His toes neared the end of the bed, not leaving much room for me. How he’s grown, his long limbs hogging the narrow hospital mattress. Still, I nudged him to the side and managed to squeeze beside him and begin reading a Roald Dahl book as the Versed crept through his bloodstream relaxing his rapidly beating heart.
Doctor after doctor shook our hands and asked if we had any questions. R said no again and again, even though I knew questions silently fired through his brain like bloated synapses.
R had oral surgery this morning to remove a supernumerary tooth—an extra one in his palate that nature slipped in for good measure along with two others that the orthodontist said must go. Due to his medical history and complex anatomy, the 60-minute procedure needed to take place in a fully loaded operating room with cardiologists on hand. It came with the possibility of an all-inclusive overnight stay and at least two missed days of school. The operation took place at UCSF, the same hospital where all of his heart operations and long hospitalizations have unfolded.
In the seven years since his last heart surgery, the hospital hasn’t changed much. There is still the waiting room on the 7th floor with the fish tank, the uncomfortable chairs that flatten into lumpy cots for exhausted parents, the prickly ammonia that assaults the nostrils, the puffy eyes of tired parents, limited cell coverage, blue scrubs and hairnets.
What I hadn’t anticipated was the baby crying on the other side of the curtain, the mother with her full breasts not allowed to nurse her distraught infant because he could have nothing to eat after midnight before an operation. I was that mother so many years ago. Her helpless pacing from her portion of the room to the hall and back again woke the dormant memories I’ve managed to fold and file at the base of my consciousness. Again and again, I turned from R, closed my eyes, and breathed deeply to tame the sobs before they became audible.
Creases on the leather chairs, spots where the upholstery is worn, scrapes on the glass of the fish tank, stains on the wood floor rewound the years. I straddle both worlds—the mother of the infant, the mother of the 11-year-old boy—not just in my writing, but in the physical world on days like today. R's father rocked in the chair and covered his eyes at the sound of the cries too, while my husband was home helping my other children get ready for school.
I wanted to hug that woman and offer her some kind of wisdom, only I had nothing worth saying because I was so clearly still broken. I later realized that I’m only broken part of the time, which is a huge improvement to when I felt broken all of the time. Later still—for better or for worse—I realized that the broken part of me is one of the many jagged and misshapen pieces that fit perfectly together to make me precisely who I am all of the time.