You are tired of waiting. You try to pull yourself together. You WILL NOT sob in front of people. Making your way to the visitor’s desk, your best friend is coming through the sliding glass doors. You will look back at this later as fate and good fortune entwined since you have never felt so alone in your life. You don’t want to do this alone. Now you have an ally. You both are brought back, but intercepted and sat down in a waiting area within the ER. “I will come back in about 15 minutes,” says the nurse, but you know hospital time is different from the world outside, and aren’t surprised that fifteen minutes becomes a half hour. You and your bestie watch a mini drama unfolding between a woman, her grown son, and a couple of nurses. Waiting with dignity intact is not brain surgery, but apparently this gent has actually had brain surgery in the past and fainting or some such has brought his presence in this ER. He, along with his mother, are arguing his place in triage and are showing their proverbial asses. You look and listen with disdain. You want to say, Hey asshat, at least you aren’t dying, but your mother raised you better. Instead you passive aggressively give the pair the evil eye.
Once again you tire of waiting. You are careful not to act impatient as you ask for an update, explain you don’t mean to seem impatient, and apologize. At last you are both brought back to your mother. The ventilator is in place, your mother is unconscious from the sedation. Does she hear? You and your friend say hello to her. You’ve seen two other people on ventilators before haven’t you? What happened to them, Lisa? Your grandfather, later your grandmother. You were 15 when you watched your grandfather die in the ICU, 23 when your grandmother died in the Respiratory Care Unit when they pulled the plug. Yet you still hope. It seems important to you to let your friend know this isn’t her fault. She’s crying. You tell her, “It will be OK. If it’s her time to go, she would have caught that cold anywhere. God makes no mistakes and she could have caught it somewhere else.” You find it almost funny that it’s your mother dying, but you’re trying to comfort someone else. A switch has turned on in your head. You are nice, but steeled. The mental midget you, anxious and alert for trouble at all times, has walked away, until you need her again. You need to thank her, for it was Mental Midget You that always thought something awful was about to happen to your mother. She was the one who told you your mother is dying if she was late picking you up, was a victim of crime, had a heart attack. Or that you would die while you were away from your mother. Mental Midget You’s scenarios are always worse than fighting for life in a hospital. It is an advantage of having fear as your constant companion that anything bad that happens has already been imagined in far more extreme circumstances, so that you are anesthetized to reality.
You are allowed to see your mother before they cart her away to ICU. They tell you to wait an hour before trying to see her in her intensive care room, because “setting her up” takes a long time and the doctors will want to see her.
OK. You go to the café, the alternative to the bland cafeteria. You can’t eat a sandwich, so you stick to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. This still isn’t real. You feel hyped. The world is different. Then you go to the ICU. Outside the door is a red phone that only connects to the Medical ICU when you pick up the receiver. You are told to come back later, the doctors are still working on her. Oh.
You and the bestie go to the elaborate waiting room for this ICU. It is two floors big, plenty room to spread out, even little nooks for families to huddle together. All fine, but you need to update Elsie and Bob, and your phone can’t get reception, so you go outside. Someone is outside stealing a smoke, stealing because the Smoke Nazis won’t even let a soul smoke in the parking lot. Funny. Your mother is dying, no doubt in part due to her smoking since she was 17, weakening her lungs to infection – yet you find it ridiculous that you can’t light up in the open air. Later, when your mother is no more than ashes in a plastic box, you will still think this.
You call Elsie. You tell her that there is a good chance of your mom dying and Elsie still can’t believe it. You can’t either, but that other you is there, and she will face it while Mental Midget You takes a vacation. But now you are alone. Steeled You’s armor is let down a bit when you are alone. You feel a tear, but you need to get back inside. Your friend will worry, so you gather your armor again for the battle inside.
Another hour passes and you return to the red phone. Doctors are still in with your mother. You thank the nurse, you are just so polite aren’t you? They will not know you are getting impatient. They have free Wi-fi for the people waiting for family members to give up the ghost. Among the advantages of being obsessive-compulsive is you bring virtually everything you own with you if you might be waiting awhile. You and your bestie play Pac-Mania on your netbook, but you are fine turning the computer over to your friend. Someone’s family is here, including a young girl on her netbook. They seem upbeat. You doubt their family member will die, or maybe it’s because it’s a big family supporting each other.