I carried it in my throat. The fear I mean.
It was stuck at the base of my throat and I swallowed it down, willing it to stay buried deep in my body.
I couldn’t open my mouth because when I did, the fear would escape in the form of a scream or a sob or sometimes it forced its way out violently from the very pit of my stomach and forced me to my knees with my head in a toilet.
I had walked through the empty, back hallways of the hospital with my hand on his crib until the nurse turned to me and told me to say my goodbyes. I kissed him and swallowed harder than I had ever swallowed before as I watched her sweep my newborn baby through two giant swinging doors and into a sterile operating room.
And just like that he was gone.
I let out a sob as my knees gave out.
Fear has a smell.
It’s thick and metallic and as I walked into the waiting room it hit me like a strong wave that I had to push through while I scanned the room for an empty seat. The waiting room was full. It always seems to be full.
The surgical waiting room at a Children’s hospital is divided into small sections, intended to give each family a place to wait together with some semblance of privacy. The problem is it’s not possible to keep your fear private. It permeates the room and your fear mixes with the fear of a stranger sitting in the section across from you and leaves the air so thick you almost can’t catch your breath.
Still, I continued to swallow the fear.
Giant screens line the walls where children’s names are constantly moving from “In Surgery” to “In Recovery”. Every time a name moved to “In Recovery” the air became a little lighter but only for a second as one family’s relief meant another family was about to suffer.
I sat for hours and watched other children’s names go from “In Surgery” to “In Recovery” while my baby’s name didn’t budge.
I avoided making eye contact with anyone in the room. Somehow not acknowledging the people sitting beside me made it feel less real. I didn’t want to see my own fear reflected in a strangers eyes.
But fear isn’t silent and every now and then I couldn’t help but overhear another family’s fear.
“What happened?” said someone, possibly a Grandmother, rushing into the waiting room.
“I don’t know…she had a seizure” replied a shaking voice, maybe a Dad, breaking into tears unable to swallow his fear.
I tried my best not to intrude but tears streamed down my face as I heard a family trying to make sense of why one second they were having breakfast and then they blinked and found themselves here, at a Children’s Hospital, with a child in surgery.
It was an entire 8 hours later when the surgeon sat down beside us and said the words “The surgery went well” and I allowed my fear out. I sobbed with relief, unaware of who was witnessing me at my most vulnerable.
The surgical waiting room in a Children’s Hospital is both soundless and loud at the same time. It is full of fear and hope. There are a million tears shed yet there are also high fives to be given and hugs to be shared.
That day, over eight years ago, ended so perfectly for us. Yet I know it doesn’t end that way for everyone.
In over eight years I haven’t set foot back in that waiting room but I have memorized what it looks like. I can feel myself in those fabric covered hospital chairs. I can feel the thick, metallic air on my skin. I can hear the quiet whispers around me.
Every time I go back to that children’s hospital, I can’t help but glance up at that second floor waiting room at all the families that are sitting there, staring at those giant screens that line the wall, waiting for their child’s name to go from “In Surgery” to “In Recovery” and I say a silent prayer that their day ends well and that they never have to see the inside of that waiting room again. And I feel the fear that I still carry, deep in my throat.