02 July 2013


On the subway a man's arm snakes up through the clutch of people to the overhead bar. Two Tyvek hospital ID bands hang off his wrist, inches from my face. Did he just get out of the hospital? Is he okay, should he be on the train, is he alone? Wait, why two bands? I look again; I can read the name and the birthday - a date 8 days ago. His baby! His premature baby? His sick-in-the-NICU baby? Oh, my heart, my heart flies out of my body, thinking on the harsh realities of being - an 8 day old baby, in the hospital, his father on the subway. How prosaic, how disorienting - from the quiet, sterile hospital to the noisy, dirty train. I hope the baby's okay.

When I was in recovery for hours and hours after my hellacious c-section, I watched the partners come and go. The little recovery room was also the holding area where the fathers/partners/friends, newly changed into scrubs, awaited their escort into the operating room where their wives/girlfriends/partners were about to be delivered of their babies. One guy, younger than me, slightly built, sat nervously in the corner. After he'd been led out to the delivery room I asked the nurse, lightly, "do they all look so nervous?". Her words have haunted me since: "His wife is about to deliver 24 week old twins." Of course he looked nervous. I wonder sometimes: How are those babies? Did they make it? Are they in good shape, in elementary school, captivated by books and flying down streets on shiny bicycles?

Last week, a boy died. We knew him slightly; his family has a house near my father's house, we've seen them at parties, working in the yard, driving by while heading home. He died. He'd had leukemia, remission, relapse, marrow transplant, remission, relapse. He's the reason I got swabbed to be a marrow donor. But it wasn't the cancer that killed him: it was appendicitis. You think, no one dies of appendicitis anymore, not here, not now. But he was so weak, so debilitated by treatment, that it was inoperable and untreatable. Appendicitis. I find myself stuck on the detail of of inoperable, untreatable appendicitis - somehow it renders his death even more shocking than it already is. A 10 year old boy died. My heart flies out of my body again.

It is a tenuous life we lead.


V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios said...

Hospitals are exploding with stories, joys, sorrows. We do forget how fragile life is, how unpredictable.

Kizz said...

I was just this morning reminiscing about my neighbor who passed a couple of summers ago. She was going on a trip to Bermuda with her family and she didn't feel well beforehand but didn't want to bother anyone. Wound up with a burst appendix in Bermuda and eventually died of sepsis.

Anything can happen. It's a blessing and a curse. I find it terrifying.

S said...

How utterly poignant.

Jeanne said...

My aunt died a year after her appendix burst inside her, and we think the infection was never fully cleaned out. She tried to tough it out too long. We all think there's a lesson in this (especially my daughter the hypochondriac).

Oonie said...

Can I leave the flip side to the wondering about the twins? When my second, unexpectedly ginormous, 10-pound 10-ounce baby was born, as we left the hospital, we rode down with the other "celebrity" parents--they had two-week-old triplets who still, combined, did not weigh what my son did at birth. I thought of them often when feeling overwhelmed and wondered how they were doing.
Three years later, they enrolled at the same nursery school and we found out. They are healthy and wonderful and some of my son's best friends. I have heard that somewhere in that maternity unit, there is a photo of gigantibaby and the triplets. I would pay good money for a copy of that, and actually sent them a photo of the four of them, smiling with gappy lost-toothed smiles, in case any of the nurses are still there.

edj3 said...

Dunno how appropriate this is but I make up endings to the partial stories I see like that. And they have happy endings.

So for example if while in the car with Kent we see a turtle crossing a busy street, I'll tell Kent it got to the other side and then we both say "and it lived happily ever after." Otherwise seeing things like that, or hearing the news you heard about the the boy, would be overwhelming. I'm sure this coping mechanism makes me a lesser person, but I can only handle so much raw emotion.

leanne said...

My son had surgery to remove a tumor from his brain about 7 years ago (he was 2 at the time). He is one of the lucky ones. No doubt. The scar on the back of his neck (and the scar on my soul) is my only reminder.

At the hospital was a girl who also had a tumor. She was maybe a year older. In the week my son was in the PICU and only had to have one surgery, she had at least two. My son was released less than two weeks after surgery. I remember sitting with the mom for a while during the second surgery. The girl was still at the hospital two weeks later when my son went back to see his surgeon (though she had been moved out of the PICU by then and on to chemo or radiation or maybe both. I'm not sure anymore.). We visited with her and her dad.

For the longest time I didn't know what happened after that. I think I was afraid to know. Then one day I googled the girl's name and found out that she had died about 6 months later.

That just as easily could have been my son.