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I feel bad making Timmy sit here and do nothing. Both of us are focused on the clock. His fingers are knit together and red from wringing. I look down and notice mine are the same. I unlace them and gently touch his head. She’s always been better with him. “Hey buddy. She’ll be done soon. We can see her in no time. She’ll be all better and things will go back to normal. Don’t worry,” I say. He looks up at me and bats his long lashes. “Whatever you say, Daddy.”
I smile and glace at the clock again. It’s 11:17-she should be done by now. I twiddle my thumbs and tap my feet and leaf through a magazine about the county fair and another one full of quilting patterns, but still the surgeon doesn’t come out. It’s 1:03 now. I’m starting to get worried. My heart is beating in my chest and my palms are beginning to sweat. My mind flicks to images of the worst-case scenarios. But I know I can’t do anything to get her out of the operating room sooner, so I go back to keeping myself busy.
I pull out my phone and try to send e-mails for work, but everything I type sounds wrong. Hoping that it will calm me, I start walking around the waiting area. I make sure to keep an eye on Timmy, but he’s just staring intently at the balloon in the gift shop. I promise myself that I will buy it later, after the surgery is over. I’m taking my third lap when I start to notice the other families. The entire room looks occupied, but I know everybody’s mind is on something else. It’s stupid that we’re all acting so cavalier and pretending that these three-year old magazines are interesting. We know what’s happening. People are dying.
My cart is rattling as I walk down the hall. When I pass the waiting room, everybody looks up at me in annoyance. I feel self-conscious. I wish that this damn cart was oiled and didn’t veer sharply to the right every time I let go of it. I’m cursing under my breath when I pass a child at the edge of the waiting room. He must’ve come in since I dropped by at the beginning of my shift. I smile. Kids always take something from the cart, and they’re so much more fun to talk to than the old men with heart conditions that seem to take up residence in the hospital. I wheel my cart up to him.
“Hi there,” I say. I bend down to his height and grab the arm of his chair for balance. “Do you want anything from the cart? There are pretty pencils and coloring books, and even candies if your Mom says its okay.”
The boy looks up at me. “I don’t know if my mommy says its okay. My daddy said she’s in a special room today where only doctors can go.”
My heart drops a little. “Is your daddy here with you?” I ask as a man approaches me. “This must be him,” I say to the boy. I plaster on my fake smile. “Hi there,” I say again, “is it alright if he has a lollipop?” The man looks distraught. “Everything is free for the patients and their families.” His face relaxes a bit and he smiles, but he still looks tired.
“Well how nice.” He looks over to his son and puts his hand on his shoulder. “Timmy, this nice lady has all this free stuff just for you. Is there anything you want?” he asks. The boy glances at the cart, then he points across the waiting room towards the gift shop.
“I want the balloon,” he says.
I can feel my smile fall away. “Oh. I’m sorry, but I can’t get that for you. You have to buy it. But I do have this whole cart of stuff that you can have.”
“I want the balloon.”
I stand back up and look at the man. He nods at me.
“Timmy, she can’t get you the balloon. Do you want anything from her cart? Look at these nice pencils. They have dinosaurs on them! You love dinosaurs.” He holds out a green pencil with stegosauruses on it.
“No! I want the balloon.”
The man smiles at me again and shrugs. “I guess not then.” He puts the pencil back onto my cart and sits down next to the boy. He talks softly to him as I rattle back down the hallway. I look at the balloon as I cross in front of the gift shop. It isn’t the usual “Get Well” variety featuring a smiley face with a Band-Aid across its forehead. Instead, the balloon in the front window is a dolphin with blue streaks across its belly. It seems as if it’s smiling at me as I walk further down the hall towards the elevators.
I can’t think of anything else for the rest of my shift. Even as I dole out crossword puzzles and newspapers, all I can think about is the balloon. An hour later, I return to the volunteer office to put away my cart and ask my supervisor if the hospital can give the balloon as a gift.
“Dear, if we did that, everybody would ask for a balloon,” she says while shaking her head, and then goes back to clacking away at her computer. But I don’t want to leave it at that. On my way out of the hospital, I fish out a few dollar bills from the bottom of my purse and buy the dolphin. I’m smiling from ear to ear as I walk out into the waiting room. My heart sinks when I search through the sea of faces and can’t find a little boy and his father. They’re gone.
We opened her up to take a cancerous growth out of the lower lobe in her right lung. I didn’t expect the surgery to be easy, but it was routine. But now I’m standing at this steel table, my hands inside a woman’s chest, furiously searching for a tear. I don’t usually get nervous, but I’m panicked now. The machines are screaming. I hear the nurses calling out her stats.
“BP is dropping.”
“Heart rate’s below 20.”
“We’re losing her.”
The paddles are charged. The air is buzzing with electricity. But then I feel it. Through my latex glove, I can feel a small tear. “Yes! I’ve got it!” I look down to inspect the tear. My finger is resting on her aorta.
I know Daddy doesn’t like it when I wiggle, but I’m worried about Mommy. My fingers hurt from twisting because Daddy won’t let me get up. I want to get the balloon in the gift shop, but I’m afraid to ask. Daddy has given me a lot of timeouts since we found out that Mommy was sick. The doctors said something was wrong with her breathing when we went to the funny smelling place with red lollipops. We have been at the hospital a lot since then. I like to play blocks on the third floor with the other kids, but I can’t today. Daddy tells me that today is special. “Mommy is going to a special room today, where only doctors are allowed,” he said as we walked through the doors that whoosh when they open. I saw her early this morning, when I was still sleepy. She smiled when Daddy picked me up and put me onto her bed, but she looked sad. I want to get the balloon and bring it to her special room. I want her sadness to go away. But Daddy says wait.
I see a big doctor man with a weird hat on his head come into the room. Daddy waves at him, then he comes over. He shakes Daddy’s hand, smiles down at me, then looks back at Daddy. “Mr. Peterson, can we talk in another room?” he asks. Daddy nods his head and grabs my hand, and then we go into a smaller room with a big table and tall chairs. I wonder if this is Mommy’s special room that Daddy talked about this morning. I jump up to sit in the chair beside Daddy. The doctor man coughs then says something about a “surgery” and a “complication.” When he stops talking, he reaches out and takes Daddy’s hand, then says that he’s very sorry.
Water starts to leak out of Daddy’s eyes and I don’t know why. He wipes the water away with his hand and smiles at me, but he doesn’t look happy. He covers his face with his hands, but more water leaks out between his fingers. I look up at him and tug on his shirt. “Daddy, why are your eyes wet? Is Mommy coming soon?”