Friday, December 03, 2010

reverb10 ~ Prompt three: Moment


Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).
(Prompt Author: Ali Edwards)


My first response to this is GROAN. I hate describing. I hate it even more when I’m told what to describe. Probably because I know it's one of my weaknesses as a writer.  But also because it makes me feel like I’m back at school, being told how to write rather than just being allowed to find my own way. (For this reason I’ve also always hated hearing that old chestnut – Show Don’t Tell.) And, to top it all off, there’s the ubiquitous admonition to share a moment, or rather THE moment, when you felt MOST alive. OH GOD NOT AGAIN.  (Insert tantrum here)

Why the strong reaction? Well, I could be wrong, but here’s what irks me: the implication that THAT moment is probably a positive moment, a special moment, one of ecstasy or exhilaration. A witnessing the birth of your child or jumping out of a plane moment. {And beneath all that is the further implication that you only really feel alive in those moments, and that during all the other moments, the ones where nothing ecstatic happens, you are not really living.}

So here’s my problem. The moments that are most memorable to me, the ones where I was most acutely aware of being alive and the ones where I can recall the details most vividly, are painful ones. I don’t know if I’m just peculiarly bent towards the melancholic or if I just don’t have enough of a good time, but there isn’t anything like being acutely aware of how much something hurts to remind you how very alive you are - having to live it, inhale it, bear the sharp blade of it on your skin and somehow keep going. Time loses its fluidity and the moments become separate, crystallized units because you have suddenly acquired the ability to feel them ticking by and accumulating like pebbles in your shoes.

I have been trying all day to remember a specific happy moment from this year. There have been a lot of them. Countless times my son opened his mouth – to sing or talk or call for me. I’ve had hundreds of wonderful moments at bedtime, when, singing songs with Jake, I’ve felt my heart swell in my chest and be so grateful to be alive. When I’ve held him close to me, or watched him sleeping. But the exact details of those moments escape me.

And yet, my mind keeps going back to one moment that I can remember. One long vivid moment, or rather, a collection of hard, sharp moments.

It was a few days after Jake had had surgery to reverse his stoma. We were on one of the children’s wards at the Royal London and it was the weekend. I know this because the ward was short-staffed and there was only one familiar and friendly face amongst the agency nurses called in to cover. Ironically it was her familiarity to us, and her kindness that actually triggered me off.

Jake had been doing well, and we had been on the verge of being discharged when he started vomiting and having diarrhea. My partner Paul had just come down with such a bug and they suspected that he’d passed it on to Jake. Because of this, he was asked not to stay on the ward. He had been due to relieve me and take over the “night shift” when he was told he could not. So I had to stay another night at least. I was already exhausted from having been up the night before, having to change Jake’s runny nappies, which had also leaked onto his clothes and bed sheets. And I had to spend another night doing the same. I somehow made it through that night and Paul relieved me for a few hours in the morning. While I was having a break, Jake vomited all over Paul. He was then told he could not come back on to the ward until he was 24 hours clear of his symptoms and that he shouldn’t have been back so soon in the first place. So I had to spend the rest of the day there on my own.

For the rest of the day, Jake was unsettled. He rarely stopped crying. It’s hard to describe what this is like, especially to people who’ve never had to look after a baby for any length of time. There’s nothing like the piercing sound of a distressed child crying. The language of parenthood is like a foreign language. One which can’t be taught but can only be learned ‘on the job’. The worst part was, we were told not to move around the ward incase he was infectious. Can you guess what it was that he wanted so desperately, the one and only thing that calmed him down? To be held and walked around the ward.

We’d been doing it for days. As soon as we were able to pick him up after his surgery, Paul and I had been taking turns walking him round the ward, looking at the fish tank, taking him to the play room and sensory room, saying hello to the other patients, letting him stand at the lego station by the Parents’ break room. No more. After hours of pacing in our tiny cubicle and standing up and rocking him and trying to console him, unable to explain to him why we couldn’t go see fish or go walking, I sat down in utter despair. What made it more acute was that everyone on the ward could see what was happening, everyone could hear him cry. And yet, no one could or would do anything for us. It was like we'd suddenly become invisible. 

