I've returned to the sounds and smells of the hospital. By now I've learned which bells are harmless and which mean a difficult phone call to another family. The air is simultaneously sterile and stagnant. Preoccupied faces taught with worry or vacant with exhaustion pass in elevators and hallways. Races, ethnicities and genders fade away in the hospital. There are only two kinds of people here: the healthy and the sick.
My Dad may come home tonight but after three failed discharge orders, my Mother and I don't count on anything. We are fully immersed in the land of quotas - pee this much, breathe this deep, walk that far and then maybe we'll see, they say. I take a break from my Dad's room and wander down the corridor away from the cardiac unit and toward the women's wing. I begin passing photos of motherly love on the wall, women of all shades and sizes cradling brand new lives in their arms. The odd contrast strikes me - at one end lay those whose hearts are struggling, on the other side tiny hearts beat strongly with the joy of new beginnings.
It's strange how tiring it is to just sit and wait. I come upon a cluster of faded gray arm chairs in a nook and plop down in one. My legs feel like tree trunks. I leave them sticking straight out and close my eyes. When I peel them open again, I see the sign on the adjacent wall, "Neonatal Critical Care Unit. Parental Visits Only." Double doors without handles next to the sign lead into that area. There is a card reader on the wall.
A few moments later, a 30 something man emerges from the doors. His wavy brown hair is flattened on one side, a popular look among we visitors who steal naps in a chair propped against a wall. His brow is furled and he keeps wetting his lips. An ID badge is strung around his neck with the word "Neonatal" clearly visible. He removes a cell phone from his pocket and sits down in a chair in the nook katty corner to mine.
Phone conversations broadcasting the most private medical details are around every corner in the hospital. Modesty and personal boundaries disappear under higher priorities. I want to give the man some privacy, but I am simply too tired to move. I close my eyes and turn away, but his voice fills the empty hallway:
"Hi Mom, it's me."
"I know. I fell asleep."
"No, no. It's alright. We're alright. Don't come."
"Yes, I know you would. But don't. There's nothing you can do here."
His voice cracks slightly
"Mom, it's too far. You stay there with Dad. She's gonna be alright. She's gonna get through this."
"Mom, Mom, you're breaking up. I can't hear...I'll call again at 6, okay? Bye Mom, bye - "
I hear the phone click shut, a deep breath, a pause, then muffled gasps. The man holds his head in his hands and cries.