Fri 28 Mar 2008
the place lurks in the dustier corners of my brain, almost like a dreamscape…a warren of banally familiar rooms and hallways examined in tedious detail over months of enforced, enclosed exposure…and yet i do not think about its innards, have never even tried to connect all its pieces and the experiences they represent into any kind of coherent whole. it is too much to try to take in. it sits there, institutional, a monolith acknowledged only at the surface, in donations at the local Dairy Queen and testimonials of happier endings from telethons and fundraising letters. from the first time we drove out from under the parkade barrier, new parents and childless all at once, this hospital has been an indelible, impossible temple of our past and our possible futures, both. our first child lived his entire life here. he died in my arms in a rocking chair nurses set out for us, a tableau wherein all but us knew their parts well. at his death, it was decreed that any future pregnancies – those that got to the twelve week mark, of course – would be monitored here, on an outpatient or inpatient basis as required. this hospital is the place we faithless hopeful turn, no matter how uncertain its promises or fraught with pain and memory, no matter how incessantly bad its food, year in, year out.
the first time i came here i was airlifted in, all urgency, to wait in isolation for weeks for a birth that turned out worse than we’d ever really believed it could. the second time i came packed, warned by my doctor at home that the next regular checkup would likely result in preventative hospital bedrest. it did. i stared at the walls for weeks on end, grappling with fear and boredom and the assaultive power of memory to overwhelm one with something so mundane as the shape of a drawer pull, the baby blue of a ratty curtain.
and so i came this Tuesday for the standard ultrasound, at the appointed time in the expected place, and still i was struck by the utter weirdness of being there and how i felt like a sad, small child, inanely proud at knowing where everything was, which doors in the Fetal Assessment Unit lead to where. the 7th floor, Fetal Assessment and bedrest ward combined, have seen more of me than some apartments i’ve rented. and were looking to see more…that ultrasound’s results were not so standard after all, and so we agreed that i would return the next morning, to stitch my weakened cervix in an effort to allow this pregnancy to reach viability.
a cerclage is only minor surgery, maybe fifteen minutes. it means two days in hospital at most. and yet the night before i was clingy, anxious, almost desperate to get things in order. some part of me expected to stay, to be removed from my life for weeks or months, held in stasis…and i felt helpless, unprepared. i have been expecting a stint in this hospital during this pregnancy, only later…just as i expected a stint for the last pregnancy, which – had all gone differently and November not brought miscarriage – would have come about now. so the place has been looming large in my expectations for months…but i was not entirely ready, not at all. the place is too much to ever be fully ready for.
i went in Wednesday morning, checked in, had blood drawn. the admitting clerk directed me to the third floor, which took me aback, because in my mental map of the place, the third floor is the NICU. Finn died there. we have been back since, to see other babies…but like the college room where you lost your virginity if you were a late bloomer like me, the place remains quite singular in my mind, a stage for that one event. i recalled, on the way up the elevator, that the convenient maze of protection my memory has put up around its unrevisited sore spots had utterly blanked the fact that he was also born on the third floor, that that’s where L&D is, too, a wing of the hospital i’d never been back to despite all the months i spent there pregnant later with O.
he was born in room 310, i saw as we rounded the corner. the nurse led me through the wing. i paused for a second in front of that room i hadn’t seen in almost three years, in front of the door, compelled to look in and yet awkward about barging in unannounced on someone else’s labour. i wanted, i think, to see if i could see some shadow of my child more clearly there, the little son i barely glimpsed at his birth; if the configuration of walls and light and machinery would trigger some gift of recall my conscious mind cannot. but i did not. i got corralled, instead, down the hall to a small utility-type holding cell with a stretcher in it, where i dolled myself up in a johnny shirt and spent the next two-and-a-half hours lolling about on the cot and left the past behind and forgot, for awhile, even to fret about the present.
the surgery went well. my doctor announced three times that it had been a really good idea to do it now rather than later, which i found oddly comforting even though, really, it’s news more dire than one would hope for. recovery was odd. they’d given me a spinal and my hips and legs were so utterly deadened that i kept reaching my hand down to my meatlike thigh and wondered why they’d entrapped me in a fat suit. my brain was convinced that my poor legs were all cramped up in frog-fashion and that i desperately needed to straighten them, even though they were actually sticking straight out in front of me and i couldn’t move a muscle in any case. my nurse was kind. the lady on the other side of the curtain had twin girls. we listened to them, all new and healthy, and the new mother lamented that she’d been told she’d have to stay three nights with them because one was small and i bit my tongue and tried to focus on the sound of the babies, telling them apart, wishing them well. her luck does not take away from mine, i whispered to my meatloaf frog-legs. we are just both here. we are just both here. now move. one foot twitched, at a bizarre angle.
they were supposed to move me originally to the seventh floor, the bedrest floor, to stay. then the sixth, where Dave & Oscar had been waiting, unbeknownst to me. then word came back that i’d be going to the one floor in the hospital that i have no association whatsoever with: the fifth floor, the nursery floor, where moms who’ve delivered normal, healthy babies go. i thought this was entertaining. but my room on the fifth floor wasn’t ready so they wheeled me back out to the third floor L&D ward.
i had forgotten the room, but i knew it, well. it’s a birthing suite, not that different from 310 three doors down where Finn was eventually born. the night i stayed in it, three years ago, was the very first night i spent in this hospital, flown in with my water broken, Dave rushing by car to make it from Charlottetown. i remember it as low-lit, with many nurses coming and going in hushed tones, checking for contractions, to see if labour had stopped. i remember trying to come to terms with what 24 weeks might really mean and whether i could comprehend what it would mean to us to have a child with serious disabilities and struggles ahead of him or her. i remember trying to comprehend the possibility of death, and mostly failing. i remember seizing, though, as best i could, on the fact that labour had stopped for the time being…and very consciously deciding that i would not let my fear overcome me, that i would love and attend to the baby within whatever might happen, that whatever time we got together, i would not turn away from. i did that, and i never regretted it. but i realized Wednesday, staring at the same walls, that it was not a decision i could ever truly make again. i am institutionalized now, broken, in a sense, no longer whole enough or naive enough to be able to summon that purity of spirit without cringing in fear of the after. i whispered an apology to the stitched-in fetus for what i wish i could give again but can’t, and waited for them to take me upstairs.
and i whispered again to my still-tingly legs, this time about the two versions of myself, there is no comparison. shit luck does not always mean shit luck. we were just both here. we were just both here.