When you live in a hospital, alarms are what you dread most.
What’s unbelievably cruel is that alarms go off constantly; all day, all night, at all hours. The harsh beeps, the shrill rings, the piercing sirens that appear from nowhere.
What’s even worse are the announcements over the PA system. Alarms spoken in indecipherable languages and codes known only to the nurses and doctors. You listen desperately for a room number or a floor, praying it’s not one you know. When it is, you hold your breath while you wait for the door to fly open.
It doesn’t matter how often I go through this, my heart still stops every time.
I’ve lived here in this hospital for the last five weeks, ever since they transfered my wife here. It’s become a second home, a place that I’m actually comfortable in, aside from the alarms. Sometimes I even forget that the two of us use to live somewhere else. The timeless passing of the days in this place seem to be all I’ve ever known.
We always knew we’d end up here, in a labor and delivery room, but not this soon and not like this.
Five weeks ago my wife got a headache. Nothing unusual in and of itself, she suffered from them on a regular basis, so she went to lay down. When I came to check on her she had a difficult time speaking, her words slow and thick like she was having a hard time pushing them out of her mouth.
I rushed her to the ER where they put us in a room and told us they were going to run some tests as soon as possible. The hours passed as we stared at bland institutional walls and listened to the whir of machinery. Every now and then a nurse would pop her head in to let us know that it wouldn’t be much longer.
My wife eventually drifted off to sleep. She slept while I perched on a barely padded chair in the corner. I squirmed and writhed, shifting my weight constantly in a vain attempt to find comfort on something that was barely a step up from a folding chair.
Eventually they came, reconfiguring my wife’s bed then rolling her out the door and asking me to wait. They reassured me that she wouldn’t be gone long and I had to bite back the urge to scream. To remind them that even five minutes was too long in a place where time seemed to slow to a crawl while worry threatened to spill over into panic. Five minutes was an eternity in an institutionally white room with an uncomfortable chair and no answers for why your wife seemed to be deteriorating before your own eyes.
I tried to sleep but couldn’t, I even abandoned the chair and tried laying on the floor. I stared up at the ceiling tiles, finding figures and shapes within their uneven surfaces while the chill from the cheap vinyl flooring crept into my bones. Less than an hour later the door opened again but I felt like I’d been on the floor for days. As if I’d taken root and fused with the taupe tiles, becoming one with the monolithic building itself. Cold and dispassionate, a silent witness to unending organic rot and decay.
The doctor explained what they’d found in the voice that all medical professionals seemed trained to employ. Slow, deliberate and clear but most of all calm. Nervewrackingly calm in a way that didn’t fit with the words themselves. Someone pronouncing judgment on your future should never be so calm.
The doctor may have seemed unemotional but every word filled me with terror. Bleeding in the brain. Likely an aneurysm. Not huge but large enough to warrant surgery. They were working on scheduling it now.
Then more waiting.
They decided they needed to move her to another facility, somewhere that would be better able to handle her surgery. The nurse suggested I go home and get some personal items because we’d be in the hospital at least a few days. Before I left I kissed my wife gently on the forehead and told her I loved her. She whispered the same words back to me.
It was the last time I’d hear her voice.
Over the days that followed I found myself overwhelmed by anger and guilt. Anger for not being there with her when it happened. Guilt for taking extra time at home to grab a snack, take a shower and send a few work emails all while her last conscious moments were slowly ticking away.
I should have been with her at the end.
My haul from home consisted of a backpack and duffel stuffed with personal items. A few changes of clothes, toiletries, my laptop, both of our e-readers and my wife’s stuffed monkey she’d had since childhood. The polka dots were faded and the stitching loose but Monkey went wherever my wife went and it was the one thing I knew she’d want.
Laden down by my haul, I made my way into the hospital and gave the nurse on duty my name. She started her search but then something changed. I could see it in her eyes, that slight twitch as she reread a line. The blank expression she suddenly locked over her features. I knew. I knew, I knew, I knew but I pushed it down, away, out of my mind. I refused it.
A doctor appeared and led me to his office. He explained that the aneurysm had burst as they were prepping her for surgery. He told me that while my wife wasn’t dead she was in a coma with almost no chance of recovery. He offered his condolences calmly, again in the emotionless voice I was coming to know so well. I could tell he’d had conversations like this many times before.
“Now we have to think about the baby,” he’d continued.
The baby. Our baby. My daughter. My first thought was that I’d most likely be raising her on my own, that my wife had left me alone to do a job meant for two and life as I knew it was over. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t work and raise a child without my wife’s help. Why couldn’t this happen before she got pregnant.
I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself for thinking that first.
The doctor explained that there was a chance the baby could survive. They’d have to try to hold off on delivery for as long as possible, my wife’s pregnancy was only at week twenty-five. For every week we delayed, the baby would develop more, giving it a greater chance at surviving. We just had to hold on, wait and pray.
They set her up in a labor and delivery room, just in case something happened earlier than intended, and the waiting began.
That’s how I came to live in a hospital. That’s how the expanse of my world shrank down to one building where time stalled.
That’s where I was when the alarms began blaring.