Friday, December 30, 2011

A Day in the Life

     The entryway to the hospital where my husband always goes for treatment is really spectacular at night. You have to take an escalator up from the bottom level of the parking garage to get there and though I've traveled those moving stairs more times than I care to count, it never fails to make me feel like I'm being pushed into the prettiest night sky I've ever seen. It's a huge glass walkway that's crisscrossed with strips of  white lights. They're LED lights, I think, so they're not just white, they're white, like the purest form of illumination you've ever seen. In all the times I've been there, I've never seen a single burnt-out bulb or socket without a bulb in it. I suspect they've employed someone whose only job is to maintain the walkway's luminescence.

     I think those lights have a similar effect on the other people who traverse that walkway, because it feels like conversations stop once you're under the lights. It's something calming and beautiful in the oddest of places and perhaps that's what the architect intended when he or she decided to make it anything but the typical sterile hallway that so many hospitals are fond of. A place to gather yourself before walking into the unknown of a loved one in the hospital, somewhere to soothe yourself before driving home alone after a tense, emotional day of listening to a never-ending stream of medical jargon. Or maybe that's just my take on it.

     The escalator that takes you up into the walkway is actually really narrow, only wide enough for one person. It's an odd feature in a place where the support and comfort that comes from human contact is so very essential, but it's not as though you spend more than sixty seconds at a time in that place. I tend to focus on the small, inhuman details when I'm at the hospital because it keeps my mind from wandering. If I don't concentrate on the placement of the coffee kiosk, I might find myself wondering if the crying woman who just passed me in the lobby has lost her husband, or if the thin, disheveled man wandering around with an IV tower is on yet another unsuccessful round of chemo. I'm a naturally empathic person on my best day, so at times when I've got my guard down, whatever sad story I attach to these strangers can be my undoing.

     There's really no time for coming undone, so the best thing is to keep moving towards the bank of elevators in the center of the lobby. It can be tricky, dodging all the people who are there to visit their sick friends and family members, but I'm getting pretty good at it. I'm even getting to the point where I can tell the difference between the first-timers who are only here for a quick visit and don't expect to have to return anytime soon, and the ones who are familiar with the territory. As someone who's more familiar, I move differently than the others, with a surety that makes it clear I know where I'm going, I've done this before. I see others move that way and I know that this isn't their first trip, either.

     One nice thing about my husband's trips to the hospital? He always gets a private room because he had a staph infection years ago and now there's a big, fat MRSA stamped somewhere on his chart, meaning he never gets a roommate. This means I can stay with him as long as I like, observing the nurse take his vitals every couple of hours and watching the Food Network on the little TV attached to the wall next to his bed. It's actually really peaceful after all the other visitors have gone home for the night. The nurses offer me a blanket and to roll another bed into the room if I want to spend the night. Once I did, because he was in there on my birthday and I wanted to wake up with him that morning. Last night, though, I went home.

      It's a very different experience, leaving the hospital in the early hours of the morning, than it is coming in during the early evening. There is no one in the elevator and it doesn't stop to pick up any other passengers on its way down from the eleventh floor. When you step out, there's nothing to hear but really terrible Muzak. I mean, REALLY terrible music, even worse than the hold music you have to listen to when you call the front desk find out someone's room number. There aren't even any janitors vacuuming or sweeping in the hallways. There are a couple of stragglers that usually make their way through the lobby to the parking garage, walking, I assume, I like me. That is to say, tiredly, because they've been there too long and they know they'll be coming back too soon.

     There are security guards at the front desk at this time of night, instead of the jacketed concierge who direct you to where you need to be. The fountain in the center of the lobby is still running, only instead of being background noise, like it was earlier, it's harsh and grating. The water spews out of the center of the pool before crashing back down and it's an ugly sound, especially when everything else is so quiet. The wonderfully-lit walkway that leads back to the parking garage is the one thing that doesn't feel creepily somber at this late hour. It's even better than it was before.

     When you're the only one walking it, you can look up at the lights and the sky that shows through the triangles of glass as you walk, since there's no one to accidentally bump into or give you strange looks. It's so incredibly quiet, too, like your footfalls aren't even making a sound. I know they're not being completely absorbed by the industrial gray carpet, so I don't know how it's possible. It happens, though, I promise. You can pause to look out at the street that runs in front of the hospital, usually one of the busiest in the city of St. Louis, and see that there's no one and the lights have all gone to flash. That's comforting, too, in a way, because then you can just think about the day that was and not have to pay too much attention to fighting for position in traffic.

     The drive home is pleasant, since the highway is virtually empty. In St. Louis, we tend to drive however the hell we want, so it's almost always an adventure to get from A to B. In the very early morning, though, it's a totally different story. With no one to compete with for lane space, you can just drive and it's calming, relaxing even. By the time I pulled off the highway onto the ramp that leads home, I had almost convinced myself that this night was no different than any other. Just another late night at work; he'd be down in the basement, playing on the computer, waiting for me. He wasn't, of course, and that reality was brought home by walking into the totally darkened house, so clearly uninhabited by any non-feline life.

     Fed the cats, who are actually quite poor company when you're feeling blue, in case you were wondering. They're moody, aloof little beasts who could really care less about anything other than that the food in the bowl is at an unacceptable level. The bedroom was too large and cold without him and the bed itself completely unappealing, so onto the couch with a couple of blankets. It's not nearly as comfortable as the bed, but at least I might be able to sleep for a couple of hours if I leave the TV on for company. Waking up every forty-five minutes or so because your body knows instinctively that something's not right is one of the least fun things ever. It knew there was supposed to be a warm husband there next to it, not a tiny, furry creature that yowled irritably every time it was disturbed. It knew that things wouldn't be right until he was home again.

    

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