Today I found myself staring down half remembered hallways, seeing shadows of myself as a child as I started my morning as a volunteer judge for the San Diego Science Fair. Enjoying the enthusiasm and experimentation of a group of eleven budding electrical engineers I saw a few friends and felt just a little bit more at home in my old/new hometown.
As I came outside for my drive to work, I checked my e-mail only to see one titled simply.
She hadn’t picked up the phone in two days. The last time we spoke had been almost a week, when she got mad at me for demanding that she see a doctor about tingling in her leg.
Soon after, I sat in the parking lot as children, in the throes of both triumph and defeat filed past. Same phone, only this time I was listening.
“The officers have gained entry and are in the home. Do you want me to call you back or do you want to stay on the line?”
I want to stay on the line.
“The cat is running around inside and the car is in the garage.”
I sit down. A boy walks by with a primitive football sized model of a heart. I can swear it is pounding.
“Sean?” the dispatcher asks, as if I might have set the phone down or hung up.
“They found her on the floor, she was only sleeping but she’s really lethargic.”
Four hours later, I had swapped the science fair badge for an emergency room badge and one phase of my life for the next.
My wife and son stayed in the car, as only one visitor was allowed in the ER, and the last place we wanted our your explorer was an ER waiting room.
I caught bits of diagnosis from nurses and one busy but concerned doctor.
“Triple A”, “Renal Failure”, “White Blood Cells”, “No circulation” “blockage”
The wheeled her out to a mobile MRI trailer. I ran ahead and grabbed her grandson out of the car, acting excited and hopeful for him. He knew grandma was sick, but I didn’t need him worried. That discussion could come later.
“Grandma’s coming outside. We need to go say Hi to her and let her know we want her to feel better.” I swept him up into my arms, and we jogged towards her.
“Hi grandma. I love you. I hope you get better!”
It was the only time I saw her smile all night.
CAT Scans, MRI, Labs, Ultrasounds, X-Rays and Blood Cultures collided. I knew it wasn’t good, but I was overjoyed that she was alive.
“Have you and your mom discussed end of life plans?”
The emotions, memories, feelings of rage, loss and finality swelled within. No words can convey the sudden shock. Images of being t-boned by trains flashed through my mind. Thinking back, the only words that touch that singular moment of pure bleak desolation are, “Oh man, fuck your bed side manner.”
25 years ago, my father died in the ward my mom is in now. Possibly in the same room. It’s 3am. I’m not sleeping.
I’m writing so I can cry now.
Because I couldn’t then. I needed to smile and stroke my mom’s hair telling her she was going to be alright and how Spencer needed a grandma.
I needed to make sure that every time she opened her eyes, all she saw was love.
I needed to make sure my son was not frightened. I channeled all the strength of my mother. because thirty-five years ago, she held my hand and walked me into a hospital room where my dad was recovering from a stroke, smiling and excited about me getting to see daddy, yet not knowing if he would recognize me.
I needed to make sure that my son could grow to understand struggle, sickness and strength without fear. Tears may be needed, but not for him. Not yet.
Today I found myself staring down half remembered hallways, hearing echo’s of myself as a child as I stood in the hundred year old main building of the Valley Hospital. The clocks in the hallway, the triangular four color lights above the door unchanged in the thirty plus years since I first stepped into those halls. With a kiss, and the squeeze of a palm, they wheeled my mom into surgery.
I need to cry now.