Bureaucracy is weird in large establishments like old hospitals named after a Saint. Colleen, the Nurse Leader, wants to do my laundry finally.
“Oh you don’t have to [the elevator is closing] Dr. Lukenaar is doing it for me.”
I tried to get my clothes washed for two weeks.
“I’ll be by tomorrow, I want to keep it in-house.”
“But it’s done!” The elevator closes and I leave her behind. It’s my refreshing afternoon walk and first stop is the non-denominational chapel.
I sit by the front and pick up a copy of the Tao Te Ching. I sit and listen to the voices outside and the beeping elevators and shuffling feet and heels and crutches and honking cars. Sounds from upstairs …rolling carts? Beds? Wheelchairs?
Fragments of conversation:
“They asked you what your preferred drink was I’d said vodka .”
“I’m working I’m at work.”
“The only place I can find them anymore is Barnes and noble.”
“It’s always something isn’t it?”
I try to relax but all the noises makes me nervous.
Then I kneel before the stained glass of Jesus and a lamb; it’s pretty beautiful with layers of mountains in green and blue and purple. Jesus is wearing a pair of brown Birkenstocks and his toes are very long.
Next stop the gift shop where I found the giant pink teddy bear. They’re playing a cd of cheesy piano music you hear old women play in fancy hotel lobbies.
I get some notecards and mull over various charms by the register until an old impatient man behind me groans. I look at him, sign my receipt and slowly shuffle away.
Third stop is the bathroom. I have six minutes until my next appointment with the blood pressure medicine so I should be back in twenty. Last stop is the waterfall garden.
And then back for my pills and Fargo Season 2. I have all this free time to wonder about why Jesse Plemons looks like Matt Damon and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s love child and why the peanut worm looks like an infected penis; free time to buy postpartum waist belts on Amazon and yawn excessively like someone forced to watch “Antiques Roadshow.”
Sometimes I rush out of my room, through my hospital wing and into the elevators like I’m an escaped convict trying not to be seen. It might be residual Catholic guilt from my childhood, believing I am always doing something naughty, or it might be fear that all of a sudden I’ll be placed on bedrest and blocked from daily fresh air. Once I’m out for an evening break my increasingly lazy legs ache and I flop onto the grass by the waterfall garden, stare at the faint clouds and listen to birds bickering in the trees. Then I take phone pictures of all the flowers- sunflowers, other things I wouldn’t know the names of but they’re very colorful and smell pretty good- trying to frame each shot to hide the surrounding parking lot and 6-story hospital buildings.
At 9:30 pm, Jeannine the RN takes me on a “jaunt” to the entrance of the main hospital where I can drop off letters to my parents, Charley and his mom Tracy. On the way we visit the NICU and on the way back we visit Labor & Delivery and the Well Babies.
The SCN/NICU- Special Care Nursery and Newborn Intensive Care Unit- is a floor below Postpartum and Antepartum (where I live) and is the main reason I was flown by helicopter to Utah. If I was going to have a preemie, which looked inevitable to Dr. Roberts when my systolic blood pressure soared to over 200, this was the place to be.
St. Mark’s has isolettes that keep the preemie babies warm, with monitors to track heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure and temperature. There are monitors to measure oxygen concentration in the blood trough the skin, IVs, phototherapy, x-rays, blood transfusions and basically whatever your individual baby needs depending on age, size, general health and the judgement of the neonatologists. Bonnie shows us around. Bonnie’s nice and patient and makes me feel like maybe little Dakota will be tough enough to avoid the NICU altogether.
Luckily this wasn’t 1920’s Coney Island, where an amusement park used to display premature babies for a quarter. “Everybody loves a baby!” the exhibition logo declared. Dr Martin Couney, an American pediatrician who started off touring world fairs in the 1890s with his “infant hatchery,” ran the sideshow in Coney Island from 1903 to 1943. That “great whirlpool of joy…the world’s biggest barrel of fun!” People would pay their quarters, snatch up cocktails, and peer into glass boxes at the world’s tiniest babies.
History reminds us that Trump running for president isn’t actually the most absurd thing we have been known to do as a species. What a time to be alive!, people say today. Yes it is.
Cheryl, a surgery technician, shows me room 11 in Labor & Delivery. It has a painting of a woman hugging a child that I recognized from two weeks ago. It’s the same room I stayed in my first two days at the hospital. We talk about different types of deliveries, epidurals, and the few women who thought their babies were bowel movements and ended up delivering on the toilet.
I tell them to keep me off the toilet. Tall Dr. Johnson comes in and everyone looks at him and makes jokes because he’s the giant doctor celebrity of the evening.
And then Jeannine leads me back upstairs to the last stop of the night. “Well Babies” is a large room in the middle of Post- and Antepartum. There all the healthy, full-term babies sleep fitfully with their red, stubby belly buttons sticking out and miniature toes wriggling in the air.
After touring all the facilities I feel like I am more a resident instead of a stranger. I am a professional patient and much more comfortable about my ambiguous future, wherever it will wind up.