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.