I remember feeling absolutely enraged that the play specialist on the ward was spending hours of her time sitting by the bedside of the 8 year old girl in the bed next to ours, bringing her books and toys to occupy her and talking to her mother as if they were the best of friends, but did not once speak to me or offer to fetch a single toy for Jake who was wailing his heart out. And the nurses were either too busy or too wary to come near us except to perform their tasks as quickly and perfunctorily as possible. By the afternoon, I also knew that he was overdue a nap and was overtired so I tried everything I could to settle him to sleep. But every time he started to drift off, something would happen. A nurse needed to come in and “do his obs” during which he wailed. Then the girl in the bed next to ours threw a tantrum and Jake wailed. Then the surgeons came on the ward to do their rounds and Jake wailed, just like he always did whenever he saw the swarm of white coated people approach. Then his monitors would start beeping or his IV line would need changing, or I had to give him his next dose of medication and he’d struggle and wail at every interruption. And then, after hours of interrupted sleep and exhaustion, Jake vomited. It smelled of regurgitated peanut butter mixed with sick and looked like shit. It had spattered all over him, me and the floor. He was scared and filthy and had sick on his chin and down his neck and I started shaking from the stress of it all, and from hunger, as I hadn't been able to have a break for anything to eat.  I couldn’t move from our cubicle to get help so I had to shout across the ward to the nurses’ station to get someone’s attention. I was using all my powers of restraint when I shouted, “Excuse me,” over and over again. If it had been anywhere else but a hospital, very foul language would have been flung about like monkey shit.

A harassed junior nurse came over and actually asked me what was wrong. Obviously the smell or sight of sick wasn’t enough to clue her in. I had to spell it out for her. She sighed and said she would fetch some paper towels like I’d just asked her to donate a kidney. When she came back with them, I had to tell her that I didn’t have any clothes to change into and that I couldn’t leave the ward to get any. She wandered off to find me some scrubs and I was left to clean Jake up and change his clothing. When she returned, I knew that I would have to leave Jake alone while I got cleaned up. And I knew that he wouldn’t like it. I was right. Nobody was available to sit with him so I had to leave him wailing in his cot by himself. When I came back, all I could do was try to settle him to sleep again, but I had a very strong urge to pick him up and run.

I finally managed to calm him and got in a comfortable position with him, sitting in a chair with his head resting on my chest. He had just drifted off when a gaggle of doctors came to examine the girl in the bed next to ours. As there was so little space between our cubicles, the chair I was sitting in had to be moved to make way. I knew this, and had been planning on doing so quietly, but when an evil nurse barked at me to do so, I lost it, and did so kicking and screaming. That is, I scraped the fucking chair across the floor and swore not so quietly under my breath as I did so. It woke Jake up. He started screaming. Again. Evil nurse glared at us then ignored us. At that point, the kind and familiar nurse I mentioned earlier entered the ward. She immediately came over and asked me if I was okay. To my embarrassment, I burst into tears. I cried so hard I couldn’t even explain what had happened or what was wrong. When she put an arm around me and said, “It’s gonna be okay, I’ve seen you and Jake go through much much worse,” I cried even harder. Because she was right. We had been through much worse the year before, and I’d been a hell of a lot stronger. She seemed to understand that her kindness was setting off a geyser so she went to check Jake’s notes and find out what had been happening that morning.

Eventually, because of all the vomit, but possibly also because of the swearing and Jake’s screaming, we were moved into a closed room on the ward and discharged the next day.


Ok, so this post was even longer than the last one. It’s unedited because I’m short of time and know that we’ll have a new prompt to respond to tomorrow. I didn’t even came close to describing it like we were prompted to. If I were to go into it more fully, I think I’d have a novella’s worth of words here.

Many many thanks if you’ve made it this far.  (It was my 900th blog post!)


Anonymous said...

Oh Heartful, you have me in tears once again. It just hurts so much that you had to go through all that - I can't imagine what it must have been like, even though your description is so vivid - I just want to leap into the story and give you a hug.

I also immediately thought of painful or traumatic moments that I felt most 'alive' - perhaps it's the fight or flight of it, or the stripping of your soul that happens in these situations that just makes life more real.

Posthumous hugs to you, anyway. X

tree shadow moon said...

T, you're an amazing, really are.
Love you lots..
N x