It occurred to me only later that there was a hospital episode when Jennifer was a senior in high school that was a sampling of what was to come for her and us. When she contracted encephalitis and battled for months to stay alive while in a coma and battled for years rebuilding her life from the ground up, the earlier botched tonsillectomy was a foreshadowing of the dark days to come as parents, helpless, worrying about a sick child, worrying that earlier time about the outcome of a second surgery needed to correct the weakness of catgut or silk in the back of the throat, the placement or tightness of the sutures, all done in the operating theatre by a masked man performing badly.
The initial surgery went well, we thought, all according to form, we thought: a sedative to relax Jen, an intravenous line in the arm for fluids and antibiotics and whatever, general anesthesia before the procedure started, a breathing tube through the nose and down the throat, the mouth propped open, and the tongue no doubt pulled to the side like a thirsty hound on a summer day, snip, clip, suture ligation, the recovery room until the anesthesia wore off, and finally the white-sheeted bed.
But all during the day, after Jen was awake and aware, she said she could taste blood and assurances constantly came from us and the nurses about that being normal. She threw up once, twice, three or more times, each episode filling one of those kidney-shaped yellow plastic bedside pans. Aahhh, that will make you feel better, to get all that blood out of your stomach. And it went on and on until early evening. Finally, finally, the man was called back, unmasked now, Dr. Breaux, so obviously put-out by being called and having to come back, doubting until he probed the back of Jen’s throat with long crooked surgical tweezers and mumbled something about the sutures, straightening and telling the nurse to call a surgical team back to the hospital.
Now more assurances to Jen from us that everything would be fine, a stitch needed repair, that was all, and the pan again filling up with blood, her teeth and lips smeared with bright blood. You’ll be okay, here’s the gurney, slide over, that’s it, we’re going with you as far as we can, everything will be fine.
A nurse maneuvered the gurney out of the room, bumping the door facing a couple of times, pushing Jen by the nurses’ station, some of them registering slight surprise, and Jen sat up suddenly, hemorrhaging, gagging, leaning over, and the blood coming out, a projected wide stream like dark rusty water thrown across a yard out of a full bucket, covering half the gurney, Jennifer’s lap and legs, and splashing down to the floor, some of it rolling down the framework of the gurney as if the chrome tubes were being magically transformed to a bright Christmas red.
The speed of the gurney picked up and Dee and I were racing down the hall to keep up, drops and plops of blood marking our trail.
Dee and I waited in an empty pre-op room, the stillness and evening quiet unsettling, the worry now manifest in furrowed brows and tight lips and eyes moist with concern, pacing, arms across our chests, hands squeezing biceps in rhythm with our thoughts, Dee suddenly giving out a quick sob, telling me to please come hug her, asking me why I didn’t know she needed that, me wondering for a moment what was pushing me to stand at a distance in the empty room, apart from her, some solitary grieving ritual denying us both comfort.