You know, it’s amazing how quick the human mind and body acclimates to changed surroundings. In a few days here we will have spent the majority of three weeks in one hospital or another and you find that what was once incredibly intimidating begins to seem almost normal. It takes letting go of expectation, I think, and trusting that something larger than yourself is controlling the grand outcomes. Not always easy, but eventually you will hit a wall with your expectations. You will crash, be humbled, and let go. You have to.
Across the hall, a beep-beep-buzz; this is an O2-sat monitor indicating a dip below desired targets. Sounds horrible, but it’s not. Babies breathe weird, even term babies. In another room, a long, loud, repetitive ding; a heart monitor somewhere archiving an arrhythmia (too fast, tachycardia, too slow, bradycardia). Also not horrible. At some point, at varying intervals, they all go off on Olivia’s monitors too. Eventually one learns to not respond to the beeps and buzzes and dings, but to just look at the baby. She’s much better than the robots at telling us what she needs. I’m glad they’re there for now though, just in case. It all becomes less scary with time, but being here is still different. You learn differently in these beginning days than you might at home. I wish she were home, all of us. Still, you do learn. You acclimate.
Walking down the hall you see nurses who have been watching and waiting with you, helping you, parenting your child when you are too exhausted to do so. I know when they begin shift at 7AM and end at 7PM they’re most busy, assessing babies before doctor rounds. I know that when they do this they will temp check, change diaper, weigh, feed, apply medicine, and physically examine the babies in that order. When they are with that they will chart what they’ve done so the doctors can reference their work. In that hallway passing they smile, and you smile. You tell yourself you won’t get in their way today. But, you will. They know it and you know it, and in fact, they want you to. It’s contrary to every emotion and chemically induced reaction your baby gives you to hand over her care, but you must. It’s normal here to do so. You learn to trust.
Housekeeping comes once a day. They are bound by confidentiality agreements to not know too much about the patients, so they don’t speak much. You say thank you, they say thank you. They always look a little sad. I think they want to do more. Who wouldn’t?
I know the blue plate special in the cafeteria is $5.29 and with it you get a main, two sides, and a 16 oz drink from the fountain. Your protein choices are always fish, beef, and chicken, where fish affords some discount. Sometimes another parent is scanning the menu, grabbing a coffee. They’ll say “Hey,” or nod. A smile will usually confirm whether they want to talk. So far I’ve spoken about cars, traffic, the architecture of the hospital (from the front the hospital looks like a single story structure and relatively small in order to appear less intimidating to children). Every once in a while someone will share about their child. People avoid the word “discharged”. Nobody wants to jinx the possibility. Some people have been around for months. There is some guilt in not being that family.
Among the beeps and buzzes and specials and visitors is your child. They sleep, mostly, waiting to be assessed and charted, tracked as data in a file managed by doctors you may or may not see. They transcend themselves in this way, becoming more than just flesh in a bassinet. They are representative of whatever brought them here in the first place. Either they are the first of their kind, or they support their kind, but whether they know it or not they fight in a war of development and disease. You will try to advocate for them, to support their fight, but you don’t ever really know what side they are on, whether they are winning or losing. You just fight with them, alongside them. They are you, after all. There is some interest in self preservation here, in legacy. You are a part of an everyday legend, here.
Eventually you may find that the windows don’t open when you want to be reminded that the rest of the world still exists, but cannot leave your child to verify. The glass is tempered, insulated, sealing out the outside and securing the in. There is too much outside, outside. They don’t mind if you look though, in case the picture on the TV goes dim. It always looks more nice out there.
The schedules of other people become your schedule as medicines are applied at 4AM, noon, 2PM, 6PM, though they may change slightly depending on when the nurse can get to you. Breaks and rounds are never static. You adjust to the movement of other people’s lives as they tend to yours. Information changes hands on paperwork you might never see. Oh didn’t they mention? You shift to accommodate them not mentioning. Your brow furrows. You nod, accept, and acclimate, because your child is in Rome.
It’s all so wrong, and you know it. But what else is there? This is it for now. The blue plate special in the cafeteria is $5.29. A a beep-beep-buzz down the hall. The nurses smile. The windows don’t open.
The nurses smile.