When I saw this week’s writing challenge from The Daily Post, I planned to write a fun story about the characters we see in the photo. But then I thought about the wider theme I interpreted in this picture: saying farewell.
The people in the photo could be greeting each other, I suppose, but to me it looks like they are saying goodbye. So, instead of the fiction I intended to write, this real-life story about a difficult departure spilled out onto the page. I don’t often blog about my life and this is the most personal post I have written so far.
It was a rainy morning a few days before Christmas Day, the roads slick with water, when I drove to the hospital to say goodbye to my mother.
The phone call had come late at night. The life-saving surgery would most likely go ahead the next morning. I went to bed at midnight, wondering how on earth I was going to sleep but managing to get a few hours of rest before my alarm buzzed at 4 am.
Driving to the hospital was surreal. I put the radio on – I always drive with the radio on – but on that morning, I wasn’t listening. I fiddled with the dial, tuning it in to the news. The calm tones of the newsreader, the swish of my windshield wipers and the lights of passing car all melted into an unreal blur as I focused on getting to the hospital in time to say goodbye.
Hospital corridors are lonely places at night and in the early hours of the morning, when no-one is around and the air is silent. I walked through the white hallways and when I arrived at the hospital department where my mother was a patient, there was a scurry of activity. It was 5.30 in the morning and the lights were dimmed, allowing the other patients to sleep. But it felt, in a strange way, like Christmas morning. The same sense of excitement and anticipation was there, only unlike Christmas, tainted with anxiety. The nurses who had become familiar faces over the past two months were busy prepping my mother for surgery, pulling on the stockings to prevent thrombosis and helping her into a hospital gown.
When the porter came to get her, I walked down to the theater with them. I wanted the porter to walk more slowly, to delay the inevitable moment when I would have to say goodbye, drive back and wait for the clock to tick away the hours. But it was only a short walk to the operating theater, in the elevator, then down the white corridors as I tried to control myself while my throat tightened and my heart rate increased with anxiety.
I was painfully aware of the risks of the surgery she was about to undergo. I knew it was one of the biggest operations that surgeons do. I knew the medical terminology and the statistics the doctors used. I also knew I was inevitably going to get choked up when the time came to say goodbye. Absurdly, a line from a popular book I recently read floated through my head and I latched on to it, attempting to think about something else to stop myself from thinking about the outcome I didn’t want to think about.
The words I was going to say got tied up in knots in my head. Sometimes words are inadequate. What do you say to someone you love who is about to be taken into theater for major surgery? What do you say? “Don’t worry”, “It will be fine”, “Everything works out for the best”? All those phrases we use to reassure ourselves sometimes even when we know it won’t be fine. In the end there is nothing you can say but “I love you”.