This piece was written for a WRITE CLUB bout in which I was given the prompt “hope” versus “despair.”
We’d gone into the hospital expecting to be home for dinner. It’s just high blood pressure, they’re just being cautious, we’ll get a prescription and be on our way. I sat and held her hand and we watched reruns of the Cosby Show on the TV bolted to the wall there in triage. Nurses came in and out, taking blood samples, asking questions, strapping pink and blue paddles to her belly to monitor the tiny heartbeat inside her.
We had time to surf a couple times through seventy channels of nothing before a doctor came in to see her. She said the word “eclampsia” and it didn’t mean anything to me so I’m not going to harp on it. I’ll leave it there for you to look up later, but it’s just a term. We don’t need terms–I’m telling you about a thing that happened. And what happened then was they kept her overnight for observation.
We were moved up to the recovery floor, where women held their newborns and where she was connected to monitors and administered medications and put into a bed to be as still as possible. “Bed rest” is easy until someone tells you to take it, until someone puts you in a thin gown that ties up the back and has you lie in an uncomfortable adjustable bed and puts inflatable cuffs on your calves which hiss and puff as they fill with air and then empty again, to discourage blood clots.
A doctor came in to tell us about my wife’s blood. It was not the worst of her problems. The boy growing inside her didn’t weigh as much as they’d normally like at this point in the pregnancy. There had been fluctuations in the baby’s heart rate that were worrisome. The high blood pressure was an issue. All this stuff was symptoms of that thing. The doctor said they’d be monitoring all that and the best thing my wife could do right now was just lie down, sleep, eat, and not do anything. “Stay relaxed” she said and left us to the machines and monitors and bedrails.
Days passed like this, a grey routine of opiates and hospital food.
She woke me up around three. Her stomach hurt. I helped her to the bathroom, disconnecting her from the various machines around the bed and scooting her IV behind her. Nothing. She sat and clutched and groaned and nothing. I helped her off the seat and sat next to her on the cold tile floor, her one hand grasping her stomach, the other wrapped tight around the handicap rail. She wondered if food might quell her stomach ache, so I fetched some crackers. She ate two, taking long, deep breaths between each bite, her eyes closed, concentrating on tasting the salt. She handed me the wrapper and turned to the toilet and threw up. She clutched at the seat for a while; I called for a nurse.
We got my wife back into the bed and plugged in again. The baby’s heartbeat crackled back into the room and drugs were administered. Very little happened in the way of relief. The doctor was called.
We sat together there for ages, the pain in her stomach getting worse. My helplessness became so palatable that it may as well be an entirely separate character in this story–a scared little boy standing still in the corner, gnawing on his fingers, watching this happening and acting as if by standing absolutely still, he could bring time to a full stop.
The doctor came in just as the clouds outside our fourth story window were beginning to go purple. She pulled her hands from the pockets of her white coat and put her hands on her own stomach as she explained to my wife that her liver had become severely irritated and had stopped filtering anything. As she gestured, palms up, shoulders bent, her eyebrows arched in sympathy, my wife’s head rolled to her left shoulder. Her mouth gaped open as if she were being tugged by the cheek and she made clicking noises from somewhere in her throat as her eyes rolled back into her head. Marianne? Marianne? The doctor raised her voice, trying to get her to come back. Marianne’s arm swung over her body and pinned against her jaw. A trickle of blood, orange with spit, dripped from her mouth. A button was hit somewhere and the room filled with nurses. Me and the little boy biting his fingers were forced against the wall, staring at the rush of hands and tubes around Marianne’s limp body. A nurse stuck a tube in her mouth to suction the blood from her mouth. Her lips were the same purple as the clouds outside.
“Okay, we’ve got to get her to the OR. It’s time to deliver this baby.” Her doctor looked at me as if to ask are you ready?
The bed travelled swiftly down the halls. I kept pace alongside. Marianne was starting to come to.
“What’s happening?” The doctor tried to explain that she had a seizure and was heading to the OR to deliver the baby.
“I don’t understand…” She blinked up at the ceiling, squinting, not focusing on anyone. I tried to hold her hand, but her limbs had gone limp and she didn’t seem to feel me there. The helpless little boy held fast to my shirt, tugging along behind me. I think he was trying not to cry.
“I’m right here, honey.”
“Where’s my husband?”
The warren of corridors and elevators led us to a pair of wide metal doors. A doctor swiped a card, the doors swung open with a click and a hiss, and the bed was through. I was kept back in the hallway, watching Marianne, still unsure of what was happening, disappear around a corner. I was handed a paper gown, a face mask, and a thin blue cap to stretch over my hair. I dressed there in the hallway and paced. I wanted so much for you, son. I wanted good health and strong hands and I so wanted for your entry to the world to be good and happy. I had never thought to specifically hope against panic.
With a click and a hiss, the doors opened, and a nurse gestured me inside. Marianne lay on the table, arms straight out, crucifix-style, a blue curtain tied up between her face and the procedure below. I sat down at her shoulder, and she looked up at me–she’d started to come around. I held her hand. The helpless little boy held on to her other arm with both hands and sniffled into his paper face mask, tears flecking his glasses. Marianne nodded for me to come closer. I leaned in, our noses almost touching.
“I’m gonna have the fuck out of this baby.” She whispered.
I looked up. The little boy was gone. Someone on the other side of the curtain called “okay,” and there was a tug, a rush of pain, a tight grip at my hands and then a new cry entered the world.