Sunday, February 27, 2011
Grim and determined, you race through the ER hallways, your hospital gown flapping open behind you, until at last you have to stop. You're ringed in by three nurses, two techs, a chaplain and an ER doc, with security on the way.
"Please go back to your room," the nurse says.
Panting, you stare around, eyes wild. "I have to use the phone! She wouldn't let me use the phone! She said --"
"We'll bring you a phone," says the charge nurse, "but you have to go back to your room, okay?"
A tech's trying to tie your gown. You swat her away. "We can't have you naked out here!" the ER doc says, keeping her voice cheerful and friendly. "That won't do!" You've stopped near the ambulance bay; as people walk by, the doors whoosh open, flooding the corridor with freezing air.
"How about a warm blanket?" asks the chaplain. "I'll get you a blanket. It's cold out here."
"Let's go back to your room." That's your nurse again. "You can get warm there."
You allow yourself to be cajoled back into your bed. By the time you've lain down, security's shown up, two brawny men and a young woman in blue uniforms, all donning blue latex gloves. "I need a phone!" You're hollering now, fists clenched and body rigid. "I need a phone! You said you'd --"
"Here it is." The charge nurse appears with a cordless phone and punches in a complicated series of numbers to get a dial tone. She hands it to you. You hit random keys, scowl at the phone, and shake it. The charge nurse has left; so have the two male security guards.
Your nurse, who's been standing guard outside, comes in now; she and the chaplain manage to coax a dial tone from the phone. You dial again, but your face fills with despair. "Nobody there."
The chaplain hears a tinny recorded message blasting from the phone. "I think it's an answering machine. You can leave a message."
"Leave a message," the nurse echoes. "At the beep."
You take the phone back, wait a few seconds, and start talking. "This is your friend. You need to take care of my things! I'm going to be gone for a while. You have to help me. Good-bye."
The chaplain wonders if anyone will hear this message, or be able to make anything of it, but leaving it seems to have calmed you a little. You're still cold, though, so the chaplain fetches a warm blanket, and then three more, and piles them on top of you. You huddle underneath. Your fingers, when they touch hers, are icy.
"Mommy!" You're staring at an empty spot beside the bed. "Mommy, don't leave me! Take me with you! Take me to heaven! Please don't leave me! Mommy!" The chaplain, who lost her own mother recently, swallows past a lump in her throat. Is this a deathbed visitation? But you look much too young to die.
As the nurse and guard watch from the doorway, you stretch out beseeching hands, and then fall suddenly into a doze. Just as suddenly, you startle awake. Fixing your eyes on that same stretch of air, you keep talking. "Mommy, why are you just standing there? I want to come with you. Mommy!" That last is a drawn-out wail; tears streak your face.
This sleep-wake cycle happens several more times. The chaplain holds your cold hand as you babble to your mother, and then brings yet another blanket. You thank her for it, poiitely, your eyes for once focusing on her rather than on your invisible visitor. Then you fall asleep again.
But this time, when you wake up, something's different. You squint up at the chaplain. "Where am I? How did I get here?"
The chaplain and the nurse explain that you're in a hospital, and why. You don't remember coming here, even though it was your own idea and you got here under your own power. Head cocked, you listen to the explanations, and then sigh. "This is scary. Not remembering."
You roll over in bed. You're facing the place you were talking to before, and sure enough, your eyes focus on that same spot. "Mommy, what are you doing here?" You shake your head. "You know I miss you." You reach up with one arm, hand curving as if cradling someone's head, and then bring your hand down again. When your hand's a few inches from your face, you stop and gently kiss an invisible cheek or forehead. "Mommy, you know I love you. But you have to leave me alone now."
Then you roll over again and go to sleep: a more natural sleep, this time, one that lasts a while. The security guard has left, and the chaplain leaves now too, smiling at the nurse still sitting next to the door. As the chaplain walks down the hallway, she hopes that she has just watched a transition from seeking death to welcoming life, and she hopes that you will not see your mother again -- except in tranquil memory -- for a very long time.