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In the Hospital

My husband is back in the hospital, having taken a post-surgery detour on the road to recovery. It was a gut punch for both of us, especially since he was doing so well after a lengthy stay. Here’s the thing about modern medicine: we have come to expect that there is a magical cure-all for disease, a bit of extraordinary hocus pocus taking place within the sterile walls of these institutions. We assume that in the hands of a skilled doctor, the prescribed treatment is going to work. But life is not like those TV shows where a patient goes from critical to cured in a neat one-hour episode. It is messy and hard. Sometimes, the medical magic works; sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes, in an effort to reclaim normal life, we get a little overconfident. We forget about those invisible foes, those germy invaders that lurk everywhere, with the ability to bring us to our knees. It’s hard to fight that which you cannot see. So yeah, here I am sitting in the surgical waiting room yet again as they go into his body once more, hoping to throw all that they have at this nasty infection.

Covid has changed so much of life as we know it. At one time, I would have had a gathering of family, maybe even a few close friends, to sit with me, offering words of support and a welcomed distraction. But that is no longer allowed and so, I must shoulder this burden by myself just as I have throughout the past month, spending far too much time processing my thoughts as I whisper all of the pretty prayers I can. It is a deep kind of loneliness, one that is hard to describe.

The social distancing warnings are posted everywhere, discouraging connections with strangers who find themselves in a similar situation. Even small talk is viewed as threatening. And so, we occupy random seats, six feet apart, avoiding each other’s gaze. It is an eerie little microcosm inhabited by zombie-like beings unable to read the mutual expressions of worry hidden behind the required masks.

Yesterday I shaved him. I think the scruffy beard made him uncomfortable. And, of course, he wanted to be surgery ready. Sometimes, something as ordinary as a clean face can be important. Normal is elevated to special in a crisis.

I am reminded of a short story I used to read with my high school sophomores. There is really no plot to dissect, no conflict between characters, it just describes a tender moment between a father, who is critically ill and a devoted son, who offers a bit of comfort through a simple act of service, shaving his dad’s face. Like most literary works, there is something deeper to explore. As the father gazes out of the window he makes a simple observation about how life goes on, that the world continues to be big, even as his becomes small in the confines of that one room. It’s a universal theme which we have all experienced at one time or another. Our sufferings are ours alone to bear.

Funny what you think about when stillness replaces the background noise of the world. And so I sit, waiting, looking expectantly at the status board, which tracks patients. For institutional purposes, he is simply a number. The time doesn't fly by here.

At this hospital, when a baby is born, the muzak is replaced by a few melodious bars of “Lullaby and Good Night.” For a moment, everyone stops and smiles as they silently welcome a new life into this world. It really is lovely. I’ve tried to count how many tiny new souls have joined us in the three hours that I have been sitting here -at least 4.

But I have also witnessed a woman sit quietly with the hospital representative who had come to console her after she had been told of her loved ones passing. He was warm and professional as he handed her the clipboard of requisite paperwork to sign. I could only imagine her grief, compounded, no doubt, by the fact that she had to face it alone. It was heartbreaking.

This place certainly represents the bookends of life, birth and death. It’s a small world, one filled with both joy and sorrow. And I can't wait to get out of here.

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