I’m driving to the hospital, in the rain, in the dark. I’m driving to the hospital because the doctor who checked my baby’s breathing told me to take her straight to A&E. I’m driving to the hospital with only my handbag, because the doctor told me not to go home to collect an overnight bag. The car is silent except for the clicks and rasps and whines of the baby trying to breathe. The car feels unwieldy in the slick of the rainwashed streets.
I navigate through the glimmer and wink of other cars’ lights. I feel very alone, and irrationally angry at the other drivers, who haven’t been told to go straight to A&E with a sick baby. It’s a terrible feeling, and my hands are stiff with terror over the slide of the steering wheel.
Children’s A&E isn’t busy, but it doesn’t matter anyway because we’re taken straight in and the baby is checked and given steroids, which don’t work. She’s cross and bored, and we walk up and down the corridor and she waves at the other sick children. There are many of them, babies slack and feverish in only nappies, and bigger children with lines of pain on their faces, but I find my focus has dwindled to the single point of my own baby. I am not counting my blessings that the baby is walking, and chatting, and feeding. I’m not feeling grateful that she is not as sick as some other children. I am simply overwhelmed by the need to have her fixed, to have her healed.
Hours later, with no improvement, the baby is traumatised by a nebulizer, and the fright and adrenaline cause her heart rate to shoot up. The nurse turns off the heart monitor when she sees my eyes fixed on the numbers as they continue to climb. Nothing is helping, and she isn’t fixed. We are going to have to stay.
It’s midnight, and she’s finally fallen asleep while feeding. A porter pushes us upstairs as they don’t want me to move off the bed and wake her. My reflection in the lift mirror is that of a demented Madonna. I’m blanched and shaken. The baby’s plump white hand is resting on my clavicle, and her cheek is stuck to my skin in a welter of spit and milk. Her hair is felted with sweat and regurgitated medicine. I can see something primal and defensive in the way I am clutching her to me.
It’s a long night, and at 6am I sleep where I fall, in my grubby jeans and greying trainers. After the hum of A&E, the silence in the paediatric HDU is syrupy and heavy. The lights have been left on all night, but time has lost its meaning so it doesn’t matter anyway. It takes three days to make her better.
Now we’re home, and I do feel blessed that my baby is again playing, and chatting, and eating, and laughing. I have a sense of perspective again, so I can feel grateful that she wasn’t as sick as other children, that she was fixable, and that she was fixed. My gratitude goes bone deep. We’re back and she’s better, but I will never forget the way I was levelled by the desperate need for her to get well.
Welcome home, little girl.