Twelve stations of visiting your wife in the hospital
(is this loss)
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I’ve never driven to this hospital before.
Hours ago, I watched my wife pull away in the back of an ambulance, knowing she would go to this place, or possibly the other place, but now I’m in the driver’s seat with a couple of crying kids, knowing I’m going to have to find the place.
My GPS is on the fritz.
I’m watching on the screen as my rented Ford Edge drives over sidewalks and trees and people’s porches, bushwhacking towards the place. It’s probably not real, I’m probably actually on the road, but I’ve gotten in the habit of watching the screen more than the windshield. Maybe everything’s just a videogame for me now.
My kids want to know when we’ll be there. We’ll be there soon.
I just have a few more mailboxes to knock down.
There were no witnesses. Nobody knows how it happened.
My daughters and I were in the basement, playing videogames. I was introducing them to Portal. We were only a couple levels into the game when we heard it: half a dozen thumps shaking the house as she fell down the stairs. And then you hear the howls, the screams of pain that can only be made by a human reminded that her body is real.
I don’t know if the girls even heard it. They kept playing the game as I leapt up the stairs, but they followed me up when they realized how real things were.
Don’t crowd her, girls, let her have some air.
There’s nothing worse than being hurt and having people crowd around you.
I know that pain, at least sort-of. That feeling of Oh shit I just destroyed myself and the future is nothing but pain forever.
Six months ago, that was me. Lying in a ball pit at a trampoline park, having succumbed to the fate that all patrons of trampoline parks eventually succumb to.
I wasn’t even on a trampoline.
(it’s not fair)
All I could see was a week in the hospital, surgery after surgery. My oldest was standing there, crying, and my wife was halfway around the world. And all I could do was sit there and howl, my mind and my body reduced to incarnate explosions of agony. I sat there and screamed, surrounded by people, and they all just stared.
(Why do they stare)
Because they don’t know what to do
(because, the terror of having a body)
What can I do for you? What do you need? Should I call the doctor? Your mom? You want some water? Some hot tea? A Mountain Dew? What?
(what do i do)
You don’t want to be that bystander just standing by, just staring, you don’t want to do nothing, so you do everything, and by doing everything you do nothing. You know what it feels like to have your whole world explode inside your leg, to realize that nothing that was supposed to happen is going to happen anymore, and you realize you’re just as helpless as the one who’s on the floor and you have no excuse for it.
You call an ambulance. You wait for the big, strong men.
(the ones who aren’t you)
I’m parking the car now, in the hospital’s garage, and it’s cold and it’s wet and I remind my girls to be careful with their doors so we’re not banging up the cars crowded in next to us. It feels stupid, so pointless, to worry about the paint on a car, one that’s not even ours, one that’s rented.
but maybe everything is rented—
Tomorrow, I’ll be sitting at Grace Coffee House, at the bar with my iPad, writing this piece while she’s wheeled into surgery and outside the rain will pour down on top of a Wisconsin winter’s worth of snow. The streets will be running with gray slush and I’ll think about how convenient it is when the weather matches your mood while my phone will buzz again and again with automated text messages.
You are signed up to receive procedure update messages. This number is not monitored. Please do not reply to these messages.
The patient is in the operating room. 1093309843.
The patient’s procedure has begun.
I’ll read the messages and I’ll think about the fact that I live in a world where things only happen in the cloud, where the novels are written by ChatGPT and the surgeons are the Domino’s Pizza Tracker.
I’ll think about the cliché cold and clinical.
I’ll wonder why clinics are always cold.
Earlier, I was yelling at my kids. Because that’s what you do when you don’t know what else to do.
(Someday they’ll forgive me, maybe)
Wear a coat, I was yelling at the one who never wears a coat. I’ve never been to this hospital, I don’t know how much you’re going to have to walk outside, it’s cold outside, and I’m not going to listen to you whine about how you’re cold, wear a coat. Am I making myself clear?
They wore their coats. They got into the car.
I hung back, trying to pack an overnight bag for her. I couldn’t find any of her things. I yelled at the dogs. I punched the wall.
