When I experienced these feelings the first time, I stuffed them away because they were so painful and scary. Now, although still painful and scary, I allow them to flush through my body as pure sensation.
Today I returned to Moffitt Hospital in San Francisco in support of a woman friend with the same life-threatening congenital cardiac condition that my son was born with. He and I traveled from Marin County to Moffitt Hospital countless times–from five weeks of age until eighteen years old. His cardiologist’s office was in the Clinical Services Building, which is attached to the hospital. In the early days, I would wheel him in his stroller down the antiseptic beige hallways with shiny beige linoleum tiles over to the hospital for electrocardiograms, echoes, x-rays, heart catheterizations, and open heart surgery. The last two on the list are invasive-to-the-max.
I have not been to this hospital in twenty-one years. We parked the car in the underground garage across the street, seven floors down. Each round felt as though we were traveling back into the bowels of the beast. Returning to ground level and standing outside of the hospital refreshed a depth of vulnerability that surprised me. The scale: The building is a brontosaurus; I am a sugar ant.
So much happened behind those walls. Often, I felt powerless to protect my infant son from physical pain, emotional suffering, thoughtless humanity, and a few people who–although brilliant–lacked the most basic people skills, including human kindness. And yet … they saved my son’s life.
Now, he may be facing yet another round of invasive cardiac procedures. I discovered today, there has been change within these walls. My friend saw a male doctor who treated her as a highly intelligent colleague; my friend is clearly a partner in caring for her heart. He was respectful, listened with interest and care. I was delighted to be party to their conversation. This change will not reduce the pain that my son may need to undergo, but at least he will not be subjected to as much suffering as when he was young–the suffering brought on by arrogant posturing of those who felt better than, and separate from, the rest of us.
Even the elevators are faster. In 1976, you could die waiting for those elevators.
Amrita Skye Blaine, 2013