I need to see her face.
She is pale and breathing fast. Darkness colors the hollows under her eyes; not purple, not brown, but some muddy, delicate mix of the two, not unlike some smudged color you would see touted in a new fall palette on sale at Ulta.
On the forty minute drive north to the hospital, my mind runs over work tasks I’ve left undone, prompting phone calls. My co-workers are irritated. “Stop calling me and go take care of things,” one snaps at me. I try to explain that by focusing on work while I drive, the worry monsters don’t overwhelm me. They don’t understand. I have to focus on tasks.
I called extended family, including her father, my ex-husband. ICU bridges even the widest gaps, although I know she’ll be angry. Even assholes deserve to know their child is sick.
My phone is normally off at night, but last night I left it on. The text came at 4:20 a.m. I’d talked to her at length earlier in the evening, while my grandson was bathing. The headache was so bad, she wanted to cut off her head. Her temperature kept spiking. Now her diaphragm and abdomen were sore to the touch and she was having trouble breathing. Go to the doctor I text, it might be a post-delivery infection, and I’ll talk to you in the morning. Except instead of ‘doctor’ I text ‘divot’, because it is 4:20 a.m. and I don’t have on my glasses. At 7:20 a.m. I text to ask how she is. By 8:30 a.m. when she responds,they are at the ER. At 12:00 p.m. she texts “They’re admitting me to ICU. I thought that was for crazy sick people or really hurt?” I start wrapping up work for transferring to a co-worker and calling my other daughters.
This is day four. A day earlier I’d said she needed to see a doctor and find out if it was viral or bacterial. I asked about mosquito bites. Her two sisters had just each had a run with the flu – symptoms sounded similar, but not identical. They both came through it all right, even though one is pregnant. One had also had the headache.
When I arrive, she is there in the bed, alone in the room. Her partner and the baby are off to the house to pick up items we’ll need for the other two boys. Monitors beep and I watch her heart rate and b/p, while the swoosh of the bed rest booties inhale and exhale in the background. 60 percent kidney function loss. Fever of 104. She is shivering so hard the bed shakes, and she’s under a heated blanket. I tuck blankets. I feel her forehead – dry and very hot. She is on her third bag of IV fluids. I ask questions, trying to get a feel for what they know. I had passed the status board on the way in, but didn’t see it because I was looking for her room. There is no chart present in the room, because it’s all electronic now.
Once the baby is back, I have things to do. Texting the other girls, holding the baby, getting milk bags from the freezer, something, anything, to fight the feeling of helplessness. Something I can mark off in my brain as ‘done’. The gastroenterologist came in. Gall bladder, clear. Appendix. Nothing. A urinary tract infection, but not bad enough to cause these symptoms. I ask about post-delivery infection, have they checked that? Maybe a tiny bit of afterbirth left behind, hanging out in some obscure corner of her uterus? That is waved aside as too long ago.
Sepsis. Acidosis. Words spoken quietly in the hallway, just not to us. I want to yell “WHAT IS CAUSING IT AND WHY CAN’T YOU FIND IT?” But I don’t want to be an asinine, pushy parent of an adult child. I also want my daughter to own her care and stand up for herself. So I keep quiet.
I make the drive home with my 10-week old grandson, 12 bags of donated breast milk from an on staff doctor (thank you, whoever you are), a car seat that resembles a small space capsule and a Tula. I have to have instructions on that item, particularly to learn how to don it by myself while holding the baby. I feel old. Unprepared. Frightened.
Pick up a bassinet from my expectant daughter as my oldest daughter drops off the middle sibling with her and I pick up my six-year-old grandson. The daycare where my middle daughter works has graciously offered to let her bring in her nephew at no charge while my daughter is hospitalized, so he can be near his brother who also attends. I trade off juice packs and snacks and the second diaper bag for the two-year-old while the bassinet is being loaded, and off we go back to my place. I think about going to a drive-through, but opt for dropping off the bassinet first. The baby gets fussy, so I defrost some milk and feed him while my older grandson complains about how he is ‘starving’. It’s all perspective, right? Back into the car for a pizza run, including space capsule wrangling, aka, getting the infant car seat strapped in. We get through food, bath and story time before the baby wakes up again.
I finally get him to sleep on a towel in the bassinet and I text a photo to my daughter in the hospital, hoping to give her some comfort. Instead, I’m told babies don’t sleep on their tummies anymore and that towel could suffocate him. I remind her that I raised three of them and they all lived. “But mom, we are always learning new things, and you just don’t do that stuff anymore.” That ‘old’ feeling washes over me again.
When he wakes up the next time, I find a pillow case and swap it out for the towel, and after feeding and burping him, I lay him on his back. He sleeps no matter what position, so I’m happy about that. She’s happy, too.
I should be sleeping, but I cannot. This may be the only time of quiet that I get for the rest of the day. The only time I can organize my thoughts and feelings – by writing them down. I think about the parents of the adults that died this weekend in an act I cannot truly understand. I feel lucky. I feel scared. I feel alienated from the world my ten week old grandson has entered. Yet strangers to us donated milk and free day care in this exact same world. How is that possible?
Thankfully, he sleeps the sleep of the innocent for today. It is only we older, less innocents, that wrangle with these untenable dichotomies of life.