“Well, your pain doesn’t seem that bad.” The doctor dropped the clipboard on the counter and pushed up her sleeves. “I’ll just do an exam before you go.”
She’d just begun the exam when Lee walked in with Tucker in his arms. My hospital gown was pulled up to my stomach and the doctor’s head was between my legs. I smiled at them. Lee leaned back against the wall and offered me a wink. I was about to introduce him to the doctor, when she let out a gasp. “Oh my God.” Her voice sounded high and frantic. “You’re three centimeters dilated.”
I’m not sure who called them, but a bunch of nurses were suddenly in the room, scrambling around me. “What does that mean?” I asked. The nurse next to me was tearing apart the Velcro of a blood pressure cuff. “It means you’re not going home until this baby is born.”
“But it’s November,” I told her. “My baby isn’t due until March.” I felt like I had a heavy weight on my chest. I couldn’t get a full breath. “I can’t stay here until March.” The nurse’s hair was in short curls that looked like rollers. “We’ve just got to stop this labor,” she said patting my shoulder.
They lifted me from the exam table onto a bed with metal bars on the sides. Two nurses raised my legs up into the air and held them there. I saw a large needle coming towards my backend and then I felt a sting and something cool spreading under my skin.
The nurse put the needle in a red container marked Contaminated. Lee shifted Tucker to his other arm. “A steroid,” the nurse said. “To help develop the baby’s lungs.”
I felt the hot prick of an IV in my right arm. Tucker started screaming. But when I reached for him, the nurse set my arm back on the bed. Her hand was cold. “Dad’s got him,” she said. Lee squeezed Tucker closer. “It’s gonna be alright, Babe,” he said as he backed out of the room, keeping his eyes on mine. “It’s gonna be alright.”
Still holding my legs in the air, several nurses took hold of the metal bars and wheeled me out the door, past Lee and Tucker, down the cold hallway. I heard Tucker’s shrill voice, “What’s happening, Daddy? What’s happening to Mommy?”
When I tried to sit up, the nurse on my right pushed me back down and kept her hand firmly on my chest.
“I can’t stay here.” I lifted my head. “I can’t stay here until March.” I pictured myself lying in a hospital bed for the next four months, stacks of discarded magazines at my side, a wall-mounted television airing nothing but soap operas, and Tucker back at home, dressed in his Spiderman pajamas, carrying his snuggly blue blanket from room to room, looking for Mama.
The bed was moving fast. “Who will take care of Tucker?” My question echoed back to me off of the hallway walls.
“He’ll be okay,” someone answered.
The hallway grew dark and narrow like a cave. Dim overhead lights cast strange grey shadows across the nurses’ faces.
“Why is this happening?” I asked. “What did I do?” My voice sounded far away.
“You didn’t do anything.” The nurse on my right patted my hand without looking at me. “This isn’t your fault.” Their shoes squeaked as they jogged alongside me.
“I know I did something.” The nurses exchanged a look. My body started shaking. I was so cold. “I never should have played paddle tennis.”
“It’s nothing you did,” several nurses said at once.
If I could figure out why this was happening, I could make it stop. I searched for clues, chronicling the past week’s activities and ingestions. The bath I took Saturday must have been too hot. I ate sushi. It was just vegetables, but maybe it was the ginger. “I put ginger on some sushi.” They gripped my ankles tighter. I could see their hands on my legs, but realized I couldn’t feel them.
Finally, I clutched a nurse’s arm. She was walking backwards, facing me, guiding the gurney down the hall. I dug my fingers into her flesh. I needed to know she was real. She looked back at me. Her eyes, framed in dark circles, softened. I thought I’d found my sympathetic audience. “You don’t understand,” I said to her, in a more coherent, controlled voice. “This sort of thing doesn’t happen to me.”
She held my gaze for a moment, and I waited. A gold cross swung at the base of her neck.
She continued to look at me. Then she stated simply, “It does now.”