Listening to the Heart Monitor’s Echo

Yesterday, the Girl got hurt during PE class.  Apparently they were playing some kind of game that involved running and tagging.  Unfortunately, for the Girl, it also involved a person falling on her, over her, something like that.  In the end, she landed hard on her hand, thought she might have broken it.

I have to confess, I didn’t really believe her.  She’s prone to moments of exaggeration, strong emotions that little reality behind them.  This weekend, when she was supposed to be cleaning up the house, I came home to find the Girl on the front porch, holding the telephone, sobbing.  I lurched out my car, my heart in my throat to learn that she had seen a spider.

A small spider.

A spider that she wasn’t even certain in terms of its location..other than somewhere in the house.

But it was enough that she needed to stand on the front porch and call me (my cell phone was in the house with the evil spider) and then stand on the porch and cry because the evil spider was lurking somewhere in the house.

After I thanked God that my daughter was safe and well, I tried to get her to look, logically, at the events which had just transpired.  Didn’t work.  Just tears.  Just shaking.

Fast forward to yesterday and I am watching my daughter cry about her hand.  She’s convinced it’s broken, even though she’s never broken a bone before.  But she’s certain that it’s broken.  So much so that she can’t even really lift her hand to wave at me.

I call my husband who has an EMT license, get his advice.

And we go to the ER.

I’m fortunate, it’s busy but not swamped.  One man is wearing a yellow “fall risk” bracelet.

A woman and her small boy walk around with a clear, green plastic bag to catch his vomit.

A woman leans against her husband, her eyes closed, her face pale.

A pre-adolescent boy sits next to his mother; the triage nurse approaches him and gives him a mask to wear, reminds him that he had already been given a mask and that he needs to protect the other people in the ER.  Note, I am not comforted given he’s only a couple of chairs away from my daughter and me.

We go through primary registration.  Triage.  And wait.

Watch as nurses walk quickly out into the night, bring out a wheel chair.

The entire time, I know my daughter is well, but I am surrounded by emergencies and I keep on feeling my pulse quicken.  I am surrounded by people who are in states of bad and sad and not good.  I have my daughter who might have broken her hand but we can’t go to her primary care physician because it’s after five o’clock in the afternoon and we can only go to the emergency room in order to have her checked out.

The doors are continually opening closing.  Whether it’s the entrance/exit door that slides open with a soft, electronic whoosh or the electronic door that swings open and admits people in to the actual emergency room, I am surrounded by movement and I just want peace, quiet.  To enter through the swinging door, people are punching at the red button, sharp smacking sounds that jerk my attention out of my distraction.

I brought with me fifteen AP timed writing essays and a book that I was going to teach today.  As I go through the essays, reading and evaluating how students tackled the discussion of the theme of cruelty and what it reflects about the perpetrator, I mentally plan out my lesson for today if I wasn’t able to go to school.  Even though the Girl and I had arrived at the ER at six in the evening, it was obvious that the ER was busy and our wait was going to be long.  So, in case the evening is prolonged by x-rays and setting hands and then picking up prescription pain killers in addition to subsequent doctor appointments on the next day, I mentally write out lesson plans, go over the procedures for getting a sub, go through the list of the substitutes who will actually teach my class and work with my students and will not merely sit at my desk and make sure my students aren’t hit on the head with ceiling tiles.

Eventually, the Girl’s name is called and we go into the heart of the emergency ward, past curtained rooms from which different sounds escape.

A screaming baby.

The quiet hum of machinery.

The shuffling of feet as people walk around the beds or shift their weight or try to come to terms with whatever consequences are unfolding from whatever emergency had already occurred.

The Girl and I were put in a room and she immediately laid down on the bed and stared blankly at the darkened television set, admitted that she wanted to watch television so that she could be distracted from her pain.  The room was freezing and I wrapped her jacket around her, took off my cardigan and wrapped it around her as well.

The first nurse arrived, took our information.

The registration staff member arrived, took our information.

The physician’s assistant arrived, took our information. The Girl spoke with heavy sarcasm which I scolded her for.

The first nurse came back with a blanket that had been warmed and I wrapped my daughter up in a cocoon and stared at this tiny-not-tiny figure who is only three inches shorter than me but looked so pitiful lying on the bed under a white blanket, her face wan with pain and fatigue, talking about how she had always wanted a broken arm because that is what little kids wanted but now she regretted ever thinking that it would be cool to have a cast.

And then, that is when the metronome started, this high pitched beep, beep, beep.

A heart monitor.  Obviously not my daughter given the lack of emergency we were experiencing.

But all I could think about was the screaming baby and I worried that this was the emergency that everyone described as the ultimate nightmare and prayed would never happen.  But the heartbeat was too slow to be an infant and given the lack of additional alarms, the lack of running feet, I knew the monitor must be measuring an adult’s heart.

As I sat beside my daughter and finished grading the essays and tried, tried, tried to annotate Purple Hibiscus so I would be ready to teach today, I kept on hearing the heat monitor and prayed every few seconds in time to the monitor.  But I could never finish the prayer.  I always got as far as Dear God, please help the person who BEEP!

And then I would start the prayer over…like a broken rosary decade, anything.

I concentrated on the beep book.  I stared at the beep television, comforted my beep daughter.

And then, I realized, the beeps were slowing, were echoing.  Were endless and out of pace with one another.  One moment, it seemed to deaden only to suddenly surge, a few quick beats.  And then, beep pause beep a longer pause beep.

I rested my fingers against the artery in my wrist, felt the heavy pulsations of my own heart, felt the solid reality of my own life and realized that for every one beep I was hearing from the hallway, my heart would emit anywhere from a half to a full extra beat.

Was the person whose heart was being measured dying?  Sleeping?  Drugged?

The x-ray technician arrived; I was invited to stand just outside the room.  And when I slipped out of the Girl’s room, I saw the room across the hall, with the singing heart monitor, and saw the woman from the ER, the woman with the hat, the woman who leaned wearily on her husband, the woman with the pale face and the closed eyes.

Nurses walked around her and I turned my back to give her privacy, because I had been caught casting a curious glance.  The x-ray technician stood next to me, pressed a button to the x-ray machine, went back in.  A nurse came out of the room across the hall, walked to the main nurses’ station, came back and I followed his movement with my eyes and once more looked in to the room where the woman lying on the bed and hooked up to monitors lived in her static environment of beeping machines and tubes and monitors.

The nurse saw me looking again, closed the door, and I felt my face burn with embarrassment.  The x-ray technician came out of my daughter’s room, steering the clumsy machine, and I went back and sat next to my daughter who resumed watching Regular Show.

But nothing in this world was regular.  Not the one note song emitting from the room across the hall.  Nor my daughter with a bag of ice curled up over her hand.  And the world didn’t return to a sense of regularity even when the physician’s assistant came back into the room and said my daughter had a bruised hand and gave her a velcro bandage/brace to support her hand.

And as we walked out of the hospital, worn out and exhausted, all I could hear was the slow, echoing beat of the woman’s heart monitor.  I was relieved that my daughter was well, was uninjured, and I felt guilty in my flush of pleasure that my daughter was well and uninjured.

I am sitting on my bed right now, and my daughter is literally standing on my bed, watching Spongebob Squarepants.  Pearl is telling Mr. Krabs that she will drop out of school and become a deadbeat if her father doesn’t give her an amazing sixteen birthday party.  And I see my daughter with her bandaged arm and see this triumphant young woman, this beautiful daughter who once had a hole in her heart who is now a strong, wonderful daughter.

And I keep on thinking about that woman, keep on hearing that quiet echo…

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