I am sitting on the floor, feeling the scratchy carpet against the bare skin of my legs, blundering my way through a paperback novel. I think I've been sitting in this room my entire life.
I started out sitting on the torture-device masquerading as a couch, with its thin unyielding cushions and sharp ninety-degree angle that encourages stiff, correct posture. After ten hours I feel I am due for a little slouching, so I move to the floor.
They call it a Waiting Room, and I've never heard a more apt title. All you do here is wait. I dare you to try and do anything else in here. I've tried hand-held video games, magazines, puzzles, writing, and reading both fiction and non-fiction books. I tried to do homework, I tried to draw. Something about this room defies all of your efforts to think about anything else than the person you are waiting for. Maybe it's the rows of harsh fluorescent lights, or the TV set to eternal news channels played at a distractingly high volume.
I can't concentrate in here. I can't breathe in here. "I have to go to the bathroom," I tell my father. He nods. He's just waiting, too. I've seen him leafing through papers to grade without picking up a pen, and just staring into his book without turning the pages.
The bathroom is somehow better than the Waiting Room. It's just like any other public bathroom anywhere. I'm a girl, so we get stalls and sinks, at least one handicapped stall, and a baby changing station. The floors are always some kind of cheap tile, the walls coated in high-gloss easy-to-clean paint. There are even familiar names on the toilets, paper-dispensers, and stall doors (don't tell me you haven't read the brand names while sitting in the stall at some point. You know you have).
I finish my business, wash my hands like a good girl, and dry them under the super-jet-speed hand drier. As I leave the bathroom, I think, "what now?" This little trip at least gave me something to do. I wander down a hallway, and I can smell it. It's too sweet, with bitterness beneath. The harsh antiseptic odor of industrial cleaner tries to mask the scent, but nothing can. People are dying here, people despair. People are being saved, too, and I try to remember that. But I've been watching for years as the cure kills my mother just as suredly as her disease.
I find myself back in the waiting room. My father is gone- I panic, until I see the note he's left on the chair: "Just got a call from the nurse's station. Your mom's in recovery now, and they're letting me go see her. I'll be back soon."
Recovery. We shouldn't have to recover from the procedures that are meant to make us well.
It seems like hours, but is only fifteen more minutes before Dad is back in the room. "She's very groggy, but doing ok. They had to do some repair work because the shunt in the artery failed. They thought she might lose the kidney, but she seems to be doing ok now. Another few days and she would definitely have lost it."
I feel...everything. A mix of hope, pain, anger, elation, despair. "When can I see her?"
"When she gets down to the room."
Another hour passes before the nurse calls to tell us Mom is in her room. My steps are too eager, I rush down the halls while my father trails behind me. We make a wrong turn before we find the room, but eventually we get there. When we walk in I think we must have been given the wrong room number, as well as bad directions. I don't recognize the woman in the bed. Her skin is waxy, nearly a true white, her hair oily and limp around her puffy face. There are tubes everywhere, taped in place with huge yellowish white strips. Who is this woman? Three machines beep beside her bed, a kind of mechanized cacophony that I cannot believe she is sleeping through.
Dad approaches the bed and takes her hand. "Wake up, hon," he whispers. The eyes open, but even they are not the same. I can see they are the same color, the same shape, as my mother's eyes. But these are bloodshot, the pupils dilated, her gaze unfocused. She mumbles something in a voice I do not know. Dad seems to understand this strange gibberish- he picks up a cup on the bedstand and pulls out a green swab. He dabs it on her mouth, and she licks eagerly. I can smell the spearmint. For the rest of my life, the smell or taste of spearmint will always take me back to that hospital room, to the crushing despair and disbelief of a child who has seen her mother- the goddess figure of her childhood who was all the hearth and home deities of ancient myth combined- transformed into a lifeless shell, a mockery of a mother.
She looks at me, and mumbles. I hear my name. "Carrie," she says, and I go to her. I am on the opposite side of the bed from my father. I take the limp hand, feeling the cold flesh that makes me think of corpses, seeing the shiny wide tape and big white bandage over the old IV line in her wrist. She has a central line, now. She's been in the hospital for two weeks, and though I don't know it yet will be here for several more.
"Mom," I say, and I smile. But these are lies: the smile, the name. This is not my mother, and I am devastated, broken.
I don't know what I expected. I don't know what I was waiting for, all those hours in that room. But it wasn't this. Still, I smile. I hide the confusion, the pain, the loss. I bury them beneath a forced cheer so bright I must be lighting up the whole hospital. But a part of me has died; the part that was still innocent, the part that believed in miracles. The part that believed in God.
"You're so beautiful," I tell her, and my smile stays on over the lie. "I'm so happy to see you."
(This is my week five entry for LJ Idol. It is also a true story.)