July 20, 2017 The Waiting Room
"Mom has fallen down some cement steps and cracked her head. The ambulance is on its way. Meet us at Royal Columbian Hospital."
One of my brothers was already there with my distraught sister by the time I arrived. The emergency staff had isolated us in our own special room off the main waiting area. Around the edges were grey institutional armchairs and a sofa. In the center was a collection of hard plastic seats around a formica table. Extra chairs were hauled in from the main area as more people arrived.
Fear and anxiety rode us: a high voltage pathogen without an off switch. Adrenaline scratched through our veins. Reality became a blur. The details of the accident were relayed to each new arrival. It etched itself in a never ending loop on the cerebral cortex of my sister’s brain. Questions and worries roiled around and through us. How could this happen? Was there news? How was she? What is the prognosis? Will she make it? Scans had been done. What did it mean? Who can we talk to?
Our world narrowed into that small space as more and more family arrived. People brought food. It was a strange macabre party, a revelry of remembering, tears, and laughter. We are like that as a family: retreating deep into black humour at the darkest of times.
Eventually the neurosurgeon came to talk to us. He explained that there was extensive damage to different parts of the brain. The bleeding continued. Surgery could be required. After his words he asked, “Do you have any questions?”
We tried to process what he had just said.
He repeated, “Do you have any questions?
Still we sat in stunned silence and he asked again, "Do you have any questions?"
Patiently he waited and repeated, "Do you have any questions?"
Finally, a voice came out of the crowd, “Will she get worse?"
“Quite possibly," he replied, “She might die.”
My brother and I went with him to look at the scans. They were wrought with dark invasive shadows creeping across the images. I truly understood then that the trauma was dire.
We went in, a few at a time to tell Mom we loved her. Harsh fluorescent lights illuminated the detritus of plastic gloves, rumpled bedding, and wadded paper strewn across the empty bed next to hers, a reminder that many people don't make it. She lay nearly comatose on the emergency room bed. A cacophony of machines radiated numbers and beeped high pitched staccato rhythms from the tubes and wires that monitored and kept her alive. Uncertain if she would survive, we said our goodbyes. At first she was able to respond orally; then with a squeeze of her hand; and within a few hours, after telling us that our deceased father had not come to visit her, she stopped responding.
Unbeknownst to us, the long bleak walk into uncertainty had just begun.