The nurses are burping a newborn baby about thirteen feet from me. I can’t see them, due to a grotesque curtain that sections off our small area, one of seven areas in a shared hospital room. Not every parent uses the curtain, a grandiose gesture I interpret as "I'm abandoning privacy to focus on being a better parent for my sick child!"
I always use the curtain. I am committed to using the curtain.
I hear them tap, tap, tapping the newborn girl’s back. “That was a big one!”
Is it possible to die of boredom? I imagine they might find my body, sitting here in the most uncomfortable chair ever created, and say, “Snap. Another parent, gone too soon.” How is this chair not deep enough for me to sit properly? Is this secretly a child-sized chair? It’s too tall to be a child’s chair. No, it’s definitely a child’s chair. I’ll ask the nurse in five minutes for another one.
But maybe I’ll just sit and tough it out. I’m good like that. I'll save my serious voice for moments like when I need more clean towels or get caught stealing soda out of the patient supply fridge.
I almost dislike our nurse today. There’s something too enthusiastic about her. She seems suspiciously young. I overhear her trying to pick a fight with the other nurses about who gets to hold the newborn. It’s nearly refreshing, to hear this conversation in a place that’s so regularly peppered with panic and darkness. They are fighting over who loves this newborn, someone else’s newborn, the most.
I leave to go to the bathroom, promising my four year-old son I’ll only be a moment. FREEDOM. I want to skip down the hall and do cartwheels and buy giant bags of candy and hundreds of coffees. But I know I only have three minutes, maximum, before my precious boy has another meltdown that nobody else in the entire universe will be able to deal with.
There are parents walking their teenaged children down the hallway. They shuffle slowly, IV carts awkwardly trailing behind. They are oblivious to everyone and take up too much space. “Excuse me,” I whisper, sorry to disturb the moment. Maybe it’s their first walk in weeks. I rush back.
He’s sleeping. I know my son will feel exponentially better tomorrow, but today is hard. The first day after a successful surgery is similar to the day after Christmas. The flood of kind messages and lovely texts and Facebook Likes trickles to an inconsistent leak. My memory of an adrenaline-filled conversation with the surgeon, the one where he tells us our son did awesome and everything is going to be okay, starts to fade.
Day three will be better. We will finally be in a private room. I can burp freely. The really great people will show up with wine and chicken and will know exactly when to leave. The adequately good people will continue to “Like” every update on Facebook, and I will continue to make a mental list of the people who don’t.
I’m so bored. But then all of a sudden I’m not. I watch, from a sliver in the curtain, a new family coming in, asking the nurse questions I already know the answers to. I've unfortunately known those answers for years. They ask where the washrooms are, how to order food, when is the IV going to come out, where they are going to sleep tonight. Is there a room for us somewhere?
I smile when the nurse responds to the last question by pointing to the empty chair beside the bed, the one clearly designed to maximize discomfort. I remember being told the exact same thing a million years ago. I now know about the super secret room for parents to sleep. You have to be one of those parents to know about it, the ones who have lost track of the number of admissions. The ones exactly like me. I smile a bit wider.
I feel obligated to step in and help, or at a minimum, be a little miss-know-it-all. I want to give them advice or perhaps explain the whole bathroom situation: the cleanest ones to use on the weekends are on the 6th floor. Don't even bother with the ones outside of the ICU waiting area. Stay away from the 5th floor. Those are always mysteriously locked.
I wish someone could, in turn, answer my questions. But I don’t even know where to begin.
“Could anyone with telepathic powers come to bed 5A-12 and deduce whether or not my son is in pain?”
The doctors say he’s okay, that he’s not in any pain, and that the epidural seems to be working. He’s not screaming, but he’s not smiling either. I haven’t seen a smile in 30 hours and 55 minutes. He’s just here, getting through it. Head down, ploughing through. Dealing with it. Kind of like his mother.
I stroke his hair. I should really wake him and bribe him to drink chocolate milk. I worry over whether I’ve brought enough toys to bribe him through each of his meals for the next week. I decide to let him sleep.
My son smells like old hand sanitizer. His hair is matted. This long afternoon nap means he won’t sleep all night. Kids in hospitals often have their days and nights reversed.
It’s suddenly very loud. The parents are taking the newborn home. The nurses dote over her, passing on every tidbit of information from the day: “Burps at 6:17! Spit-up at 6:21!” It’s beautiful, and disgusting, and refreshing. There’s really no word for this feeling, these joyful moments juxtaposed with alcohol swabs and epidurals and vomit and full-leg casts.
Or maybe there is. I should look that up. But I’m just so tired. And it’s almost day three. Goodbye, day two.
Written by Jennifer Philp. Jennifer is a teacher and mother of two children. Her son was born with a rare genetic disease that has resulted in a variety of serious health conditions, including a penchant for Peppa Pig and raisins. She writes about him at Mother of Bones and can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.