Friday, December 29, 2017

Our Second Night in the Hospital

How do you ask them, the parents of the three-month-old with the wet cough, and the wet diapers, and the wired crib, in the hospital room you now share, the small hospital room with only a wispy screen between you (a screen thin as eyelid skin), how do you ask them to please turn out the light? Or to leave? To go out past the plastered painted wall and into the white lit hall, away from their baby and away from yours. For your child who is only seven hours past high flow air and still coughing and wearing her eyes open, squinting and blinking, while her ears can't keep from ringing and her legs won't quit their kicking, her body refusing to lie flat in her bed (her inflating, deflating, holey hospital bed - a bed made for bed sores but not little bodies). Your child who won't stop screaming for her daddy. Your child who wants her freedom, but still requires confinement to this room and to her sleep, for it is nearly midnight on her second night and still she is not sleeping.

I cannot ask them to hide their wary conversations and questions about asphyxiation and deep chest congestion, if there is enough breast milk in the belly of their baby, their vomiting newborn baby with the swollen airway and the oxygen tubes torn from her face for an itch, for liberation, while machines beside her crib won’t quit their beeping.

No. I cannot ask them for anything. Not even when my toddler starts howling. Instead, I try to drown their discussions with a recording of the sea. However and unfortunately, their voices prevail as they set sail (with seeming ease) over the raspy waters of even my highest volume. So I make a tent over our mouths and it quickly fills with our warm breaths and then her hot coughs and then her hushed sobs and soon her wretched wails and feet flails. I sing hushed lullabies and pleas to weep more quietly, but still, I do not speak up.

Eventually, the nurse turns out the light and asks if everything is alright and it isn’t and so sobs fall out of me as if I am sick because I feel sick. "It's just so bright and loud and she's so overtired now. I'm afraid she's going to get sick again from not sleeping." Inhales stack inside my lungs like splintered ladder rungs, up up up, too high now to hold up and in ...

"She won't get sick again." The nurse purrs as my child lies on my body, her belly expanding my quivering belly as I try not to speak my secret too loudly for there is only a wispy screen between us and they are the parents of the three-month-old baby with the wet cough and the wet diapers, and the wired crib and I want to be helpful, but of course, this is not at all helpful.

"Are you going to sleep for your mummy?" She asks, stroking my darling's back, the back all the doctors and nurses have been pressing with their stethoscopes for two days in their searches for rattles and wheezing.

My daughter answers her question with sleeping, and with breathing that billows like a breeze into my sucking, shaky middle.

"It's hard to sleep in a hospital."

I try so hard to be silent then, to swallow this mother's bile, but after the angel in blue scrubs leaves and closes the door, I lie in the blue blinking light, hidden, while my face spreads and stiffens into a wide frown of weariness, of shuttering gasps and warm streams that wet the plastic hospital pillows beneath me. Then I hear her soft sniffles (sobs clutched by shame and freed without permission by the other mother's tortured exhaustion). She, my neighbor, is a stranger in this foreign place of bleach and medicine, but close kin to me in all this human emotion.

There is still nothing I can say, not now without sobbing, and so I say nothing at all, and we lie with the wispy screen between us, whispering our weeping, while our small sick children keep sleeping, and it feels like a kind of conversation.

For the rest of the night, she leaves off her lights and speaks in gentle murmurs. Maybe she even walks past the plastered painted wall, out into the white lit hall, to converse about her baby's survival.

I don't know.

I lie my daughter down and cover her in blankets, then I go to the other bed and wait in the shallow slumber of a tired mother’s night.

In the morning, we make our apologies through soft-spoken awkwardness as if a vulnerability were embarrassing because society tells us that vulnerability is embarrassing and not what we all need to be ok and less alone.