The phone rang around 3:00 pm today. I was tempted to skip it and let the answering machine get it; I had been fighting a losing battle all day trying to get things done. I glanced at the Caller ID, and decided to answer.
Becca's mom was on the phone. Becca is also a patient at The Hospital; we have been friends with Becca and her family since the girls were (literally) in diapers. Becca lives across The Greater Metro Area, in a quiet suburb opposite ours. Her mom is a nurse at one of the big specialty hospitals in The Metro, her dad is completely out of the picture; her parents are divorced. Becca also has a brother who has largely escaped the problems that have plagued his sister.
Becca has to go back to The Hospital on Friday for more surgery. Becca has a whole different array of problems - she has brittle bones, scoliosis, and several other conditions, all of which contribute to her being a bit smaller, and a lot more fragile than her classmates. Becca and Twinks go to the same Pediatric Cardiologist, and they have the same Doctor at The Hospital. They are friends in a way that surpasses most girly-friendships at this age; they share the common bonds of a lifetime of pain, and an overarching, burning desire to be Normal.
Becca's mom tells me that the surgery is going to be a "big one", laying open her back (literally from the base of her skull to the top of her buttocks) while The Doctor goes in and completely rebuilds her back. She has to be at The Hospital on Friday, surgery will be Monday. She will be kept in isolation at The Hospital all weekend before the surgery to insure that she is healthy, and that she doesn't bring in any viru/colds/infections that might compromise either her recovery, or that of another patient.
This is a familiar routine for us; fundamentally unchanged since Twinks had her first surgery years ago. Becca's mom will live with her, in her hospital room. She will sleep on a fold-out chair/bed next to Becca's bed, and she will stay with Becca the entire time. There are laundry facilities just for the parents living at The Hospital so that they can keep their clothes clean, and there are showers just for the parents to use. Becca won't have to bring along anything except her school books, and an outfit to travel home in - The Hospital will supply *everything* that she needs during her stay. I remember as if it were yesterday, nervously arriving at The Hospital when Twinks was a baby, dragging along a suitcase full of diapers, wipes and formula. The nurses told me to send it home - and then showed me the "pantry", where I could go anytime I needed supplies for Baby Twinks. The shelves were stocked with every brand, and kind of formula, diapers, wipes, jars of baby food, bottles of baby shampoo, lotion, and powder. They also showed me the closet, where I would get the clothing that Baby Twinks would wear while she was at The Hospital. It was full of clothing for children of all ages, and all sizes. There are special bathtubs - one a special "slant" tub, so that kids who have one leg, or one arm in a cast can take a bath. Each huge corner room of the In-Patient Hospital wing is a playroom that is dedicated to children of a certain age range. When Baby Twinks had her first surgery, we were in a room on the hallway that led to the babies playroom. It is a colorful, cheerful room, lined with windows and full of toys for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and kindergarteners. There is the school-age playroom in the next corner - it too is lined with windows, but here you will find the classic toys that you expect; Legos, Hot Wheels cars, Barbie dolls, dress-up costumes, board games, and The Library. The In-Patient unit has a library full of books, magazines, DVD's, Videotapes, and CD's for the kids to check out. The opposite corner is "Teens only", and you must be at least 12 years old to enter, but not older than 18! Even the nurses knock before entering - this is a sanctuary for the older kids who are staying at The Hospital. There are pinball machines, arcade video games, a foosball table, an air hockey table, a jukebox, and of course, Playstations, XBoxes, and GameCubes. The only time an adult is allowed in (besides for routine maintenance, or during scheduled cleaning times) is "by invitation". I have seen only brief glimpses when the doors opened to admit one of the teens, but the nurses tell us that it is a great room to hang out in! The last corner of the In-Patient Hospital is dedicated to the parents. It is called "The Lounge", and here you will find huge, overstuffed rocker-recliners lined up in front of rows of televisions. There are areas for reading, desks for writing, couches for napping, and a row of pay phones for those who can't afford the luxury of a cell phone. This is where the parents go when they need to cry; this is where the lost souls who suffer from insomnia congregate to watch the night creep past.
There are doors to the In-Patient wing that separate it from the rest of The Hospital building. After a few days, those doors become either a barrier, or a shield, depending upon your viewpoint. They represent what makes you different from the families that are over on The Clinic side of the building. They close out the noise from PT/Rehab; they keep at bay the chatter and laughter from the central atrium. They lead out to a world that quickly becomes surreal; you are sheltered and insulated and cared for In-Patient: reality can easily become distasteful. The nurses are so incredible - they quickly immerse themselves in each child's care, and soon they know each child so well that you would swear they were part of the family. The nurses also gently but firmly teach the parents how to care for these kids when they are at home again; they keep the doors to reality, and ultimately home, propped open just a bit, just enough.
So, we are already there, mentally, with Becca and her mom. I agonize that Becca's mom will have to sit alone in the surgical waiting rooms; although she is a nurse, on Monday she will be a mother, first and foremost. As so many of us have before her, she will stand at those windows, and gaze out over Hospital City while she waits for The Doctor to come and tell her that everything will be OK. She will listen to the big clock tickticktick past the seconds; she will try (and fail) to distract herself by reading one of the dog-eared magazines left piled on the tables. I have been fortunate to have The Wrench by my side; to say that he has been my "rock" is miserably inadequate. Becca's mom has no one that she can fall back on; she is a single parent in the worst possible scenario; alone at The Hospital. I know that of all the places in the world that *could* do this surgery, Becca is going to be at the best one. Her doctor (the same one that Twinks sees) is hands-down, the best doctor available for this operation. They are in good hands, but I can't help but worry about them anyway.
So, tonight we'll begin praying for Becca. Praying that her surgery will be a success, that it will straighten her back as it should be, and that she too will soon be able to walk without pain, just like her best friend Twinks does now. We will pray that Becca's mom will not feel so alone; that she will feel our love and concern all the way from here. We will pray that on Monday, The Doctor's hands are swift, sure, and accurate.
We will pray for Becca.