Up All Night

I haven't slept much the last two nights. I've had a recurring image. It's not so much a nightmare. Nothing is moving. There are no scenes. There really aren't other characters. I wake up every hour or so with the image of Elena lying there in the hospital.

Why now? What's triggered it? I can't say. But there she is before me as clear as she was that February afternoon.

It's not one of those dreams where I see the scenes leading up to that moment or any of the scenes afterwards. It's not one of those dreams where I have altered reality in any way to make what I see make any more sense or have a context. It's not one of those dreams where something beyond reality happens – that is if you don't count a perfectly healthy six year old dead on a table in front of me.

While Kim rode in the ambulance down to the hospital, I drove in the opposite direction taking Maggie to stay at her cousin's house. As frugal as I'd been the last several years with cell phone I was now reckless. I called information and asked for numbers and asked to be connected. I called the numbers out to Maggie who wrote them down in the back seat. Some numbers I knew but couldn't remember. Other numbers I'd never known. There were even people whose names I couldn't spell close enough for the operator to look up their number. I called family first – leaving messages for my parents and Kim's parents to call me. I called co-workers next saying I wouldn't be traveling to Denver the next morning. I called friends and left messages for them to call me back. No one was home.

It wouldn't have mattered. I didn't know Elena was going to die. I didn't know that at that point she already had. Really, she was gone before I'd stood with Kim beside the ambulance – we just didn't know it yet. She was beyond saving before she showed the first signs of anything being wrong.

I dropped Maggie at her cousins' house and headed down to the hospital making more calls. It took ten minutes or days. I don't know. In a strange reversal, those ten minutes felt like dream time where time is both rushed and slow and where you are transported through space without really understanding how you got somewhere. Meanwhile, my recurring dream is static. I parked the car and ran across to the hospital. Two women with a food cart took me down a staff elevator that would get me to the Children's emergency wing faster.

I dashed up to the window and they started to take me back to see Elena but then stopped me. There was something they needed from me first. My insurance card and some forms to fill out. Sure – want my credit card? All the money in my pocket? Take it. Just bring me to my baby.

When the form was filled out they took me back to a room, pushed open the door, and led me inside. There was Elena lying on the table sleeping.

Except she wasn't.

I remember thinking how much better she looked than when I'd last seen her. I turned to Kim and asked "when can she go home?"

Kim's aunt Mary Kay looked at the nurse who led me back and asked "he doesn't know?" She took me by the arm out of the room. By then it was starting to register that Elena wasn't hooked up to anything. She had IV's inserted but they weren't hooked up to any bags. Mary Kay told me "she's gone." She led me back to a room where Kim's parents were waiting. They were supposed to have taken me to that room first.

It wouldn't have made a difference. Elena would still be lying dead next door.

In the next few hours all sorts of people talked to me. A doctor, a nurse, a social worker. Because they suspected bacterial meningitis, a public health official called me on the phone.

Kim and I went back to the room to stand with Elena. Kim's mom came with us. My parents arrived and stood with us too. The social worker took hand prints for us to keep.

I couldn't take my eyes off of the beautiful child lying dead on the table. She still looked as if she was sleeping. Peaceful. Growing colder by the moment. Kim wasn't ready to leave and I wasn't going to drag her away. The doctor talked to us. I wandered in and out of the room. In and out of the world I'd known. It couldn't be real and yet what could be more real than that.

Father Gary arrived and said all of the right things. Mainly he said that there were no right things to say. Kim's brother Tommy came in with his wife Patty. It hit everyone personally, but it hit her very close to home. She'd survived meningitis and she'd lost a sister. She knew the loss from two different perspectives.

The social worker told us to stay until we were ready to go. Ready to go? It's more than two months later and I'm still not ready to leave her there.

I suppose that's why I've been waking up every hour or so these last two nights seeing her lying there on the table.

Published in: on May 4, 2006 at 7:29 am  Comments (12)