The green vinyl creaks as I adjust my position. I’ve had more comfortable seats on a bus, or in a doctor’s waiting room. This was no exaggeration. Over the last eighteen months, I have had plenty of experience with doctors’ waiting rooms.
My whole body is aching and I’m unable to keep my eyes open, but I’m afraid to close them. The young girl who took my order an hour ago walks past, cloth in hand, to clear the table beside me and she glances my way with curiosity. I smile wanly and continue to pretend to sip a brew long gone cold. I don’t care. Once I was a connoisseur, now I’m just grateful for something to occupy my time, to keep my hands busy and mind focused on one thing.
I have been in a bubble all day, ever since 9.00am this morning, when they wheeled Jayden into the operating room. I held his little hand as they administered the anesthetic and watched his eyes glaze over. It was like watching him die. He didn’t just go to sleep, his eyes never closed, but he seemed to step out of his body. I wasn’t prepared for that, and a chill raced down my spine. God, don’t take my boy!
“He’s under,” the anesthetist said.
“It’s OK, Mum, we have him from here.” A kindly nurse in multicoloured scrubs led me away. As I stepped through the doors, I broke. My legs just wouldn’t go further and the tears were no longer silent. They were accompanied by great, gasping sobs. Not my finest moment, but I had been so strong for so long, I just couldn’t do it anymore.
The nurse suggested I come down here, and I parked myself in this corner booth, phone on the table, watching and waiting for the call to say Jayden was back in recovery. That was nearly four hours ago. Four hours of watching people, and I am still here, waiting, hardly daring to move.
I am grateful that the grinding and hiss of steam drowns out the hospital sounds of the loudspeaker announcing a Code Blue in C Block or paging this or that doctor. That sterile, clean hospital smell is muted here, as delicious aromas fill the air, but I can’t eat, I can barely drink, my stomach is curdling, twisting itself into impossible knots.
Across the aisle, a man sits in his wheelchair, wrapped warmly in a dressing gown and slippers. A bag of IV fluid hangs from a pole on the back of the chair. He sits with quiet dignity while two children busy themselves drawing pictures and colouring in printed pages. I watch him lift a shaking hand, complete with cannula and IV line, to caress the little girl’s cheek as she shows him her artwork. His skin, pallid and drawn, clings to the angular bones of his face and hands, and I watch as he lifts his gaze to the woman sitting opposite him. She smiles, but the sadness leaks through. I can see it, because I can feel the same expression in my own eyes. The fear that you have to place all your hope in one thing, all your eggs in one basket, and you know it’s a risk. You know that it’s all or nothing, and you’re scared that you will be left with nothing, but you do it anyway.
There is a quiet calm on both of their faces, a resignation that fills me with sadness. I want to yell at them, tell them not to give up. I haven’t given up. As exhausting as it is, I won’t give up. For the sake of those precious children, keep fighting, I silently scream. I have to look away. Maybe they have no options left and nothing left for them to fight with.
If Jayden’s surgery is unsuccessful, if the repair to his little heart doesn’t work, I tell myself that we will still have options. We can go on the transplant list. I haven’t yet put all my eggs in the same basket, but it’s getting close.
A group enters, their boisterous excitement fills the space, and their happiness is infectious. The little balloons and teddies they carry, along with gift bags loudly proclaiming ‘It’s a girl,’ chokes me up and I swipe a napkin beneath my eyes once more. I’m a wreck, an emotional watering pot.
The group place a large order and crowd together near the entrance, dragging chairs with a clatter and a dissonant scrape, so they can all sit around one table. A cheer erupts as what must be the new dad walks through the door. He is a smiling mess, hair unkempt and what was once a five o’clock shadow is now a face of scruff. His clothing is rumpled as if he has slept in it, but from the dark rings under his eyes, I would hazard a guess that he hasn’t slept at all. There are hugs and handshakes and congratulations all round.
I look away. Their joy is too much. My eyes meet the gaze of the other woman as she gathers up her children’s drawings and crayons, and we speak without words, one suffering mother to another. It’s not that either of us begrudge the other family their joy, in fact we are both transported back to a time when we experienced that euphoria of new life, but the pain of our current situation is sharpened as it contrasts with their unbridled excitement and exuberance. Her lips tilt in an acknowledgment of our shared understanding. I hope my lips tilt back in a comforting way, but it probably looks like a rictus of pain.
The woman gathers her chicks and musters them to each side of the wheelchair as she navigates her way to the door. I sincerely wish them well and hope that they have the satisfaction of a happy, healthy and complete recovery, but my heart knows what that mother knows. Every day is precious and none is guaranteed.
I return to my occupation of watching the phone, willing it to ring. I find myself praying to a God who had abandoned me when he put together my son without a working heart.
Jayden would make a joke of it. He told me that he was the Tin Man and that if he ever met the Wizard, then he was asking for a heart. He thought it was hilariously funny, so much so, that he made me wrap him in al-foil for Book Week dress up day, so he could be the Tin Man. I laughed with him, but my laughter was only skin deep. I laughed for him, not for me.
If I ever met the Wizard, I would ask for courage, like the Lion. Every new day I woke with a deep pit of dread that lodged itself in my stomach. A constant companion. Would this be the day that his heart gives in? Every challenge, school activity, sports day was a hurdle to overcome. I was just so scared, and I had to face it all alone. It was hard enough propping Jayden up when he was upset about missing yet another activity, a school sports carnival, a trip to the zoo. I couldn’t handle trying to comfort anyone else, and so I didn’t let them know. My parents were interstate, Jayden’s dad was in an extended honeymoon phase with wife number two. That left just Jayden and me. It was safer that way.
The phone lights up and vibrates across the table, and I gasp as my stomach plummets in one direction while my beating heart thunders in the other. I can barely breathe as I scramble to answer the call, all thumbs that don’t seem to know how to operate a smart phone.
“Hello, Kathy speaking,” I gasp.
“Hi Kathy. I’m ringing to let you know that we have Jayden here in recovery and he is asking for you.”
I can barely speak but I garble words, which the lovely nurse on the other end correctly interprets as a query about the surgery’s success.
“Jayden has come through very well,” she reassures me. “The surgery went as planned and there were no unexpected complications.”
She says more, but I will admit to not hearing a single thing she says, as I grasp onto those words ‘no unexpected complications’. It is almost a pain too much to bear, like when you’ve sat too long then suddenly stand up. My head is light, my heart almost exploding in my chest. The release of pressure is so intense that the whole world reels around me, tipping alarmingly, and it is only as I hang up that I realise that I am sobbing. Huge gasping sobs of relief.
“Honey, was it bad news?” Through the puddle of my vision, I see one of the grandmotherly ladies standing by my table with a box of Kleenex. Her face is lined with years of care and she is directing that care towards me, a random stranger.
I take a tissue with gratitude and stammer, “No, no, it’s good news. It’s my son. He’s come through the surgery OK and there were no unexpected complications.”
“That’s wonderful dear. Do you need to go to him? Take a few more tissues.” She pulls a dozen or so from the box, pressing them into my hand. “Don’t let him see you cry, dear. He’ll think the worst.”
Closing my fist around the tissues, I smile, the first real smile I had felt in so long. The kind of smile that comes from that deep place where true joy lies.
“Thank you.” I hug this woman, and I am not usually a hugger, but she hugs me back with a confident strength before she sets me on my path.
I wipe the tears as I hurry through the door. My boy needs me. Our journey is not over. In fact, it’s just beginning a new stage, but now I can feel hopeful.