I thought I’d share a small snippet of the story I’m writing this month. One of the rules of NaNoWriMo is NO editing, so as badly as it pains me to share this without editing, I’m going to go ahead. When I re-read it just now, I think it’s rather skeletal, somewhat black and white. And I want this to be vivid, heart-stopping color. Once the story is written, or I reach 50,000 words, or December arrives, I’ll go back and start editing. For now, I’m just pouring out the story as fast as I can.
What do you think? Some of this gets technical — did you understand it?
The clerk flipped through a book in front of her. She then stood up and pointed to a large 3-ring-binder sitting open on the counter in front of them. “You’ll find her visitor sign-in sheet here, by last name. Each of you need to sign in. Then I need you to fill out this form and designate your preferences for visitors. I will call the nurse and see if you can go back.”
Meg bristled inside. “IF we can go back?” she thought. “Why on earth would we not be allowed to go see our own daughter?” But she took the form and started filling it out while Brandon flipped through the binder to Ellie’s page.
The clerk picked up the phone and dialed a few numbers. “Ellie Carpenter’s parents are here,” she said. She listened for a minute, then said, “Thanks. I’ll tell them.”
“I’m sorry, but the team is in the middle of a procedure. You’ll need to wait awhile. You can wait out there in the waiting area.” She pointed to a room on the other side of the scrub room.
Meg didn’t understand, but had no energy to argue. Her breasts had only gotten fuller since breakfast. “I need to pump – can I do that while we wait?”
The clerk nodded, then asked “Do you know where all the pumping rooms are?”
“No, I only know the one down that hall to the left.”
The clerk pointed to the right. “We have two more down this way. Just keep going around to your right.”
Meg and Brandon thanked her and then followed the huge desk around to the right. They rounded the corner and found the two rooms. Each one said, “Occupied.”
Meg felt tears start stinging her eyes. She couldn’t wait any longer. It hurt so bad.
“Let’s go down the hall to the room we used last night. Maybe it’s free.”
They retraced their steps, walking back past the gigantic nurses’ desk. A massive white board titled “NICU” hung at the back, listing pods, beds, and what appeared to be patient last names. She could see at a glance that the place was pretty full. When her gaze returned to the hall, she noticed a very tall man with brown unruly curls and a short non-descript woman walking directly towards them. Somehow, without being told, she sensed that they were coming to find her and Brandon.
The man held out his hand. “Are you Ellie’s parents?”
They nodded, deeply uneasy.
“I’m Dr. Shaw and I’m the cardiologist in service today. This is Jennifer. She’s a chaplain. We’d like to talk to you.”
Meg’s brain hit a concrete barrier. Her thoughts jammed. She’d watched enough “Trauma: Life in the ER” to know that when the chaplain shows up, the news is very very bad. But while her thoughts refused to take one step forward, her feet, on auto-pilot, followed the two into a private room next to the nurse’s station.
Upholstered chairs that gave the illusion of comfort lined the room’s perimeter. A generic lamp stood on a corner table, with generic tissues and a 2-year-old magazine. The chaplain pulled a chair out from the wall a bit, but still sat removed from the other three, as if not sure what role to play. Dr Shaw sat in a chair next to the corner table, while Meg and Brandon took seats together on the other side of the table.
“I need to talk to you about Ellie’s condition,” Dr. Shaw began. “She had a good night last night, but this morning her calcium level dropped very quickly and very low. That caused her heart to stop beating. We did CPR while we tried to get her heart restarted, but it took a long time. After about half an hour, her heart did start to beat again.” He paused, waiting for them to speak.
Meg could only think in pictures. Her daughter, basking under the ultraviolet “bili-lights” with her little mask last night. Doctors giving chest compressions. Her daughter’s body shaking with each compression. Paddles and electrical shocks.
She asked, “Did you shock her heart?”
Dr Shaw shook his head. “That wouldn’t have helped in this situation. Your daughter’s heart is still beating, but she’s extremely sick. This kind of trauma damages every organ in a person’s body. We’re watching her kidneys, her liver, her brain, her digestive system. All of those have suffered a major insult and will need time to recover. We had to put a tube into her lungs to breathe for her.” He stopped again.
Brandon spoke this time. “Her calcium level dropped? What does that have to do with heart beats?”
“Calcium is essential to muscle movement,” Dr Shaw explained. “I’ve never seen anyone calcium level drop this fast. But it could indicate that your daughter has what is called DiGeorge’s Syndrome. Heart defects like hers and hypocalcemia are often seen with DiGeorge. We’re going to do some genetic tests – DiGeorge is caused by a small deletion from chromosome 22. It is also called velo-cardio-facial syndrome. Other things we see with this syndrome include an under-developed or missing thymus, certain facial features, learning disabilities, and recurring infections. I plan to do an ultrasound to look at her thymus.”
Meg sat motionless, barely breathing as the doctor talked. Her body ached from the engorgement she still had been unable to relieve. Her heart ached at her helplessness to help her baby. Her mind reeled from the bam-bam-bam relentless pounding of bad news. She rubbed her nose and realized that tears trickled down her face, dripping from her chin. She didn’t care. Brandon’s face glistened with tears too.
She stole a glimpse at the chaplain, sitting behind her. The woman’s eyes were huge, “like a deer in the headlights” Meg thought. “Some good you are!”