Every day I walked (staggered) from my ward to the ICU where Steven lay, to feed him and be with him. I’d sit next to his bassinette in the stifling heat of the ICU, hold his hand and sing funny little cartoon theme songs to him. I told him about his home, the bedroom that was waiting for him, and his family who loved him. I told him I needed him to get better, and if he only would, I promised to never let him down. I promised him the world, then cried because I thought I might not be able to deliver on my promises.
Nobody could tell me what was wrong with him. Whatever it was, it couldn’t have been too bad. Compared with the other poor tiny babies in the ICU – premature and sickly – he looked solid and healthy. He was awake most of the time, and the nurses had moved his bassinette to the big window, so that he could look out and see the sky and the trees. I know it was way too soon for him to focus, but I’d swear he was aware. He was a quiet, calm baby who didn’t cry much. He just lay there watching with his big, blue eyes and you just knew he was taking it all in.
At least three times a day I trudged along the corridors to the ICU in my dressing gown and gigantic panda slippers. And at least three times a day I fainted while doing so. I lost count of the number of times I had to be rescued and taken back to my bed in a wheelchair. Most embarrassing. Especially the time I passed out directly underneath the window to the nurses’ station and lay on the floor for ages before anybody noticed.
Eventually they figured out that I’d lost too much blood and a transfusion was scheduled. Which meant I had to stay in hospital another day. Bugger. But rather that than constant swooning.
Transfusion was a nightmare. Two bags of saline and some crazy amount of blood. Of course, this being me, the drip got blocked and stopped running. When the nurse removed the drip, the blockage was released and a giant fountain of blood shot up out of my arm and hit the ceiling. I kid you not.
And the food. Oh my God. Never have I seen such lumpy porridge, such desiccated, wrinkly gem squash, such grey boerewors. And don’t get me started on the eggs. Or the unidentifiable white, gelatinous mass presented as pudding. It was criminal. I couldn’t bring myself to eat much and I lived on oranges and chocolates from visitors.
The food was gross, the blood and guts were awful, but these weren’t the worst of my hospital horrors. The very worst misery came in the form of a tiny, wrinkly nun with a giant score to settle.
Spiritual counsel must have been part of the warm, fuzzy government hospital service; hence the religion question on the admission forms. However, the delegate sent to counsel me was as spiritual as a Jiffy bag full of piranhas.
Sister Maria Enchilada scuttled into my room one morning after breakfast and I put on my Talking To Official Grown-Ups Face. She was very, very old. Very short. So very, very Catholic. But I wasn’t scared. Nuns are supposed to be wonderful, special, enlightened people, right? Full of God’s love and all that.
Well, now. I’d been misinformed. She didn’t get the memo re God’s love. She was still working on the eternal damnation specs. And why not? Stick with what you know, and she was good at it.
“So, are you going to marry this man?” she asked haughtily. She’d been checking out my file and had noticed a big blank space where “spouse” should have been. I admit, I laughed. God, I laughed at a nun! There must be a particular punishment regimen for that. Ten Hail Mary’s just ain’t gonna cut it.
“No, of course I’m not going to marry him. That would be a very unwise decision.” I tried to look serious, but she was not amused.
The second time Sister Maria Enchilada came around, she was steaming with anger.
“You’re only fifteen years old!” she yelled. “I thought you were about twenty! How can you even show your face here? You’re a disgusting example to your younger sister! The shame you’re subjecting your family to! You’re going to hell, my girl…”
And on, and on. She yelled at me in her squeaky, old-lady voice until I thought her wrinkly, walnut head was going to completely unscrew and fly across the room. Where I would catch it and stomp on it a bit, until I felt better.
What can you say to that? You can’t argue with a nun. So I bit my tongue and waited for her to disappear.
The third time she visited, I spotted her beforehand and hid in the toilet until she went away.
I went home five days later, but Steven had to stay. Going home without him was the hardest thing I’d ever done. But they wanted to make sure he was okay. They were waiting until he’d gained back a little weight, which he did that weekend. They called me on Sunday to say I could fetch him.
I dressed him in his special homecoming suit, which was miles too big. I even managed to put his nappy on straight, and he weed on me only a little. I was doing well. I said goodbye to the nurses, wrapped him in his little elephant blanket and very, very carefully carried him out to the car.
I was taking my boy home. He was really here now. He was really mine. No going back. Wow.