The modified orientation of an eerily familiar labor and delivery room makes my heart pound, sending a resonating drumline-like beat within my skull. Carefully sliding onto my third bed in two days, any attempt to settle comfortably is met with a persistent, achy back. My vise-gripped head firmly grounds the squeezing pain stretching from one temple to the other, using my forehead as an all access road.
A long fluorescent light sends its ultra-white beams into the otherwise dimmed room. Hearing just blips of words, music, and sounds, I don’t focus on any of the corresponding pictures as Jason flips through the television channels. My stomach groans in hunger; reluctantly, I flip through the flimsy two-page menu. How can I eat at a time like this? My sour stomach begs to reject any ort, but ordering food affords a crucial distraction. Each passing minute dissolves into the magnitude of time we have spent in this sickly venue. In a frenzied rush a thoughts, I plead to my body: Please progress faster! Please let this hell be over! Realizing these pleas fall on deaf ears (or no ears), I reposition my prayers to a smaller scale: Please make my dinner come quickly.
Staring up at the television, Jason solemnly watches a late night talk show playing across the screen. Between eruptions of audience laughter, the constant beeping of the the tube-laced machines next to me breaks the hushed ambience. The solitude quickly fractures with each squeaky footstep approaching our door. A drawn-out, cartoonishly thin shadow on the hallway floor shortens into a chubby human outline. Watching the door, hoping to see a dining tray, we are instead greeted by a familiar perkiness.
“Hi, guys! I see you made it back down to this floor. How are you doing?” Nurse Joleen, in her familiar, childlike, annoyingly optimistic way, seems ecstatic to see us. Releasing an audible puff of air, I coerce my mouth into a tight smile, and say “Hi. Yes, we are back.”
Unable to hold the fake grin, I turn to Jason. His eyes round with fear and contempt. With a slow blink, my expression confesses the sadness that overwhelms me. Feeling the knife twist in my gut, slowly turning right, then left, thoughts of the cruel universe sear into my frantically angry brain.
How did I end up with the most incompetent nurse for the birth of my sick baby?
“Do you have any pain?” Joleen’s tender, ashen face softens with concern. The wide smile is gone. All the crinkles she can muster at her young age frame her eyes.
“I have some cramps, but this headache is the worst pain I have. It just won’t go away.”
Nodding, her blonde ponytail shaking with each motion, she begins typing away at the adjacent computer. “Okay. We can keep giving you Tylenol for your headache. We can always give you something for any other pain as well, just let us know. I will start an IV line just to be prepared for medication if necessary.”
I avert my gaze as she gathers her IV supplies. Reluctantly, I hold out my left arm, feeling her slender index finger push gingerly on my wrist.
“Okay, just a little poke.”
Simultaneously, I squeeze my eyes and Jason’s hand. Offering a small distraction, he composes small, soft circles on my right knuckles. Feeling the wetness of the alcohol pad, I prepare for the small poke. Sensing the pointed tip on my skin, the pain issued straight through my skin to my wrist bone is jarring. Several seconds of pushing, tugging, and jostling of the needle, and Joleen finally tapes the wretched thing in place.
Looking fully into the sadly glimmering eyes of nurse Joleen, I curiously see a somber compassion. It is unclear if she finally was updated that our baby was dying, or if she could no longer purposely dismiss what is happening to us, to our baby. Without too much contemplation, my previously untamed thoughts moderate.
She gets it now! As a new solace flourishes within my guarded cognitions, my anxiously terrified mask backs down, allowing a tear to drop.
“All done,” A cheery undertone lingers in her voice as her caring gaze watches the wet streak navigate southward on my cheek. Her stubborn optimistic spirit does little to abate my aching wrist. Her cheeriness does little to dull my sadness. Despite her inability to disengage from her hopeful disposition, her serious facial expression disentangles from the zestful words, revealing a novel compassion. Nodding with sympathetic eyes, my thankfulness outwardly flows. Her tiny, pale, soft hand covers the back of my trembling, sweaty, swollen fist.
“Now it’s in place and ready to go if you need something stronger than Tylenol for pain.” Capped with a sad grin, her hand releases mine, leaving behind a warmth in its wake.
Before her departure, Joleen works quickly to hook me to the doppler again, this time indefinitely. Watching the waves of heartbeats on the screen, she barely pulls her approving gaze away from the glowing green spikes. Barely above a whisper, Joleen finds her courage,“I know this must be tough for you both. I will try and do whatever I can to help make things go as smoothly as possible. Please let me know if there is anything at all you need tonight.” A second tear descends the same cheek, tracing the path formed by its predecessor.
Retreating with her boldness, Joleen hastily approaches the door, nearly running into the food service person. Artfully balancing the tray on his right arm, it wobbles, rattling the spoon on the fork. As the food service man grabs the edge of the tray, Jason stifles a chuckle. Then I smirk. Then Joleen and the food service man join. A newfound revelation settles with the laughter: a sense of security.