Thursday, April 16, 2015

Waiting rooms and merciful spaces

Yesterday, as the young couple I met in the hospital's surgery waiting room began a vigil for their 7-month-old son, my son and I were spending time in the Land of Salt waiting for the apple to digest in his stomach before his incision and drainage procedure at 8 p.m. We caught a documentary, An Honest Liar, at Broadway Cinema, and hung around downtown taking photos of each other and details of the urban landscape that E— found somehow remarkable.

E— fell in love with the view from the parking terrace. He didn't know why. "IDK," he said. "Maybe how the snow is weighing on the flowers, or maybe it's that green wall. I just want a photo. Take one with your phone, mom. My camera is sucky." I didn't know how to frame what he saw, but I agreed. It was a lovely view—my boy, in love with the wonder of the world around us. He hadn't been crazy about seeing the film, but he loved that too. On the way to the music shop, I asked him casually about his views on faith, because we never talk about it and I'm curious what he thinks. "I want to believe there's a god. And I believe in the whole Jesus thing too. Yeah, I like that. But I don't wanna go to church. The people there are weird, and it's not like I can pretend that they get me or I get them and we're all friends." 

I told him where my faith is, and that I get his sentiments on the sociality of religious culture. "If I didn't believe in the whole Jesus thing, too, I don't think I'd ever go. But I go for that, and then, over time, I've come to like the people there. I see how they're important even though I'd probably never have met them otherwise. I get how once I'm there for Jesus, caring about the people around me ends up being my focus. But that didn't come all at once. Humans are pretty self-interested creatures, and I'm human. We're all about selfish preservation of our own interests. I had to keep at it for months before I felt the connection to others in the religious community. It's weird, because I'm always talking about how I care about people. I shouldn't put qualifiers around which people I'm going to care for."

At Greywhale, my son took me upstairs to the punk/indie section. We perused the racks like we did in the North Country before CD stores gave way to MP3s and iPods. If we'd had more than half an hour before we reported back at pre-op I might have spent a fortune. As it were, I purchased a copy of a Baths album for E— and I found a copy of Marissa Nadler's July for myself, because I believe in the concept of the album, the way I believe in the chapbook over individual poems. 

After pre-op, where E— dressed in purple scrubs and a top adorned with purple and blue stars, I walked with him and the anesthesiologist to the surgery wing doors. The doctor asked E— to give me a hug, and he did, with the awkward obligatory movements of a 17-year-old who really does love his mom, but feels self-conscious about showing it in front of strangers. They disappear through a set of doors and I walked back down a long hallway to the waiting room door, lit up in blue. 

Inside, a young couple sat surrounded by family. The group totaled seven in all. When I walked in they motioned to me to sit next to them to join the waiting party. They said they'd already been keeping vigil for four hours; one remained before their baby boy's heart reconstructive surgery would be over and his chest sewn up again. Their baby's name is Miles. They showed me several pictures, both before the life-flight to Primary Children's and after. He is a chubby fellow, younger than I would have guessed from the photos, with sandy hair and enormous blue eyes that gobble up the light around him and shine it back from his enlarged baby heart. His parents said the doctors were shocked that he made it to seven months without the condition manifesting. Usually, infants with this particular defect, 1 in 300,000 births, fail to thrive by four months, and if the condition isn't caught, die before their first year. In Miles' case, he reached seven months in grand style, wearing 18-month clothes, and eating everything his parents offer. He is active and bright and loving. But the croup he's had for the last week labored his breathing, and three days ago his parents took him to the doctor. The exam showed nothing out of the ordinary besides the cold. Most physicians, they told me, would administer an antibiotic shot and send them home, but their doctor told them that something in his gut was telling him they should take the baby straight to the hospital. The doctors there ordered imaging of the chest, which exposed the defect—a heart missing a valve, enlarged ventricles, an output of only 11%. He was immediately life-flighted to Primary Children's, where the pediatric cardiologist explained that the condition was so rare that he'd only performed two or three other operations of the sort needed to remodel Miles' heart. Most babies don't make it to surgery. They just die. His mother kept talking about how blessed they'd been. About the Lord's tender mercies.

So I sat with this family for an hour, and fought back tears, trying not to feel out of place when they asked about my son, who would be going home that night. They were so kind, taking E—'s surgery just as seriously as their own child's. When their surgeon came back first, I sat and listened. He called the heart "horrendous"; still working at 11%. But no worse than when they'd arrived at the hospital two days prior. Now there was the six month wait, to give the heart time to return to average operational capacity. Six months. That's when my surgeon came in. I took my things, gently wished Miles' mother well, and left the family whose baby boy was apparently still somewhere in the woods to rejoin my fledgling man. 

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