By Debi Lewis
Sixteen times, I’ve stood at the side of a raised gurney in an operating room and sung my daughter to sleep.
Sixteen times, I could faintly smell the scented oil the anesthesiologists rub inside the mask, the mask that delivered sleeping gas, the oil they put there to cover the smell of the gas, the gas she could still smell and taste, making her grimace until she was overcome.
Sixteen times, I kept singing. Sixteen times, I planted a kiss on her still-warm skin above the mask. Sixteen times, I walked back to the pre-operative room and gathered up my husband and our belongings, and sixteen times I shrugged and stiffly shook the vision of my limp and drugged daughter from my head.
“She’s fine,” I answered my husband when he looked at me, questioning. Though who knows? By then, many times, she may have had tubes down her throat, things pinching and scraping her insides in places I would never see with my own eyes. Fine? I suppose.
Sometimes, I must have cried, a little. Most times, I don’t believe I did. The routine of it makes them all blend together; the coffee sipped while we waited, the nausea rising at the smell of a hospital breakfast, the same sixteen pages of sixteen books read a hundred times, all of them dull and timeless. Always, I wondered how she could still be in there. Every time, the clock was a demon, moving slowly as they mucked around with my daughter’s insides. My eyes and mind paced when she was asleep, circling around the room.
No matter the conversations I had while we waited, I walked and moved to the beat of the song I’d sung as she fell asleep, my eyes locked on hers so that, if she didn’t wake up again, my face would be the last thing she saw in this world. She was born into medical equipment, strange doctors’ faces, suctioning, poking, bright light. I would not let her leave like that. Let the end be a comfort, I always thought, and so I always found myself as focused as a yogi at her bedside in the operating room. I imagined myself an angel, a guide, and I stared peacefully into her eyes and sang. I sang lullabies from my childhood and hers; nursery rhymes when she was a toddler; a pop song called “You and I” that she was learning to play on the ukulele. I sang and held her hand and I was not scared. I did not want her to think I was scared. And after I walked out of the operating room, my soul was alert for the sensation of hers, leaving or staying.
So if she asks, “what did you do when I went to sleep in the hospital?,” how can I ever tell the truth? Played cards. Checked my email. Barely noticed the time going by; it was so quick!
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