In Lorrie Moore's short story "People Like That Are the Only People Here" there is a passage:
"...Sitting there, bowed and bobbing, the Mother feels the entirety of her love as worry and heartbreak. A quick and irrevocable alchemy: there is no longer one unworried scrap left for happiness. 'If you go," she keens low into his soapy neck, into the ranunculus coil of his ear, "we are going with you. We are nothing without you. Without you, we are a heap of rocks. We are gravel and mold. Without you, we are two stumps, with nothing any longer in our hearts. Wherever this takes you, we are following. We will be there. Don't be scared. We are going, too. That is that."
The story is about a critically ill child and a mother's struggle to survive the experience. The story, which ends happily, healthily, is one I haven't been able to get out of my head the last few days. When I first read it, before motherhood, I choked it down like broccoli, the contents so unnerving, even then.
Now, it's more like liver. Or liver and brussel sprouts. Undigestible.
Wednesday morning, I took my four-year old to the doctor for the second time in two days. She'd been suffering from a virus that had tossed her from throwing up to fever to stomach cramping and back again. She'd lost two pounds in two days and she's not a heavyweight to begin with.
They admitted her to the hospital. Mostly for dehydration. And on the off chance there was more going on.
Luckily there wasn't. Seven or so hours and some good IV cocktails later, she was feeling like herself again, all sass and sweetness. But we spent the night. And I had spent the morning carrying her newly 39-pound frame across the parking lot from the pediatrician's office to the hospital in the 100-degree heat while she wretched and cried in pain, clutching her stomach. I had sat with her in my arms in Admitting, while no one would tell us how long it would be, having her legs dangling over the arms of the chair I sat on, her head against me, heaving into a Trader Joe's bag about every ten minutes while onlookers stared.
This is hospital right? Haven't you ever seen a sick kid before, I stared back, menacingly, a pissed off mama bear with her young on the ropes.
We sat for over forty-five minutes and the admitting clerk wouldn't look me in the eye and so I stood with my daughter in my arms, walking her up and down the corridor like when she was a colicky baby and she needed the rhythm to soothe her.
When we were finally taken to Pediatrics on the 6th floor, we were greeted by a nurse who mentioned in passing we needed to record all of her peeing and drinking, not necessarily in that order.
"If she pees in her diaper, we need to know."
Her diaper? She's four and half, I said, maybe not the least bit nicely, as though this slip-up meant greater things. Which, of course, it did.
"You are a pediatrics nurse, RIGHT?" I screamed in my head, wanting to throw her out of the room and keep her ten feet away from my daughter's bedside.
Then, a parade of visitors: doctors and other doctors, nurses and orderlies. An orderly comes to wheel my girl in for a stomach x-ray. He has a gurney.
"Well, howdya want to do this?" he asks us, I suppose.
"This is your goddamned job, right?" I think, again blood racing straight to my temples, brain caving in on itself from worry and protectiveness, wondering if we will ever escape this place where no one seems to know your name, or anything else for that matter.
We carry our girl to the gurney. She is wheeled. She is photographed while her father and I stand by in 400-pound lead smocks to protect us. To protect US; an ammenity I would have gladly forgone in exchange for her sitting up at that point, a smile on her face, announcing herself cured.
But there is an IV to put in and there are two "Child Life" people who seem to be the only people here, aside from the seemingly capable and even quicker doctor, who fit their job title. They are kind and good with children and explain everything and have toys and stories and games and reassurance for all of us.
In a nutshell, they are what I would have thought every person in this ward would have been the picture of. They are preserving "Child Life" and in turn I want to kiss them both on the lips, but fear they would think that odd, which it would be I guess.
By the time we are checking out twenty-four hours later, Radio Disney is performing in the "playroom" and I do not want to take her there. I do not want her to be here a second longer than she has to be. I don't care if U2 is performing in the playroom, we're not going. But a rather pushy nurse takes her while I go to load our bags in the car and on my way back into the hospital I catch glimpses of things I missed when my terror was forefront: the bald, so-thin children being wheeled down the hall, a seven-year old in her mother's arms crying that she can't take it anymore, a little boy in a huge hospital gown leaning into his grandfather's lap, a couple waiting for their two-week old son to go into surgery.
I whisk into the room and my girl is aflutter about meeting Mick and Minnie. She and the nurse are showing me all the mouse paraphenalia that have been given out and I nod and smile collecting my daughter in my arms and moving quickly down the hallway, not looking back.
We have been spared. We have seen across the line and know our good fortune. We get home and I wash everything with the hottest water and the strongest soap. I want to wash the potential of harm from our home, from our lives. I had a moment the day before, collecting her clothes; I was in her room and she was in the hospital and her dolls were laying, cast about on her empty bed. I grabbed things quickly and thought:
We are nothing without you. Without you, we are a heap of rocks. We are gravel and mold. Without you, we are two stumps, with nothing any longer in our hearts. Wherever this takes you, we are following. We will be there. Don't be scared. We are going, too. That is that.