Ghosts of the Fourth Floor

I put my son into one of those hospital cribs that have always made me shutter, a metal cage; the perfect place to suffer in. But I didn’t shutter. I laid him next to a horrendous giggling bear-robot of some sort, without the least hint of melancholy. I laid down in the pull out chair next to him, his little eyes watching me play with my phone until we both fell asleep.

One of these. Not as creepy as I thought. Actually a really good place to store a kid.

That damn four floor. It should haunt me, because I am a person who compulsively picks wounds so they stay open. 16 years ago the fourth floor was the Psych ward of that hospital. I know because I spent a week in it, without visitors and without healing. Three years ago it was the maternity ward. It holds the NICU still, where I watched my baby’s premature lungs heave and grasp for air. Where I held him, trying my best to let him feel my skin and warmth though all his taped needles and tubes. And knowing, as I looked at the other mothers in the unit, that I was the luckiest of the bunch.

I was alone then too, for a week or so. Gus came when he could but our daughter was 3, and it was a terrible stress to have her there when my world was soaked in hormones and sadness and fear. So he had to stay with her. Plus it was Christmas.

Last week, before they quarantined us (“just in case it’s not just asthma”) I walked past the patient lounge. I’d called my mother from that room three years ago, and told her it was ok that she didn’t come to see us while the boy was in intensive care. I was miserable that day, but it seemed like she wasn’t going to come anyway, so I should let her off the hook. So I was alone, bleeding and exhausted. They had discharged me and put me in an unused corner, a “parent room” where there were no nurses or even foot traffic. No nurse could help me personally; I was no longer the patient, only my son was.

So when a Cesarean stitch ripped open I was completely alone, shuffling down the hall, dripping blood and wanting to cry and faint, begging any nurse for help. The nurses were sympathetic but said they couldn’t legally help me without re-admitting me through the emergency room. I laid down on my back to cry and the bleeding stopped…it had been just a small tear in the skin, not the womb like my panicked mind had thought.

I cried for my mother then, and cried for my poor pitiable self, but I had already given her permission not to come. I was lying, I wanted her, and had sobbed for an hour after she agreed, yes, the roads were pretty bad and the three hour drive was a long one. Thanks for understanding. Plus it’s Christmas and we have company.

That Christmas was her last. I know now she was dying slowly, cutting her connections to life almost on purpose, one small snip at a time. That wasn’t the real her.

And of course, 16 years ago, during the most hellish piece of my life, I had been in that very same room again, listening, nay, literally sitting at the FEET of, another psych patient. He was talking about California and love and his ungrateful family and the spiritual truth and his art career and the celebrities he met, and I was so desperate for guidance that I believed him. I bought a painting he made in the craft room (which would be converted to the NICU) for $50.  A few years later I tore it up in embarrassment. My time on that psych ward was useless and painful.

I have cried and screamed so much on the fourth floor.

I didn’t think about any of that last week. I let those tormented spirits rest, or maybe, they let me rest. I’m not sure I can credit myself for strength when I don’t remember applying any. I spent less than 24 hours in that hospital room with Jack this time, knowing he was not the same child that had failed to thrive down the hall three years ago. Now he just had asthma, like me, and it would pass. In the meantime there was a steady flow of kind nurses to give him breathing treatments and to make sure he had both Buzz AND Woody in his hands so he wouldn’t fuss. Then we went home and he got better immediately.

And so did I, for a change.

Everything’s gonna be okay, Partner.

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