I come to the hospital to get a chest x-ray. The midwife I have just seen at the office tells me the quickest way to get it read is to come to Maternity Admissions, so I drive over in the rain, call A on the way and ask her to meet me there in an hour with dinner. I expect them to set me in a triage room, run all their tests, and tell me everything looks fine still, it’s still just a virus, and send me home. Hopefully before midnight, because I am planning to get up and go back to work in the morning after a week and a half out.
I have been sick for nine days now, low energy and running a mild fever that seems to creep back in any time I try to stop taking ibuprofen. At first this is my only symptom, that and the aches and chills and muddled brain that come with a fever. The cough creeps in, and I am sure it is just acid reflux, that it’s only the air turning dryer with the coming winter. My lungs start to hurt and I am up more in the night coughing. By Tuesday I am winded walking a few steps and struggling not to cough with each breath.
We have our anatomy scan in the morning. Count the baby’s toes, fingers, ribs. Watch it open and close its mouth and smoosh its face into the placenta. Watch its heart beating (beating!). Watch it turning and rolling and scrunching and stretching. “Baby looks beautiful,” they tell us. Everything is developing normally.
I go home to take a nap before heading in to the midwife for the third time this week. I feel better already, knowing I have an appointment. I feel silly, like suddenly I don’t really need to go in. It’s daytime, and all my middle-of-the-night fears have dissipated. But I remind myself they told me to call if new symptoms developed.
“I’m worried it could be pneumonia,” I tell the midwife. The latest in my series of 1am self-diagnoses. Listeria, toxoplasmosis, mono.
So I feel a moment of triumph at the hospital when the curly-haired nurse who attends me pops her head into the triage room open and whispers, almost cheerily, “You have lower right lung pneumonia. They’re going to admit you!”
Ha! I think. I was right!
And then, as we wait and stillness settles in, I think maybe I’ve misheard. Maybe they got my chest x-ray mixed up with some other woman’s. The nurse comes and starts an iv, eyeing my veins with a gleam in her eye. “What a juicy vein!” she chirps. We wait for the midwife to come in and confirm the pneumonia. I could be in the hospital a few days, she says.
A goes home to sleep, and I spend the rest of the evening and into a sleepless night in shock. At 2am tottering to the bathroom to pee yet again, dragging my iv pole with me, I’m no longer vindicated I have a diagnosis. I’m thinking about what it means to be admitted to the hospital. Stuck in one room. Interrupted every hour or two for a check of my vitals, or medication, or, it seems, just to be interrupted. I’m not really sure of anything at all, the midwife had been so vague and brief. Why am I getting an iv? Why are my legs wrapped up in inflatable compression sleeves? What does it mean I’m on bed rest with bathroom privileges? Do I really have pneumonia? What is pneumonia anyway? Is the baby alright?
I sleep a half hour here, a half hour there. I wake up and watch the sky get lighter. The view is familiar, only 3 windows down from the recovery room where we stayed after I gave birth to Joseph. I remember being wheeled down to the hospital lobby, walking out through the glass doors with empty arms. The memory cuts deep, a sharp knife. If I had any breath, I would cry.
After the anatomy scan, I had gone home and sat in the glider and wailed. Trying not to cry so hard that I coughed too much. I felt awash with stress and anxiety, and relief. A conviction: This baby is going to be okay. Paralyzing fear: There’s nothing we can do to make sure this baby is going to be okay. And grief renewed: This baby is not Joseph, not my firstborn little boy. I’m never going to get him back.
I watch the shadows shorten outside the hospital windows. Car windows glimmer on Green Valley Way. The sides of the buildings brighten. As I wait for A to come visit, to bring me comforting things from home—a blankie, my body pillow, ultrasound photos of our new baby—I rub my belly and think, I wasn’t alone at the hospital last night. I’m not ever alone anymore. I have this living, kicking, growing companion in my belly. I start to talk to the baby. “You and me, baby, we’re going to be okay.”
© Burning Eye