In honor of Peter’s record-breaking time out of the hospital, 5 1/2 months and counting, I’d like to share the following, an excerpt from my memoir, What God Had Emptied. I am in the process of submitting to publishers now. This excerpt won Best of Show for Literary Arts at the Stanislaus County Fair this year.
Chapter 4: The Flight to Egypt
The first four days passed. No one could say when we would leave. Kyle’s work provided no paid leave or vacation time.
Kyle left and I stayed.
Pat visited every day. When Peter’s electrolytes stabilized, we transitioned from the UCSF Pediatric ICU to the “floor”, the Medical/Surgical general unit.
There was a private bathroom.
The room offered privacy enough to pump, but little help with Peter. My modesty longed for privacy. The stronger Peter grew, the more help I needed. He cried, begging to be held. Two feet from him, hooked up to a rented Medela, I could not comfort him.
A young, high-voiced and slight-statured Patient Care Assistant named Denton did not overwhelm me. He helped, cheerfully and often, to fill in the gaps left by Sally, Peter’s Australian and intimidating nurse with a penchant for medical terminology. When I asked for help, her comments on how little time she had burdened me. When she said we should think about putting a g-tube into Peter’s stomach, it troubled me.
Our room was situated at the end of the unit hallway. A large window took parents on mental vacations when they peered out into the San Francisco Bay and remarked on the vast cruise ship docked there. Every day I checked to see if it was still in the harbor.
At morning rounds, the team of doctors met together discussing Peter. In this setting, they introduced Gastroenterology (GI) for the first time. Monica Lange, the attending doctor whose voice resounded emphatically with each statement, hoped we could go home that day. Dr. Yvonne Winney, attending GI doctor, disagreed. She hated to say it, but GI’s opinion carried more weight.
I stayed on my feet for the news. Only later did I sit in that lime green hospital recliner, attached to the pump, draped in a muslin swaddle cloth, gripping Pooja’s hand, sobbing uncontrollably. To this caring resident, I managed the words: “I haven’t seen my children in a week.” With her sure and soothing voice, she made me feel there was a way forward.
That was a night of tears, drowning in the emotion and stress of a week alone with my baby in the hospital. The next day, Bernice, a social worker, came to talk with me. “You need to get out,” she exhorted, “you should take a walk.”
Her words pushed me out the door. After she left, when the emotion welled up again, I was no longer crying.
I was fed up.
Leaning into her urging from the hour before, I got out.
I went for a walk.
In a haze, I bought Haribo gold bears and a body pouf at the tiny Walgreens across the street from the clinic building. It was a normal thing to buy things, unlike the week I had been living.
Walking sounds tame. It is not.
In a fury, I walked, lengthening my stride. As I walked and continued walking, the rhythm of the steps overcame my thoughts. The pace of my breathing out-paced the emotion surging in my heart. I kept on walking until my eyes shifted focus from inward to outward. Buildings came into focus. The sky came into focus. I felt the breeze again. The drowning stopped and the scene around me came into color. I felt curious.
When this happened, I recognized my location. It was 3rd Street. Maybe this was where Kyle walked when he went to Safeway. It was not very scenic. The ports looked abandoned between a sea of concrete and the San Francisco Bay. Invigorated by the clear skies, clean air and enveloping sunshine, I followed the sign to the nostalgia-inducing AT&T Park.
I walked on. Approaching the park, a snack shack sold beer. The steel members of Lefty O’Doul Bridge stretched across a stench of water. Business people walked and homeless people milled about. Outside the Dugout Store, a sign advertised ballpark tours. It would be wonderful to see the inside. Not since third grade have I cared about baseball. Stepping inside, I inquired of the clerk the cost of tours: “$22.”
Yikes. “Make-a-buck. Make-a-buck. Don’t care what [baseball] stands for, just make-a-buck, make-a-buck.” I walked on.
Turning the curved corner around the stadium, across the street stood Momo’s. Its black and tan striped awnings and serif typeface beckoned me. I was hungry and sick of hospital food. The food was palatable but dry, and the repetition drove me mad. Momo’s drew me. The host handed me a menu. Dismissing the high prices, a Freudian Id power propelled the moment forward. Impulsively, I asked, “How is your French Dip?”
“Excellent,” he responded.
“Can I get it boxed up?” He directed me to order from the bar. Self-consciously, I chose a seat. “Can I get you something to drink while you wait?”
Blushing, I stumbled, “oh, no” like a sheltered housewife.
The bartender offered water. He could have meant that from the start.
I ordered, drank my water and paid for my $18 French Dip sandwich. It felt wonderful to spend a lavish amount of money on something. The smell tantalized.
Time to return. One hour had passed since I left.
In the presence of the day’s resident, Jo, and a nurse practitioner I ate my French Dip. This was good, I thought, good to walk, good to feel free, good to spend. Goodness was a feeling I had not felt in a while.
The next day when I stepped outside that good feeling returned. Surveying my surroundings, I wondered, Where should I go now? Adventure is out there. AT&T Park yesterday. The Design Center today? To walk and eat at the same time appeared casual and cool. Whole Foods was down Mariposa Street. When we examined Google maps, Jo described this route was safe. I prepared to go.
The walk began. There was no fog that day, only curiosity. My attention heightened as I followed the sidewalk under the freeway, scanning for suspicious characters. Graffiti decorated each pillar alongside the train tracks. The road led uphill. My legs sensed it. It was good to use them again.
To the left stood a hardware store. To the right: a dog grooming shop. Buildings triggered thoughts of my own home, questioning if charcoal window casings would complement cream siding or if it would be too dramatic. Painted lady houses inspired awe. Modern architecture punctuated the iconic Victorian homes one expects in San Francisco. History and architecture enchanted me. The colors were visionary.
Signs at Whole Foods reminded me St. Patrick’s Day was the next day. I wanted to buy beer. I wanted to buy wine. I wanted to buy the whole store. Ten minutes passed as I weighed my options in the candy aisle, calculating the price per ounce because we always joked about Whole Foods being more aptly called “Whole Paycheck.”
Newman’s Own sour licorice ropes in cherry won the debate, as did hairspray. A new product might help this mess. Sun blasted through the exit as I ventured back out to the street. Signs pointed to the Design Center.
A tile store distracted me first. On the entryway wall to the left, I discovered the perfect marble herringbone mosaic for our foyer. A black ash with patina cut into a 12×24 inch piece was meant for our fireplace. The clerk copied the pricing information. In our small talk, I shared how I love planning a design concept. “Oh, you should be a planner,” she fanned my flattery. The city is completely changing, she informed me.
In taking the samples, I left some heaviness behind. It stayed that way as I reentered the hospital. There was not enough time to reach the Design Center that day. Ronny, Peter’s social worker, indulged my design talk over the tile samples. Everyone checked on me now that I had cried my eyes out in their presence. Tile samples and brochures carried me away from the present moment, filling my mind with plans for my Hughson home.
The next day, I would walk again.