When I finished the kitchen and came upstairs, Sam was sitting on the floor of her bedroom, and he was worried. His throat was tight and his left arm was numb, which are alarming symptoms when you're a man who had a heart attack at thirty-five, which Sam happens to be. I changed the baby's diaper while we talked it over--it being whether or not to take him to the ER. We prayed about it, and I felt more worried than I had before we prayed, so I talked him into letting me call his cardiology office. The doctor on call said what we expected: don't take a chance; he needs to go in. But she said something I didn't expect: Call 911. Now. Sam handed the phone to me so she could insist. And when I told her we were a two-minute drive to the hospital and couldn't I just drive him, she said the situation could change in an instant and there would be absolutely nothing I could do for him if it did. I needed to get him help, fast. So I hung up with her, and called.
I don't think I've ever called 911 before, and I can't say it was any fun. I wanted to ask them to please spare us the lights and sirens, thinking about our neighbors parting their curtains to see who was being hauled off. But of course I didn't ask that, and they arrived. First a cop, then a fire truck, then the paramedics. Suddenly, our living room was full of them, these uniformed men wearing their serious faces and standing with their feet spread apart, wearing their big manly boots, asking both of us questions and writing down our answers on index cards and refusing to be direct about the results of the portable EKG. The emergency lights bounced off the walls and strobed our faces, and I stood off to the side, holding Henrietta, pushing puzzle pieces out of the way with my foot to give the men more room. Sam and I looked at each other, sort of rolling our eyes at the whole thing. We were sure it was nothing. We've done this before. This was a lot of fuss for nothing at all. And yet, in the back of my mind, I know someday it may not be for nothing at all. We act as if it's that time every time. We have no alternative.
They strapped him onto one of those special chairs and carried him down the front stairs, and I stood out on the porch with the baby, waiting until they had loaded him in before I put her in the car to follow. I wasn't scared. Not really, though I wondered if I should be. The baby's eyes were wide, watching the lights and the men, watching her dad. And Sam tried to wave at her and show her everything was fine. I could see neighbors standing in the street with arms folded. I wanted to go up and kick them, tell them to go inside, for heaven's sake.
She cried all the way to the hospital. It was well past her bedtime and it was not her normal routine. Not by a long shot.
We sat in the room with Sam for several hours. The baby bounced on my lap until she cried, and I fed her until she slept and then slipped her very gently into her stroller, and then I rested my head in my hands for awhile longer. Once it became clear everything was basically fine and they had decided to admit him so they could do a few more tests in the morning, I strolled the baby outside and took her back home. We did our routine of waking and feeding, like we do every night, but I was so exhausted that I couldn't remember it come morning, and by nine, when I still hadn't heard from Sam, I started to think really insane things. I had called the hospital, and they transferred me to the ER, and then hung up on me. This happened twice, and I started to think maybe he had died and they were too afraid to tell me, so they were just hanging up on me. I got ready quickly, got the baby ready, fed the cats, and rushed over.
And this is the tedium of hospitals, the absolute insanity of it, the time warp of that space: nothing more had happened. It had been nine hours since I'd been there, and they hadn't done more tests and didn't really know any more than when I left. And we pretty much stayed in that limbo for six more hours. I can only handle that sort of thing for so long, and in the afternoon I got grumpy. I was exhausted, deeply deeply exhausted by entertaining the baby in that tiny room, exhausted by going back and forth to the nurses, asking if there was any progress or news or another blanket. I could feel myself losing patience. I set the baby down on the floor and she crawled around and I tried not to think of the floor being dirty. Nearly everyone who passed stopped to say how lovely and charming she was, and I'm so grateful for those people, since I very badly needed to be reminded every few minutes that she was beautiful and charming and perfect. When she finally slept, I climbed up on Sam's bed with him and rested my head on his chest, and the two of us dozed, but I wished I had a giant stroller that someone could tuck me into.
Sam's nurse was very blond and very thin and she had the most marvelous Northern England accent, and I didn't understand, dozing on Sam's chest, why I was not her. She had made my baby giggle (something I had not done that day) and she had given my husband one of those wonderful warm blankets and a couple of painkillers for his headache, and I wanted so badly to be fired. To just have someone fire me, and take over the whole gig--to be nicer to the nurses than I was capable of being, and then go home and do my dishes and get my baby ready for bed and tuck my husband in with a cup of tea, or whatever you give someone who suddenly might and then probably will not die any minute.
Finally, they let us go. It had been twenty hours. Sam was grateful for his freedom. Somehow, I made dinner. I do not know how this happened, but it did. And then, after dinner, I sat on my couch again. Sam turned on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and danced with Henrietta, just as he had the night before, doctors and hospitals and heart trouble be damned. And I sat on the couch, smiling at him, taking the video below, feeling grateful, so grateful that he was okay and we were okay and we were done with the tedium and we were home. We were home. If you listen carefully, you can hear Henrietta squeal with joy.