Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.
8:15 on Tuesday morning. At the office. My private line rings.
Luau’s voice. Something is wrong. Too slow. Too calm. Too – what? Not right.
Oh God. No one starts a sentence by telling you that someone’s OK when they’re actually OK.
“She climbed up on the washing machine trying to get to the band-aids in the cabinet above it. She got stuck up there. Katie tried to help her down.”
My heart in my mouth. The adrenaline beginning to run. It’s not his words. It’s his voice. Not OK.
“She fell. She landed on her face. There’s a lot of blood. It’s everywhere. I called Dr. R. We’re headed to the hospital.”
A howling wail in the background belies the strained calmness of Luau’s voice.
I hear myself say, “JUST GO.”
I can’t breathe. Tough chick be damned, I can’t stop the tears beginning to push their way out.
It is all I can say.
My desk mate asks what happened as I hang up the phone. I tell him.
“So get out of here,” he says. “Go.”
I nearly run out of the building. I hear him shout behind me to drive safely.
A running commentary in my head as I start the car, turn into traffic, make my way to the highway.
Calm down. Do not panic. Out of my way, Jackass! Calm. Stay calm. She’s OK. Kids fall. You know she’s OK. OUT OF MY WAY! But she’s scared. I should be there. She should have her mama. The hospital’s going to be confusing. She’ll be terrified. Calm. Breathe. Damn it all, breathe! She’s OK. Oh, heaven forbid you let me into the lane, a%&hole? Move it! People in this state should not be allowed to drive. Calm, Jess. This is not calm.
I park. I sprint, struggling to keep my footing in the slushy icy mess of the hospital parking lot. Inside, still running. Down through the endless corridors of connected buildings. I have to get to my baby. I have to hold her. I need her to see me.
Into reception. Out of breath, “Brooke W, please. Where is she? She’s my daughter. Please.”
She begins to look up her name. “No, you’d know. She would have just come in.”
I turn from her, grab my cell phone and call. They are still ten minutes out. I beat them. I have to wait. She is still screaming in the background.
Out to the elevators. A bench right in front. Closest I can get without the possibility of missing them on a different route in the labyrinth of the hospital.
Calm. She’s OK. She’ll be right here. Calm. Breathe. Slow down. Nothing to do but wait.
Signs everywhere. Nothing else to focus on. Elevator. Emergency only. Not in service. Men’s Restroom. Women’s Restroom. Exit. Main Hospital.
Calm. You’re OK. You have to be OK. Steel yourself. “A lot of blood.” Don’t panic. Don’t let her see it in your face. The tears start to sting my eyes again. I swallow them. Not now.
The elevator dings. I stand up and nearly jump into it. A gentleman steps out, looks at me oddly. I step back, out of the way. I sit down, read signs. Blue Building. Green Building.
I watch as a mother and child walk calmly and slowly down the hallway. No hurry. The little girl reaches up for her mother’s hand. Simple. Achingly sweet.
Another mother and a teenage son make their way into the elevator. She sees me and makes polite mention of the weather. I do my best to smile in return.
An eternity. I find myself rocking slowly, methodically. I flash back to an ER visit when Brooke was tiny, fighting a fever. I had rocked with her in my arms for hours that night. I am trying to rock her. Willing her to feel some remote comfort.
The elevator dings again. I wait. I hold my breath. I hear Katie first. Brooke steps out. I leap out, but crouch in front of her slowly. I scoop her into my arms. She comes to me willingly. Her face is completely smeared with blood. I can’t tell what’s cut and what’s not. Her nose is swollen, purple and bluish green, but I can’t see most of it behind the adult size band-aid across its bridge. There’s an open gash on the tip. I whisper in her ear, “It’s OK, baby. It’s OK.” The sleeves of her cotton turtleneck are drenched in blood. She keeps tugging at them, trying to get them off her arms. She’s not screaming. She looks like hell on toast, but she’s calmed down.
I breathe. It’s OK.
She makes it through poking (“Please approach her slowly.”) and prodding (“She has some difficulties with communication. She might not understand what you’re asking.”) We wait for X-rays.
Katie starts pushing her around the waiting room in a wagon. They’re having FUN. I consider telling them we don’t need the X-rays when I see her take a pratfall off a toy truck and laugh. Six times. That’s not a kid with anything broken. But I don’t. Not the time to make assumptions.
We get through the torturous X-rays (“Oh God. Next time, please don’t touch her face without warning.”) Nothing broken in the end. Most of the blood from a cut inside her nose. Two hours and one more family adventure is under our belts. “Hey, remember that time?” we’ll all laugh someday soon.
We get into the elevator and we start working on her line. I teach her to say, “You should see the other guy.”
I’ve done all I could do. All I needed to do. Some for her. Mostly for me.
I head back to work, leaving my heart behind.