This post was the popular vote winner at Yeah Write #51. Thank you all so much – you make me a better writer!
Every hospital has its own secret set of corridors and elevators – a lymphatic system which allows medical staff and the sickest of patients pass unseen through the building. It hides the presence of Death from those who are there to avoid the scythe.
It was in one of these corridors that I first met my daughter.
After leaving my family several floors and many miles below, I returned to the room which had been my home for the past several weeks. There is no less comfortable place to be than a hospital room without a bed. The remaining furniture was never truly meant to be occupied by humans, the awkwardly placed hinges and impossible to conform to curvatures are proof enough of this. However, the very absence of the bed itself was an uncomfortable question left unanswered – is my daughter still alive?
I had spent uncounted minutes sitting on the uncomfortable chair, with the unanswered question demanding response, when a nurse arrived.
“Are you ready?” she asked.
“Is my daughter alive?”
“She is right now. If you want to see her, we have to move,” she replied and hustled out of the room.
If humanity were to exist for a billion billion years, there would not be a word invented to describe the multitude of emotions I experienced in that one moment. It was the big bang, wrought small. Universes expanded and collapsed, whole civilizations played out into the ether. My daughter lived and died.
I hustled after her, into the hospital’s lymphatic system. In these corridors, the fluorescent lights were a brighter white, reflecting off of gleaming tiles and walls devoid of the human comforts found in the main corridors. Here was utility. Here was where battles were fought, and people lived or died. Here was real.
We came to an elevator, near a set of double doors.
“They are going to come through those doors,” the nurse said, “and you will have about a minute with her as they call the elevator. There will be a lot of people, and they were be doing lots of things. Ignore them. Focus on her.”
“Ok.” I replied.
“Are you ok?” she asked.
My look either reassured her or scared her off, because I was alone in the hall.
For a moment, there was absolute silence. Each breath echoed around the shining hall like a prayer. My heart added an undertone of frenzy, but outwardly, things appeared calm.
Then the double doors burst open, and a flash of bright yellow gowns surrounded a metal crib. The sides were down, to allow this small army of healers attend to my daughter. Her surgeon led the way, a gleaming key in hand.
“Meet Emma,” he said, inserting the key in the lock outside the elevator, and summoning her chariot to another operating room in another hospital.
The yellow sea parted, and I looked down on my daughter.
Her feet and legs were perfect. They were everything any parent ever hoped for their child. So were her tiny hands.
And then there was her neck.
Underneath her skin, on the right side of her neck, sat death. It was ugly. It was huge. It was incomprehensible. A grapefruit-sized lump dwarfed the head perched above it. There was a strange obelisk-shape, dark purple, mounted atop the tumor, but still underneath her skin. To me, it was a tombstone.
From her mouth, three fingers of a fatty material protruded, and stretched her chin downward to her chest. It was the lower-half of a “Scream” mask, made of true terror – not the Halloween novelty. Her tongue was compressed under the protruding mask, black as sin.
She didn’t move.
“Can I touch her?”
“Quickly,” somebody said. Activity was starting to perk up around us, chimes insistent, refusing to be ignored.
I stuck my hand out and held her tiny fingers.
“Sats to 80,” I heard behind me.
“We’ve gotta move,” said her surgeon. “Where’s the elevator?”
I leaned over my daughter. She smelled like a new baby. I kissed her on her head.
“Your father loves you,” I told her. “I will always love you.”
The elevator doors opened, and the yellow sea whisked her inside.
I stood alone on the landing, bereft. The doors to the elevator started to close.
“We’re going to save Emma,” said her surgeon.