by Lillian Csernica on May 20, 2018
Today’s fortune says:
A loved one is of utmost importance at this time.
I sat there on the generic brown couch, staring up at the TV screen mounted high in one corner. Hospitals. Designed to give you a crick in the neck. You were lying in bed looking up at the TV, or you were sitting in some “Family Lounge” praying the news was good or at least bearable.
It was four a.m. on a Tuesday in late April. I sat in the “Family Lounge” trying not to cry. One of the CNAs, Delia, slept on the other couch. Using her lunch break to take a nap. I didn’t want to wake her. She’d rather sleep than eat. That said a lot about how little sleep she generally got.
I knew all about sleep deprivation. Tommy was back in the hospital again. Another infection. The immune system of a premature baby isn’t very strong. Tommy had made it to age ten, but even so, none of his systems were all that strong. He held on. He kept breathing. His heart kept beating. His organs continued to develop. The doctors were amazed. If Tommy’s life had been a song, that would have been the chorus. The doctors were amazed. And so I sat there, recharging my phone, watching the minute hand of the clock move or staring at the blank black mirror of the plasma screen TV.
Tommy had to live, to go on surviving. If he didn’t, that would finish me. Losing Bobby had been hard enough. Eighteen weeks. Early rupture. He was fine. It was me, my body, that couldn’t carry him to term. I lost him. That horrible moment when I really understood the emptiness where he had been. He’d just started kicking. I was happy, really happy, for the first time in years. That lasted two days, maybe three. Then my water broke too soon, and the nightmare began.
I knew a lot about hospitals. I could write a Lonely Planet guidebook comparing the beds, the food in the cafeterias, what there was to do in the surrounding neighborhoods. I always knew where to find a bookstore, or at least a drugstore with a news stand. When Tommy had to spend a whole summer in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, I blew through at least a dozen books. When I finished them I’d leave some for any of the RNs who wanted them.
The clock said five a.m. Delia’s phone alarm went off. She sat up, smoothed her hair, tugged at her scrubs, then gave me that smile that was part pity and part professional compassion. She went back to work. The Infectious Disease unit. What fun. I’d want to burn my clothes and throw away my shoes every single night.
Two hours until shift change. The blood draws usually started at six a.m. so the results were ready in time for Rounds. That was a three hour window of muscle-knotting tension spent constantly on the alert for the five or ten minutes of the specialist’s time. Were the test results good? Did they show progress? Were we a day closer to discharge? The doctors were like Santa Claus. They appeared, dropped off their packets of information, then hurried on. So many more houses to visit, so many more patients to see. Instead of eight tiny reindeer, they had residents and physician’s assistants and sometimes a flock of student nurses who stood out like a flock of geese in their white scrubs. I often wondered if they made the students wear white scrubs so any mistake would leave a telltale mark. There are a lot of bodily fluids splashing around in hospitals, especially in the Infectious Disease unit.
Then came the empty hours until lunchtime. Linen changes. Emptying the catheter bag. Making sure Tommy’s pain levels were still under good control. Just awake enough to be bored, too worn out to do anything about it. I spent a lot of time reading to him, trying to find something entertaining on the hospital’s available TV channels, or just sitting there watching him sleep. It’s a terrible thing when you’re happy to see your child lying there unconscious because it’s the preferable alternative.
Stephen, my husband and Tommy’s father, spent his days at work maintaining the insurance coverage, paying the endless medical bills, keeping our life moving forward until that time when Tommy could come home again. He did his part and I did mine as I sat there alone, watching the empty black mirror of the big plasma screen.