).
I’m too young to be talking about having kids but I’m also too young to be told I can’t have them, and I’m too old to react the way I really wanted to. For the vast majority of my life (or at least from what I can remember) I’ve never received any news, especially health wise, that would more or less limit the seemingly endless amount of possibilities I once felt I had. This is my first taste of what that feels like- doors closing in rapid succession. I can’t help but begin to wonder what other sort of shocking news I’ll receive in the coming years.
But perhaps it’s not the news itself but how it’s handled upon hearing it. Perhaps those are the definitions of my character, and not what my health outlines. To hear bad news and to not allow myself to fold under the crushing weight of it. Perhaps that’s what adulthood is.