Friday, April 9, 2010

It brings me back

It seemed like the memories of being at Children's had faded some. I could remember but not be immersed. I could see what had happened without being thrust back onto the floor. This seemed like a good development.

Then last week, somebody asked me if I had any advice about support for her friend whose son is being treated at Children's. As I tried to think of what had helped, I found myself back there walking those halls, lost and floundering, exhausted and anxious. My chest was squeezed tight and I could barely breathe.

Yesterday, my friend Tricia posted that she had spent several hours in the ER at Children's with her daughter, Riley. She lived at Children's for months and months with her baby too. I read her comment on Facebook and hoped Riley was okay, but at the same time, my heart jumped up and choked me. I remembered bringing Henry to the pediatrician and ending up in the ER. I remember bringing him into the ER after finally being released from the hospital. And I remember how stressful it was to simply approach the hospital again, without a sick baby. I thought of her arriving at the hospital and all of what I had been through there flooded back, and I imagined her struggling through her own morass of memories weighed down by the fear of the current situation. I send her hugs and hope.

I am still haunted by the three months I spent there with Henry. I don't look back and think that was nothing compared to losing him. It was a different kind of unbearable, that I had no choice but to bear.

When Henry was getting close to discharge, I got more and more agitated. As much as I wanted, no needed, to get out of the hospital and get him home, I was terrified. How could I keep him well? Could we see family at Christmas or did we have to isolate ourselves that much? Would I miss signs of withdrawal?  Would he ever come off oxygen? What, really, could we expect for him? What if he got sick again? Would I miss symptoms of his condition worsening? What if he had a low-grade fever (DANGER, DANGER) in my mind that doctors who didn't know him brushed off? I had been away for so long, could I bear to barricade myself in the house with him all winter?

And the answer were: I couldn't keep him well. Even before we left the hospital, he had a little bug brewing in him. We did see family at Christmas—by that time he was gone. We weren't home long enough to have problems with withdrawal or try to wean him back on oxygen or figure out what he could do. He did of course get sick again, and I was paralyzed, to scared to bring him to the hospital, and he got worse rapidly. And he had a fever, and still, I was unable to bring him to the ER. I ended up in for most of the winter without him, lost in the blur of missing him.

I'm sitting here now, taking deep breaths, shaking off the grip of hospital fear that grabbed tight onto me, but every now and then I find myself smiling a little half smile as tangled up in that anxiety find the little glimmers of hope and kindness that sustained me through those three months that feel like a lifetime.

It does often now feel like a different lifetime, and yet, it seems I am not as far removed from it as I'd like to think I am.


  1. I know i say this all the time, but yeah I so get this. All of it.

    "I am still haunted by the three months I spent there with Henry. I don't look back and think that was nothing compared to losing him. It was a different kind of unbearable, that I had no choice but to bear."

    This strikes a particular chord. Not comparable, just a different kind of agony.


  2. It is amazing how powerful our memories can come out of hiding. Tucked away safely, for our sanity, and then "BAM" once allowed to be released or triggered, our heart relives those painful memories.

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  4. We keep thinking we'll go back to that hospital some day, make a pilgrimage of it, walk in the garden where we said goodbye. But so far we can't bring ourselves to do it, and I think you've put your finger on part of why we can't.

    And what Catherine said - you kept him well, really.

  5. hi sara. as you know, my loss experience was very different from yours - but i recognize the jumping heart, the flood of memories. trauma is deep, and it takes a damn long time to recover. too long.

    please be gentle with yourself. you did everything you could, and you loved him fiercely. xo

  6. Thank you for your reminders that I kept and loved Henry well. As I'm reading your comments and being sucked a bit back into the vortex of my hospital memories, I'm also feeling that strong connection I had with him, the deep love. As the scary, sad, awful memories had seemed to fade into the distance, I have been feeling more distance from Henry too. As much as I try to unearth the good memories and hold a little shard of joy or hope, it's all tangled together. The anxiety came back first, but love and hope worked their way in and reminded me that they were always there too.

  7. The physical presence of the 'hospital' haunts me too. Strangely, the ICU where I spent so many months is no more. It's been moved to another site. But even the fact that those rooms are still standing, those spaces enclosed by the same walls, troubles me? Not quite the word I'm looking for. I'm drawn to that place and yet I can't stand the fact it's still there?

    'It was a different kind of unbearable, that I had no choice but to bear.' I'm going to pick up on the same line as Sophie. I feel that the months I spent in hospital with the girls are almost a different 'strand' to my grief.

    'I couldn't keep him well.' But you did. You do know that? You kept your Henry well. You loved him so very, very much. Nobody on this earth could have done more or done it better.

    I don't think that time spent in any type of intensive care unit is ever very far away from the surface, never at that 'one cool remove' we might like to keep it at. x

  8. Just sitting with you, Sara. I really identify with the painful feeling of not being able to protect your baby. I also agree with everyone else that you were, and are, a wonderful, loving mother to Henry and you did the very best you could for him.