"How did it go?" I called from the living room where I was nursing Kathleen.
He was standing at the counter, still in his coat with an open beer.
"Are you okay?" I ask, surprised.
"It was hard."
He turned and I could see his eyes. Oh, yes, it must have been awful. Brian had his first day of clinical for the semester yesterday (he's in nursing school). He's doing a pediatric rotation at the hospital where Henry died. I knew that working in pediatrics would be tough for him. I knew it was a long day and he wasn't feeling well. I also knew he wouldn't—not the first day anyway—be in the PICU where Henry actually died. But I underestimated how hard it would be for him to be back there in that space, to have to walk down the same hallway that leads to the PICU.
He asked if I remembered the tiles and I nodded. "That's where I had to wait for my clinical instructor." The tiles for children who have been there are near a playroom that leads out to a patio. I sighed and hugged him. And was back there, unwillingly wandering those hallways in my mind.
I was out on that patio on warm September sun, crying and shouting about the injustice of it. I had put up with three months of oxygen at home. I had spent an anxious day waiting to hear that my baby had come through surgery. I had gone in to see him only to find him buried under so many tubes and wires I could hardly find him. I had literally danced around the room with him when all of those tubes and wires were removed, when he was off oxygen for the first time in his life. He had been home two weeks. He was supposed to be better. Our life was supposed to be normal. So in September I suppose I was scared, but more than that I was angry.
I walked by those tiles a million times. I was afraid to look to close. I didn't want to think about children, babies, who didn't make it. I remembered the plaque on the bench outside the NICU, the birth and death dates in the same year. I couldn't think of these things. Not with my baby a few doors away struggling for his life.
In December, the bearded doctor whose name I don't remember came out to tell me that they had Henry on a ventilator, and I started crying. He tried to reassure me that it was temporary, that it was what Henry needed right now, but all I could think was "That's at least two weeks to get him off it." I couldn't think further than that.
Walking out at one point I misread a sign. I don't remember what it really said, but I read it as Tired of making miracles. It wasn't long before Henry died, tired of making miracles indeed.
I struggled each time I went to the hospital for my prenatal care when I was pregnant with Kathleen, and I didn't have to go into the children's hospital area. I only had to drive by the various entrances that marked Henry's life: the door I went in and out of daily for nine days while he was in the NICU, feeling mocked by the cheerful gift shop right by the door; by the entrance where I stood numb and in shock while my baby's body—not my baby—lay upstairs; the ambulances outside the ER, where Henry arrived twice—once with me, once alone; the door to the ER where I rushed in with Henry as Brian tried to park in the middle of a snowstorm.
The simple perimeter of the building could reduce me to tears. How did I not really imagine how hard it would be for Brian to walk onto that floor, down that hallway again? He will be there every Wednesday for the next couple of months. I hope each week is not this hard. I pray for strength for him for the day he is assigned to the PICU as they have told him he will be.
Not the same room . . . or a six month old . . . or a baby with Down's . . . or a cardiac patient . . . though probably none of that matters. Just going back is enough to trigger the even now impossible memories. I can't imagine going back, never mind going back and having to maintain professional decorum.
"Was it that bad?" I asked.
"It was hard."
Oh, of course it was. I should have known. I'm left with a dullness within today just thinking about it.