The Watcher

2010
Jones, Lanice

“Code 66, Unit 53...Code 66.” The anouncer’s voice barely penetrated the closed door of the delivery room. Certainly it hadn’t registered with the mother, nestling her newborn babe to her breast. I tied off the last stitch, congratulating the mother and father on their lovely baby.

“My Dad’s up on Unit 53. I’m going to check that he’s okay,” I whispered to the nurse. “I’ll be back to examine the infant and put in the orders.”

I pulled open the delivery room door, stepping into the florescent glare of the labour ward. I slapped open the automatic doors and launched myself up the stairway. It couldn’t be. Impossible. But, just to be sure....

The first hallway of Unit 53 was dark and empty, patients tucked safe in their slumber. My pulse quickened. My dad’s room was off the second hallway. I ran the last few meters, but time slowed, as if I were trying to run through deep water. I raced around the corner of the nursing station staring down a darkened hallway lit at the far end with a flashing red and white code light.

“Dad!” I grasped my name-tag. ‘My dad,” I choked out, pointing at my name tag and down the hallway. Incoherent with fear and shock, I could only point and gasp.

“Mr. Jones? He’s your father?”

I nodded.

The nurse stepped from around the desk and pulled me inside the nursing station. “Slow your breathing. Put your head down.” She turned to the second nurse at the station. “Get her a cold cloth.”

Part of me, The Watcher, took note from far above, as I sucked in air as if through a snorkel. So this was panic. Interesting. Meanwhile, inside, I craved the human touch, the kindness of someone handing me a cold cloth to breathe through while someone else rubbed my back. I wanted to crawl into the experience, to be comforted, supported, looked after.

Once, I had no knowledge of The Watcher. Once, I thought there was only me, only one mind and body fused into a collective experience. I would have said I was basically happy. I loved my family, my job. Before the Bad Times. The Watcher was born of the Bad Times.

The Bad Times began five years ago. I remember the feel of the golf club in my hands, heavy and cool. We were tidying the garage together, shoveling out the winter’s detritus to prepare for spring. My husband was moody, snapping and snarling like a caged animal. I’d been away for ten days, having driven my aged parents to visit friends and relatives on the West coast, for what I had sensed was to be their last trip together. Bob had stayed home to look after the two youngest children.

“I know what’s wrong! You were playing golf with Sandy, weren’t you?” I grabbed one of kids golf clubs.

Bob nodded, his eyes darting away.

“Oh my God!” I lifted the golf club far over my head and swung it as hard as I could, straight down onto the cement floor. The club slammed, jarring my arms like a knife. “You’ve been sleeping with her, haven’t you?”

“Put that club down!”

“You’ve been sleeping with her! How could you?”

“Put it down and we’ll talk!”

The club burned my hands like a firebrand. I shoved it into the golf bag, eager to rid myself of the lethal weapon as I turned to face my husband and lover of over thirty years. His eyes revealed the dread secret he’d been harboring for nine months: the rendezvous, the betrayals and his ultimate escape plan; dumping me to move in with my life-long friend.

The rest was history. He moved out, incommunicado for months on end, while I.... What did I do? Great gaps in memory, endless wakeful nights, endless rehashing with friends, a therapist, an endless dragging of the heavy cannonball of darkness and despair that lodged beneath my breast. I had to keep going. I had to put one foot in front of the other, to run a home, to run a practice, to look after my aged parents and three teenage children, and somewhere I split into two. The Watcher came to be.

The Watcher took over when my dear demented mother slipped and fell, dislocating her artificial hip. Hip precautions didn’t work for her, as in her frontal lobe state, she couldn’t remember not to bend over. Finally after the fifth dislocation, the orthopedic surgeon admitted mom for a hip replacement.

I fought for legal guardianship, but Mom wasn’t far enough gone yet. Instead, it would be a day when I was on call at the Peter Lougheed that I’d get the dreaded phone-call....

“Dr. Jones? Sorry to bother you, but your mother is signing herself out against medical advice. Can you come and deal with her?”

As my son’s grade 12 graduation approached, we elected to have a Le Forte procedure as the second last step in repair of his cleft lip and palate. When his surgical booking conflicted with my call schedule, I thought I could manage both. I’d be near him, and I wouldn’t be sleeping no matter what, so being able to sneak into his room between patients seemed like a good idea.

“There’s been a complication,” the “Ex” called me on my cell phone. We weren’t at the point that we could be in the same room with each other, so we took shifts with our son. “They’re taking him back to the O.R. He’s hemorrhaging.”

The Watcher drove to the hospital. Highly competent, alert, untouchable, the Watcher was in charge. Eric had hemorrhaged half his blood volume from his mandible. The Watcher finished the night shift darting back and forth from the labour floor to hover over her son’s bed, watching the cardiac monitor, listening to the soft sigh of the ventilator.

Two months later, Mom bent down to pick up her knitting and dislocated her new hip. She underwent her fifth total hip arthroplasty with months of rehabilitation. The blessing was that with the inflammatory state of healing Mom inched far enough downhill that the Geriatric Psychiatrist finally declared Mom mentally incompetent. The Watcher was granted Legal Guardianship, arranging for Mom to be moved onto a dementia ward.

Meanwhile my Dad suffered an episode of spontaneous osteomyelitis of the spine, on home IV antibiotics for months and too weak to manage on his own. He moved in with me, taking up the space my teenagers had recently vacated. We had a good six months together, until he caught a cold which quickly turned into pneumonia, prompting admission. While I’d been working, he’d slipped into respiratory failure. The Watcher hadn’t been vigilant enough.

“Lanice?” My friend and colleague Dr. Jean Mateo came up to the nursing station. “Your Dad’s going to make it. He’s on bipap, and doing okay.”

“That’s good news.” The Watcher dropped the damp facecloth and bolted upright. Zygomaticius muscles fired, stretching lips across teeth. Voice steady now, in control. “Thank-you.”

While inside, the daughter-mother-woman slid permanently beneath The Watcher’s rictus grin.

Theme: Death and Dying | Décès et le mourir
Theme: Family | Famille
Theme: Physicians | Médecins
Theme: Relationships | Relations

Stories in Family Medicine | Récits en médecine familiale [Internet] Mississauga ON: College of Family Physicians of Canada. 2008 --.

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