Hospital Flashback

26 09 2007

In keeping with this week’s emerging theme of things that make me cry, I must admit to a bit of a moment yesterday. This being week 30 of my gig hosting “baby Squiggles” in my body meant it was time to drop off my registration paperwork at the hospital where I’ll be labouring and delivering. As I waddled down the corridor toward the J Wing elevator, I engaged in one of my favourite pass times: preforming quick studies on the faces, gestures, postures, conversations and silences of total strangers, and trying to imagine their stories. Hospitals are one of my favourite places for that.

There was a woman who looked like she had just survived the childbirth from hell. Limping down the hall in her pyjamas, off to face the realities of new motherhood. In front of her marched her agitated husband, a man who looked like he had little tolerance for crying from mom or from baby. And at the head of the procession trotted the grinning Granny, oblivious to the tension that followed her because all she could see was the little bundle of joy in her arms.

Next, there was the young couple who had the look of Special Care Unit veterans. Dark circles under their newly opened eyes, coffee in his hand, jars of expressed breast milk in hers, navigating those now familiar halls on zombie auto-pilot. Their look, their pretend story, was far more familiar to me than the parade of post-natal mom, grouchy dad, blissed out Grandmother and chubby baby on their way home. My premature babies spent 2 weeks in the hospital – one in this very hospital, in the same Special Care Unit I surmised these new parents were headed for. So I knew that anxious, exhausted look. We’d been there. And sure enough, they headed in the direction of the Special Care Unit, greeting every nurse by name. A little wave of nostalgia lapped at my big pregnant cankles.

Then came the little quake that nearly set off a tsunami of tears. Coming down the corridor, I saw the Ambu-trans team pushing a small fortune’s worth of machinery. Attached to the convey of machines was a small, blanket covered isolette. I immediately knew what the story was here: a baby, probably a preemie, with problems more serious than a Special Care Unit can handle, being transferred to a higher level NICU. Suddenly, I flashed back to the day four and a half years ago when I watched a similar cluster of blue-clad people wheel away my very sick, day old baby girl: destination, a Level 3 NICU downtown. Roo spent her first two weeks of life in one of those isolettes, with a horde of tubes and wires and beeping and dinging machines attached to her baby body, while her twin Neener hung out in the Special Care nursery. At the time, we did not grasp the gravity of what had happened. Roo tore a hole in her lung while struggling through respiratory distress, and almost died. I remembered hearing the code called over the hospital PA as I got in the shower, and though “Ooo, that’s not good. Somebody’s baby is in serious trouble.” It did not dawn on me that it might be one of mine until I got out of the shower to find a panicked nurse standing outside the bathroom door, telling me that the neonatologist needed to see me immediately. I remembered the social worker coming to talk to us, and wondering why on earth we’d need a social worker. And I remembered the moment they wheeled her down this very hall and out to the waiting ambulance, to take her to the place where sick babies needed to be. Those weeks were full of gut-wrenching ups and downs. But it all worked out pretty much fine. We took it one day at a time, and never really though too much about what had almost happened, or how bad it could have been. But now, I am aware of what some of the realities, and some of the potential outcomes really could have been. I don’t think about it often, but every now and then something crosses my path that brings it all back.

I hastily dropped off my paperwork, the little checklist of my hopes and expectations for my next childbirth experience, knowing full well that so much of what will happen is completely out of my control. I watched the baby in the isolette pass by, and said a little prayer for her, and a little prayer for strength for her parents. They would need it, even if they did not yet realise it yet. Then I said a little prayer for strength for myself to handle whatever comes my way when the time comes for Squiggles to be born. And then I high-tailed it out of there before I really started to cry.




All Fish Go To Heaven

23 09 2007

We said goodbye to Talbert this morning. Talbert was a dear, dear friend whom we purchased from a scummy, over-crowded fish tank at the scummy, over-crowded Sprawlmart on Friday. A dead goldfish that we’ve had for less than 72 hours is not normally something I’d shed a tear over, but in this particular case, I bawled like a baby. Not because of the random unfairness of the grim fish reaper (I liked Talbert much better than his still living partner, Otto) , or the couple of bucks we just flushed down the toilet(fish are pricey considering the roughly 85% mortality rate). Nor did I cry because I am seven months pregnant and have developed a tendency to find heartbreaking poignancy in just about everything, including, but not limited to, breakfast foods (don’t get me started on scrambled eggs! Sniff.) It was the reactions of my four-year old daughter that opened the floodgates. Neener was the one who noticed. She notices everything. She announced that Talbert was “lost”, but then she found him. Tits up in Walla Walla on the surface of the water. I gave the dead fish speech, the one I had begun rehearsing in my head moments after I saw my husband coming toward me with a smiling kid and some fish in a bag. I had delivered variations of the speech – how things that are alive can die, and are thus dead, when their bodies don’t work anymore – many times over the past few weeks, as Neener has started to ask questions. So the concept of death was not new. What was new was actually having death in our midst, and realising that there was nothing she (or the “Fish Maker” at the store) could do to make Talbert alive again. Once that fact was faced, we had to deal with the aftermath. I hugged her, cried with her, and got my husband out of bed to do the dirty work of retrieving the corpse and arranging the flush – er, I mean – funeral.

To ease our own conscience about the callous optics of flushing our beloved Talbert away like so so much bodily waste, we explained that when a fish dies, it’s body needs to go back to the lake, and the quickest way for it to get there was via the toilet. Neener asked if Talbert would be able to swim again when he reached the lake. And who would look after him and feed him fish crispies there, as we had done. I had no choice, I had to play the Heaven card. The idea of Heaven, God and religion in general is a whole other kettle of dead fish that I won’t get in to today. Let’s just say that it’s a constant source of internal debate for me because I’m not even sure what I think and what I believe, much less what brand of spirituality I should be instilling in my children, if any. But this morning, as my welling eyes darted back and forth between my heartbroken four-year old and the dead goldfish, I had to make a decision. Do I stick with the fantasy-free, concrete facts; the cold clinical view of life and death that my inner atheist advocates? Or do I offer up the comforting notion that death is not really a traumatic ending, but the beginning of a spiritual journey to a better place, where even lowly goldfish get to flop around in eternal bliss? Today, comfort won. I told Neener that while Talbert’s body was going to the lake, his spirit – all the invisible things that made him the Talbert we knew and loved – was already gone to a beautiful invisible place called Heaven. And instantly, the crying and the questions stopped. Talbert was in Heaven, and Heaven is a happy place. Enough said. So, rest in peace Talbert. Have fun in fish Heaven. I have a feeling that your friend Otto won’t be far behind you. Which makes me think that I need to get a bag of back-up fish, so that Otto can be replaced before anyone else realises he’s gone when the time comes. It’ll save me from having to re-hash the dead fish speech, and from having to field more probing questions about Heaven. Questions I’m not yet ready to answer. It will also allow me to do all my flushing and crying in private, since I’ve grown inexplicably more attached to Otto in the last few hours. It’s what Talbert would have wanted.