Open Hearts

I knew what I was doing.

I was going to the hospital to check on Raymond, my surrogate father of sorts after work.  The surgery had gone well, said Mary Lou on the phone last night, and he would be ready for some happy visiting this afternoon.

But that didn’t explain why I made sure I wore what I considered my most attractive outfit to work that day.  It didn’t explain why I took extra time to make sure my hair looked perfect that morning or that my extra makeup was in my purse for touch ups.

I was indeed going to give support and good wishes to Raymond.  But I also knew that this man was my ex fiance’s father.  The same ex fiance who would also be present to cheer up his father, who had flown all the way from Germany to do so.  Odds were pretty strong that if he was visiting his father, and I was visiting his father, we might run into each other.  I knew very well that my choices in hair and makeup today had nothing to do with visiting a sick older gentleman and everything to do with letting his son know that I’d not only survived our breakup, but I’d done pretty darn well, considering.  I was a survivor, and I’d survived much worse  since the last time he’d seen me.  I wanted everything about me, should he see me, to make it all very clear that I’d moved on.

As I pulled my car into the parking garage at the hospital, an overwhelming sense of deja vu came over me.  Everything was familiar even though I’d never been to this hospital before.  I’d been to so many others with my mother. My mind wandered back to her as I walked through the garage and found the elevator to the main building.  I remembered going to the hospital the day after her surgery and how awful the news had been.  I remembered taking her to her oncologist visit, her radiation treatments, her chemotherapy.  The ER visits, the hospitalizations before she’d been pronounced terminal.   It was an endless loop, playing over and over in my head.

I boarded the elevator without even knowing it and pressed the button.  What floor was I supposed to go to?  I couldn’t remember what Mary Lou had said the previous night on the phone.  I felt dumb and stupid and sad all at once, trying to retrieve the necessary information out of all of the noise in my head.  I looked around the elevator and saw Cardiac Care listed as the 7th floor.  That sounded vaguely right, so I pressed the button.

I felt a cold wave of numbness pass over me as the elevator moved through the floors.  I had to pull myself out of this before I got to his room.  I was here for cheering up, for support, for comfort.  I didn’t need the patient to be feeling badly for having the unfortunate circumstance of being in a place that harbored so many intense memories for me.

I’d been staring at the doors without seeing them, waiting to get off the elevator.  So it didn’t register right away when the doors opened at Floor Three and Ray’s face appeared as the doors slid away from each other.

“Hello,” I said quietly and stepped back, allowing him room.  His face was blank, still, pale.  He looked stunned, and took a moment before he stepped slowly inside to join me.

“Hi,” he responded slowly.  An uneasy silence wrapped coldly around us as the doors closed and the elevator finished its climb to the cardiac floor.

“How’s your father doing?” I asked, in an effort to both break the tension and pull me into the present.

We walked, choosing careful words and safe phrases, down the hallway to his father’s room.  By the time we made it down the hall, I’d pulled it together.  I remembered all of the tricks and tools I’d used when my mother was in the hospital.  The happiness you exuded to create cheer when you entered the room, the frozen mask you put on that hid any fears you might have about the wires, tubes, and bandages.  The questions you asked to keep the patient talking and focusing on the conversation rather than how awful they felt, the jokes you made about the food and the gowns and the awful TV shows.  I remembered.  I could hear my mother telling me that I was a good nurse in the back of my head.  It was time to turn it on.

I walked over to Raymond’s bedside and kissed him on the cheek.  “You look fantastic,” I enthused.  “Better than I’ve ever seen you.”

His bright smile let me know that I still had it in me.

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One Response

  1. […] that would make sense to fit in with our first grade curriculum.  When she heard me talk about going to see Raymond, my ex fiance’s father, she was intrigued by the fact that he’d been a Desert Storm […]

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