I have been working in a hospital on and off for more than a third of my life. I'm used to the noises and the fluorescent lighting and the terse whispering and the weary-looking eyes of nearly everyone there. And unfortunately I have spent way too many hours in hospital waiting rooms. But when I found myself sitting on a cart in Emergency Department Pod A trying to wrap my mind around the fact that my water broke 23 weeks too early, I went sort of numb--and all I could think about was my brother.
Is this what it felt like for him all those endless mornings at 4 a.m. when he was getting prepped for surgery? When everyone was bending over backwards to make him smile or be comfortable and nothing really worked but he pretended that it did work just to make them feel like they were helping? Did it hurt him this much every time a nurse went digging around for an IV? Did his muscles cramp up like this? Was it just as annoying to have to drag a beeping pole to the bathroom while holding the back of a gown closed? How did he lie like this for WEEKS at a time? I was only there for three days. Oh my God it must have been so much worse for him. HOW did he endure this? How did he not complain more? How did he get through this over and over, so many times? I just wanted to see his face.
But I couldn't call him. He was in St. Louis, probably sitting at his desk toggling between work and ESPN. He was looking forward to holding his niece or nephew someday. Making plans to indoctrinate the child to root for Chicago teams despite the kid having 50% Los Angeles DNA. I kept picturing his expression on the FaceTime when I told him I was pregnant (he was the first person I wanted to tell)--usually so stingy with his smiles, he was absolutely beaming. It had been a tough time and it was nice to give him something to be happy about. A few days later, I got a text picture of him holding a friend's newborn and he looked so happy. I could just picture what a tremendous uncle he will be. For years I have said my children will call him the Hindi name for Mother's Brother: "Mama," and he has threatened all kinds of bodily harm if I made good on that promise. But as soon as he heard there was going to be a Baby, I was certain he would love my kid more than anything in the world--even if she called him "dookieface." This news was absolutely going to break his heart. If I could delay that in any way, I was going to.
A few hours into my stay, Jon and I were trying to decide how to tell the doctors we weren't going to listen to their stern recommendations. I decided it was time to call my brother. I gathered my composure and picked up my phone.
"Shut up, I'm already on the road."
I don't allow myself to think about what was going through my husband's mind on the 40-min drive to the Emergency Room, and I don't want to know what that five-hour drive was like for my brother. Jon has since said that anytime he sees someone frantically overtaking people on the road, he imagines them worried and rushing to a loved one, so he just gets out of the way.
Jon never left my side for more than a few minutes throughout the entire ordeal. My mom and dad were on the other side of my hospital bed. And then my brother burst into the room. Things did not magically get better. We were still helpless and losing our child. But when I looked around and saw that my team was complete, I finally let out a breath.
Many times I have tried to explain how I feel about my brother. Maybe everyone thinks of their siblings this way, I don't know, but making sure he's ok has simply always been a life requirement. I remember tiptoeing into his room at 3 a.m. to see that he was still breathing when I was 10. He came to visit me in Champaign after he got his drivers license, and on the way home his car broke down on an unlit stretch of Interstate 57 at Sauk Trail; the sheriff lit some flares and just left him there. My then-boyfriend couldn't understand why I was pacing around in tears thinking about my brother, scared and alone, waiting for hours after the flares went out for my parents to get there. And I cried just as much as our mother did at his college graduation.
I feel like an overbearing just-as-bad-as-mom who lectures and worries and causes the biggest eyerolls imaginable. Most of the time, I probably am. However, my brother dropped everything, threw together a bag, jumped into his car and drove 282 miles just to be in the same room as me and all he said was, "How could I NOT be here? You are my sister."
People say that you don't know what it's truly like to care about another person's wellbeing until you have a child. Having had one--albeit very briefly--I agree. But I think I already had a pretty good idea.
Happy Birthday, brother.