Hospital Camera 8: Six Months Before Our Birth
“Nurse, am I dying?” Aaliyah Brown sits up on the examination table and wipes vomit residue from the corner of her mouth. Her husband puts the barf bag to the side and pulls stray hair out of her face. “I always feel hot. Except for when I feel really cold.”
“She sleeps without any sheets. Except when she steals ’em all,” Deron Brown confirms while staring at the handful of hairs that have come off in his hand. Still straight at their ends but reverting to their natural afro kink at the roots. All five of them sprout from his fist like a pitiful black bouquet. “Like a cat,” he mumbles. “Shedding like a cat.”
“You’re doing almost literally the opposite of dying, Mrs. Brown.” The nurse, wearing salmon scrubs and a small smile, wheels the ultrasound machine over to the bedside. “The first trimester of the first pregnancy is usually rough, but I promise it’ll be worth it. This will feel cold.” She pulls back the loose white gown and smears gel onto Aaliyah’s dark stomach.
The rounded end of the wand leaves slow tracks in the gel. A moving black-and-white image appears on the screen, and it clarifies itself as they watch, smoothing out static and visual clutter. Two distinct blobs are suddenly highlighted in blue.
“Congratulations,” the nurse’s amused little smile grows. She clearly enjoys delivering good news. “I bet you know what that means!”
Aaliyah’s hands move to her stomach as her breath catches. When she can speak she turns to Derek, the disposable white paper crinkling loudly beneath her as if sharing the excitement. “Twins!” Her eyes are bright. She grabs his hands. “Twins, Derek! Isn’t this amazing!”
His eyes skitter to the left before they lock onto hers. “Yeah! Wow!” He tries to match her enthusiasm, tries to react correctly.
The wand continues to work its magic, waves of vibration delving through layers of Aaliyah’s flesh and blood before returning with information on the stowaways. The image is updated in real time, the two highlighted blobs becoming more nuanced as particular body parts are differentiated by color.
When wielded well, the wand can divine the future. The nurse stares attentively at the region of blob one that represents the developing skull, which on the display has turned red and is drawing attention to itself with a gentle flashing. Her smile diminishes.
“You two lucky lovebirds sit tight. Doctor Yang will be right with you.”
In the silence that follows Derek removes his hands from Aaliyah’s and wipes the gel onto the disposable sheet. The gel that she, in her excitement, got on her fingers and inadvertently transferred to him. He is wiping it thoroughly.
Aaliyah turns away from her husband to look at her babies. To peer inside of herself at not one miracle, but two.
“Dammit, Liyah. It’s amazing! I mean that! Twins! But we… I mean we talked for so long about whether we were ready, and honestly, we’re barely making enough to support one. How are we gonna feed twins? You gonna work full time again? And raise twins?”
Doctor Yang walks in as he knocks. “Mr. and Mrs. Brown. It’s good to see you again. And I believe congratulations are in order.”
“Yeah, they are. Thanks Doctor Yang.”
“Yes. One of your twins is perfectly healthy, showing all the signs of normal development that we look for at twelve weeks.” He pauses. “But there’s bad news.” He moves to the ultrasound display and places a finger on blob number one. “There’s not really a good way to say this, so I’ll be blunt. This twin has anencephaly.”
“Is that a… is it anything like Downs Syndrome?”
“Not really. In this case, we can tell from the abnormally lumpy skull that his brain isn’t developing correctly. And at this point it won’t develop correctly. He will be missing parts of the forebrain,” he taps the top of his own forehead, “which are involved in conscious thought and coordinating information. And sections of the skull will be missing.”
“So that twin, he’ll be retarded?”
“I’m sorry. This twin won’t live for more than a few minutes after birth, if that. My advice is to go ahead and forget the word “twin” before you get used to it. For all intents and purposes you’ll have one child.”
The Browns stare quietly for a moment.
So someone is dying after all.