the minnesota review is pleased to feature each of our nominees for the 2013 Pushcart Prize in the coming weeks. This week we are excited to bring you an excerpt from Sara Novic’s “On Late-Stage Pediatric Cariomyopathy.” Please check back next week for more on our nominees and their work.
On Late-Stage Pediatric Cardiomyopathy
Should you find yourself coming-to while being wheeled out of your high school calculus class, it is best not to open your eyes. Feign unconsciousness for a few more seconds, until the EMTs have turned the corner out into the hallway. You will get that feeling, not pain but pressure, as if you are in some reverse barometric chamber and the air is breathing on you. Do not make eye contact with your peers in this state. Your guard will be down; someone perceptive might see your future flickering across your dilated pupils.
When you return to school, make jokes about the “episode.” This will put your classmates at ease. They will give you terrible nicknames which they mean to be endearing. Accept these with a smile, internalize them, use them in reference to yourself; they are your only remaining link to your place in the social order that was once so important.
The problem with congestive heart failure is I sometimes forget I have it. I am seventeen, heart failure is a disease for old people, and I forget. I have normal days, breathe easy, walk at an upbeat pace. Then I go and do something stupid and end up back here—bum a cigarette off my friend Benny behind the Dunkin’ Donuts, or chase the bus down Lincoln Street, like death is a problem I could escape if I could just run fast enough.
At Memorial West, people know me. The ambulance driver calls to let them know I’m coming, and the triage nurses high-five me on the way in. A white hot pain blazes inside my ribcage each time I move my arm, and I try not to flinch. Igor, the janitor, updates me on the scores of the baseball games. He’s Ukrainian and can’t pronounce his “W”s.
“Ey, Ven-dee, your Mets are heartbreakers this week,” he says.
“Leave Wendy alone,” says the woman in the information booth. “She doesn’t need any bad news.”
“That’s why I like them!” I call to Igor as I’m handed off to a new worker who pushes me toward the elevators. But my voice shakes more than usual, and I don’t know if he’s heard me.
They take me straight to the cardiac wing, where I am approximately forty-six years younger than the average patient. They park my gurney alongside the nurse’s station while they try to find me a room. A student nurse removes my shirt, affixing sticky electrodes in complex patterns up and down my torso, leaving my chest exposed, nipples prickling against the chill, sterile air. There was a point when I was ashamed of lying half-naked in public, but that seems like a long time ago now.
“On Late-Stage Pediatric Cariomyopathy” appeared in issue 81 (Fall 2013) of the minnesota review. Sara Novic studied fiction and literary translation in the MFA at Columbia University, where she currently teaches a human rights-themed composition course. Her writing has appeared in Electric Literature, the minnesota review, LA Review of Books, Blunderbuss, and Circumference. She is also the founding editor of the Deaf rights and education blog Redeafined. She is at work on her first novel, which will be published by Random House in 2015. To learn more about Novic and her work, please visit her website. You can read the rest of “On Late-Stage Pediatric Cariomyopathy” or any of our other Pushcart nominees by accessing our online archive at Duke University Press, available here.