Sunday, August 31, 2014

August 31st

I was pushing the baby up a quiet corridor in the hospital. Beside us, large windows looked into an open space outside, walled in between four sides of the building. The ground below was too far for me to see, and the buildings rose up so high that I could see only a small square of blue sky with clouds above the walls. The corridor was flooded with sunlight from this open space.

I was pushing the baby quickly forward and then drawing her just as swiftly back and then swinging her around in tight circles, as though we were dancing the tango together. She cried out with joy and gripped the tray and kicked her feet and sometimes looked up at me with a flash of laughing blue eyes as she was whirled past me.

We were whiling away the time until Keith could be released. He waited in another wing, two floors up in a small room overlooking the leaves of a small park, which in its turn overshadowed a small but busy side street, the traffic flashing past all day long.

He had been driven there the morning before, early, while coughing blood into an empty Gatorade bottle and shaking, pale and cool to the touch, the baby in the back still in her jammies.

The emergency waiting room was a tiled atrium with seats set out in the middle of the grey light. The receptionist quickly whisked Keith away and we could not go with him through the heavy door. I had time only to kiss his cheek, as he was already wearing a face mask. His skin was clammy. Always the resilient soldier, he told us to go home, he would be fine.

We went home and the baby had breakfast. I did one thing and then something else and then sat down at the kitchen table and simply looked out the window. After a while, Keith texted me that they thought he had pulmonary edema- a blood clot in the lungs.

I drove to the hospital again, again unloaded the stroller, strapped in Baby and returned to the emergency waiting room, now busier on that hot Sunday morning, and tried to go see Keith.

After ten dozen calls and inquiries and waiting, Baby and I got so far as to step inside the emergency room itself before a nurse, galvanized by the sight of Merissa, came sweeping down towards us like a force ten gale and pushed us back out the door with her unstoppable firmness.

No babies allowed in the emergency room, as it turns out. We were ejected back into the waiting room space, where Merissa made high pitched calls and listened as the glass roof high above returned the sound. Not all the occupants of that space were as delighted as she was with this result.

We went back home again. Hours later, in the late afternoon, Keith was transferred to a regular room, where even babies were allowed to visit. He had severe pneumonia with a temperature of 102, but no blood clot.

A day later, he received a small exploratory surgery and was also diagnosed with gastritis. Soon after, he was ready to be sent home, only the wheels of the hospital paperwork grind too slowly for the patience of a twelve month old, and so Merissa and I had gone for a walk through the maze of buildings.

In one corridor, lit only by the electric lights, we saw ahead of us a strange procession that took up the whole width of the hall. We found an alcove and waited for this procession to pass. It was two nurses, one pushing someone in a wheelchair and the other pushing a machine on wheels.

The person in the wheelchair was hardly recognizable as human. I could not tell what age or gender this person was, or what injury they might have received, as their entire person was wrapped up. Their head was wrapped in white bandages and their face was hidden by a mask that was attached to a tube that connected to the machine beside them. The sound of the machine and their breathing filled the whole space and got louder as they came closer.

I had looked away, thinking that anyone coming fresh from the surgical table as this person must have been, wouldn’t want a stranger watching them during their vulnerable passage back to their room.

But something made me look up just as they were upon us. I looked right up into the eyes of an elderly woman with translucent, mottled skin showing at her forehead. I knew she was smiling by the way the skin crinkled at the corners of her eyes.

Her spirit must have been one of the most brilliantly beautiful I have ever known, because, without effort and immediately, just at her eye contact, my entire face and person was flooded with light. It was as if her lively glance were a spark that dropped onto dry kindling, flaring up all through me into a radiant smile.

She looked away from me and at Merissa and waved her fingers at the baby, whose mouth dropped open. I could hear the joyful voices of the nurses, and then the whole procession was past and the noise of the machine was fading away.

But my face was still glowing and I had to stop and wrestle my expression back into something more appropriate for the halls of a hospital. I hope I can shine as radiantly as she could, when age has taken as much from me as it had from her.

Lost people roamed the corridors of the hospital at every turn, peering hopefully around corners, discussing in loud voices if they had come from that way or the other or being escorted by helpful staff who must have been very patient and accustomed used to it.

But by the afternoon that Keith was to be released, we could navigate fairly well on our own, and so as Baby and I danced in the deserted, sunny corridor between the garage pavilion and the cardiovascular wing, I had no worries about finding our way back to Keith’s room.

He texted me while we were there- in half an hour we could all head home. I glanced up through the window at the blue sky and remembered Jesus all over again. To forget, for a short time, and then to remember Him again is a pleasure like pulling up the blinds and seeing that it’s going to be a sunny day after a week of rain. And we were all going home and the worst had not happened, not even the second worst.

For a moment, it seemed Jesus was away up past the blue, looking down, so I said, “I love You,” directing my delight upward past the buildings, beyond the square of blue sky.

I’m right beside you, He said, His loving words saturating my spirit in the quiet way they do.

It was a transfixing thought, but the emotion that pinned me was a simple one.

“You make me so happy,” I told Him, shyly.


I remember this now, days later, when Keith is still in pain and his gout had flared up and yet he is going to work instead of recovering at home. The combination of this emergency visit and its lingering effects, on top of that shattering blow to my faith earlier has caused my usual internal limp to turn into a painfully slow, shuffling gait.

But as I was writing this, I turned the calendar page to read the psalm on it, and this was what I found:

"The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. The Lord keeps you from all evil and preserves your life."

Psalm 121:5,7