The first time you walk into a hospital, summoned by a phone call you never wanted and didn’t expect, you walk tentatively into the building, in shock and a bit bewildered by all the signs filled with terms you half-understand directing you down a seemingly infinite number of identical beige hallways, such that before you get where you’re going you will take the wrong set of elevators–twice–and find yourself, surprisingly, on the wrong 5th floor, because in this sprawling complex, there are two different 5th floors. Natch.
The second time you walk into a hospital, you know where you’re going (mostly) and navigate your particular beige hall with more confidence, and more time to think about the surreality of being there at all. You will take time to notice that all hospitals look and smell the same. The doctors and nurses standing in the halls seem either sinister or lazy or both as they chat in groups or meander slowly down the hall, when you know for a fact there are probably 100 families waiting on them this very moment. You know this because your loved one has been waiting on staff since the moment he arrived. I’m always a little shocked at how slowly the leviathan that is a hospital moves. An action announced at 10 in the morning may not take place until 6 that night.
The third time you walk into the hospital, you walk briskly through the automatic doors and stride through the halls like you own the place. You speed past people waiting in chairs, janitors scrubbing floors, first-time-visitors who look confused as they read the various signs, vaguely aware that all these people, especially the people in the waiting areas that dot the hospital corridors, have their own stories, and loved ones they’re worried about, but you are on a mission and you are late because outside the hospital, everything is on hold, in different stages of suspended animation and entropy, and you attempt a little chaos management as you’re able, inevitably leading to you getting out the door later than you intended to. And as you make your way to the room, you marvel at how quickly one becomes an expert at navigating something that was as foreign as Tibet just 3 days ago.
My father had a stroke Sunday afternoon, out of the blue as so often happens. I won’t say much about the details, as he’s a private man, and it’s his business vs. my blog, but we are very grateful that he is still here, and that he is still very much himself, even if his body is not entirely cooperative at the moment. Being my dad, he consistently asks me how I’m doing from his hospital bed. “Not very well, actually. My dad had a stroke, you know.” We laugh, because we’re a witty bunch, my family, and because if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.
When I have a moment to think (of which there have been few, because dog pack integration is not going well at my house, and that’s a whole other realm of stress right now), I keep coming back to how in movies, when the villain really wants to stick it to the hero, he hurts those the hero loves rather than attacking the hero directly. And it’s so true. I’d rather be in the bed myself than see my father, frustrated and antsy to get well, there, or my mother, strong, worried, tired, and tender at his side. The feeling of helplessness is the worst. We’re all trying to stay positive and hopeful, because everyone tells us there’s no way to know how this will all turn out. Only time will tell. So we may as well hope, and work, for the best possible outcome; for years, on one of my e-mail accounts, my sig line has been, “In the face of the unknown, hope is as reasonable as despair.” Despair is not an option, even in the face of what will almost certainly be a hard road that will be longer than any of us would want, especially my dad. All we can do is put our heads down and keep doing.