It didn’t break. Sometimes not everything breaks.
(But eventually, everything breaks)
For a moment, we’re lost in the parking garage, but then we find our way to the elevator. Earlier she texted me that she’s in room 906, so I tell my oldest to push the button, the one with the nine on it, and the elevator starts to rise. I halfway expect everything to freeze, and the word LOADING to appear in front of my eyes, the way it does between levels in Portal.
The elevator dings open. But then I see the sign. The one on the elevator wall.
All patients and guests must check in on the second floor.
Do they mean it?
(They probably mean it)
The door is right there, it’s open, we could just walk through.
Instead, I tell my oldest to push button number two.
And we wait.
Six months ago, I was sitting in a wheelchair at the front of Urban Air Adventure Park, waiting for the ambulance to get there, for the paramedics to tell me it was just a torn meniscus and I needed to stop being a big baby.
Is your spouse around? (No, she was all the way across the ocean)
Is there anyone in town you can call? (There were, there were so many people, but I couldn’t think of a single one because my mind was just a screaming mass of pain)
I was at a trampoline park. (I was asking for it)
Most people don’t ask for it.
(But it comes for all of us in the end)
As we walk into the entrance, the correct one, the one on the second floor, where we were supposed to go to begin with, we’re greeted by what at first looks like a pair of four-foot-tall silver robots, who turn out to be a pair of surgical mask dispensers. I wonder to myself why they can’t just put the masks out on a table, and I think about all the money whoever invented and patented these shimmering dispensers must have made in the last three years.
And I take three masks, and I put knots in two of them so they can fit on the faces of my children. Like I’ve done countless times before since three years ago. Like I’ve done, even as the data has shown that children don’t spread the virus and that masks might not do much anyway.
I’m going to follow the rules.
The rules that gleam cold and clinical
(like a pair of robots)
I broke it in three places, she texted me from the hospital.
(Don’t go to those places)
She texted back Haahaha, more out of pity than out of amusement, I’m sure. Then she asked if I could bring her an overnight bag. She wanted to see her kids.
(Her kids who were still crying)
The hospital website says no kids are allowed, but that’s crazy, right? The nurse said they wouldn’t be a problem.
She sent me the list. I started packing.
We’re pushing past the silver robots now, away from the door from the parking garage, past the gift shop and the cafe and the bistro. Everything is dark, everything is closed.
(Everything is empty)
Two women at the desk, women who look like they sit here all day dealing with panicky people and they’re not going to have any more of it. I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to have to explain myself. What do they need to know?
(I’m just so tired)
I guess I don’t know what I’m supposed to tell you? I’m dropping off a bag for my wife.
Great, she says. I can take it up for you.
What? No. I want to SEE her. I’m going up to her room.
No children allowed, she says. COVID-19 protocol.
What? No. No. You can’t. I—
I’ll take them up for you.
And I want to fight. I want to swing this ugly duffel bag around while the veins pop out of my neck and I howl Do you see these crying children, do you see how they’ve driven across town and across sidewalks and across the cloud to get here, to be in the same room as their mother, and all they want is to tell their mother goodnight so they can go home and actually sleep tonight? And you know it’s all theater, you know it means nothing, you know it’s all just disembodied bullshit, and you’re making everything terrible, and that’s the opposite of what hospitals do, and I will burn this place to the ground—
(But I’m just so tired)
(so I drop the bag)
(and i go home) 🕹🌙🧸
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Stuff I’ve been enjoying lately
Ever heard someone play the blues on a harp? You’re about to:
I don’t always love Spotify’s algorithm, but it often manages to dig up some really unique and obscure artists that I end up being pretty into. Recently, it introduced me to a woman who plays under the name EllaHarp, and who plays most of her folksongs on self-built miniature harps and banjos designed (per her bio) to “fit into the overhead bin of an airplane.”
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Oh wow, Luke, what a nightmare. I hope and pray she's doing better.
Beautiful. Loved the line “the surgeons are the Domino’s Pizza Tracker.” So... true. Life seems like a theater of the absurd. Glad to she’s on to recovery.