A 16-year-old stroke-recovering cheerleader searches for an activity that will help her stand out on her college application.
Genre: contemporary drama.
The author: Elle Jauffret is a lawyer and writer. You can find her at ellejauffret.com, on Wattpad, or on Instagram
The narrator: Neil J. is a high school bio-med student who loves science and literature.
Bio/medical topics mentioned and their links:
Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO)
PFO fast facts
PFO closure / implant
If someone had told Imogen and her cheerleading squad that their captain would suffer a stroke, right when she was flying to the top of the pyramid during nationals, no one would have believed them. Who gets a stroke at 16? No one.
But here she was. In a hospital bed. Not because she became a statistic on catastrophic sport injuries (cheerleading accounting for 70.5% of them). But because she lost control of her body and passed out, right in the middle of a stunt. Because a f-ing blood clot took an illegal short cut from her heart to her brain.
Without her spotters’ lightning-fast reflexes she would be dead.
Outside her window, the night swallowed the last streaks of daylight, leaving Imogen in complete darkness. Her heart monitor’s electronic chirps stabbed at the silence at regular intervals. On its screen, her heartbeat appeared as green peaks and valleys with the number 69 next to it. She snorted, recalled an old joke, but couldn’t find the strength to laugh. The blood pressure cuff inflated again, squeezing her arm tight, then deflated with a puff. Purple numbers flashed on the monitor screen. 106 over 79. Normal.
“Normal. As if,” she mumbled to herself. There was nothing normal about what was happening to her.
“Need some light to read all of your friends’ cards?” A nurse asked, turning on the room light before Imogen could answer.
On the hospital bedside table beside her, dozens of get-well wishes stood guard in colorful stock paper. Though they were filled with loving words for a quick recovery, they cruelly reminded Imogen that her cheerleading days were over. Even after her heart surgery to close the hole in her heart and a three-month-long recovery, she wasn’t sure she could return to cheering. She was the reason her team lost the national title. No one on her team would ever trust her after she lost consciousness before her pyramid landing.
She watched her heart rate increase and sighed. Competitive cheer was supposed to be her entrance key to college. She couldn’t find another activity to distinguish herself on her college application.
As if the nurse could read her thoughts, she said: “Don’t worry, you’ll soon find another activity to embrace.”
From then on, Imogen put all her energy into finding her new passion. Each weekend she registered in art workshops her local rec center offered. Pottery, origami and D&D were fun but didn’t hold her attention. She enjoyed robotics, but her parents wouldn’t allow her to travel out of state for her competitions. She tried every activity under the sun, even theater. But every time she was about to recite her lines, her pulse rose, drumming its off-beat rhythm in her temples.
Her desperate search for a new occupation lasted three months and failed.
Assuming that her heart had adapted to its implant, Imogen jumped back on the metaphorical horse. She needed to prove to everyone that she was fine. That her episode was a singular event with no bearing on her cheerleading ability. If her teammates didn’t trust her to fly, she could certainly be a base or a spotter. To that end, she practiced her team’s routines and chants, every day for an hour, at home. But when she pushed herself during tryouts, her shortness of breath got so bad that her coach sent her to the Emergency Room.
Her head in her hands, her face wet with tears, Imogen was about to give up. Wishing for a vampire to appear out of nowhere and suck her entire blood out. Since she was on anticoagulants, anyone could literally bleed her with a straw, she thought as she was transported to yet another cardiac ultrasound.
It was then that she noticed the repetitive beeps and chirps of her monitor. Her heart’s ping beating in key with the inflating puffs and the deflating sssss of her blood pressure cuff. This might not be a cheer, but it was definitely a chant.
“That’s it!” she shouted.
Within seconds, Imogen was recording the medical equipment sounds with her phone. Over the next few days, she assigned a musical note to each of her blood pressure numbers and to each of her heartbeat variations. From the systolic and diastolic pressures to the high heavy-metal-like pulse to the slow, ballad rhythm.
She stopped despairing about her cardiac arrhythmia, but listened to it and recorded it with obsessive compulsion. She didn’t watch the cheerleading team practice their routines, but retreated to the library where she researched engineering and music theory.
This lasted for a month.
At the end of that month, when her parents asked her to open her bedroom door and complained about Imogen’s forgetting to eat lunch for the hundredth of time, Imogen smiled bright and wide.
“You okay, sweetie?” her mother asked. “We’re worrying about you.”
“Do you mind driving me to the hospital?” she asked in response.
A few minutes later, at the hospital, Imogen pulled the small device she had spent the last month working on. She plugged one of its cables in her phone and the other in the hospital’s vital signs monitor. As soon as she turned the apparatus on, the electronic beeps and chirps of her pulse transformed into melodious notes.
The attending nurse frowned at Imogen’s misuse of medical equipment, but her jaw relaxed as the music filled the room.
“Did you make that?” the nurse asked as she pointed at Imogen’s invention. “Does that thing really turn vitals into songs?”
“Yes,” Imogen grinned. “It’s called the ER symphony maker.”