Archive for March, 2011

Needle and Thread

by Tammy Hanna

We didn’t see the cut, wouldn’t have anyway. Nor the patching up, or any of the tools. Do they still use needle and thread, held at the end of metal pincers? Does it make it easier for the surgeons, with their large hands, to fit into the cavities of small bodies?

When he came to tell us it had been a success, the consultant drew us a diagram to show us where they made the cut. Except he used the word incision. And then he told us what fell out. Sammy’s colon, “full of bloody poo.” No clinical distance in that choice of words, but his voice dropped to an almost whisper. “There was a lot of it,” he said. “But we were lucky, we caught it in time.” He went on to tell us what he thought was wrong, his tone lightening and his voice raising the more technical terms he used. We grasped onto it like something solid. An explanation. Later, when we were relieved and grateful, the registrar took us into her office. We sank into her sofa, struggling to sit upright, as she settled into a swivel chair, her face above our eye line.

“It’s good thing you brought him in when you did. His colon could have ruptured. What can I say; we have lost children to sepsis. He’s doing well.” There were even tears in her eyes. “I know what you’ve been through these last months, but I don’t think that this could have been spotted any sooner.” Something caught in her throat and for a moment I held the question, ungratefully doubting the sincerity of her tears. I braced myself, expecting her to say that it was nobody’s fault. That no one was to blame. Instead she shifted in her chair and said, “Would you like to go and pick him up from theatre?”

An unfamiliar nurse met us and introduced herself. Jo. I liked her instantly. She wasn’t tired, at least not visibly so. She wasn’t wearing any jewellery – nothing likely to snag on IV lines or tender flesh. And no makeup, just a smile.

“How old is he?” she asked. I suspected she knew, but I answered anyway. “He just turned one.” She nodded and we followed her through the bowels of the hospital, in and out of dark lifts with metal shuttered doors that had to be pulled to before we could move.

The theatre was cold. That was the first thing I noticed. And then, all the people, at least half a dozen, all wearing scrubs. Jo walked in ahead of us. Like a friendly warning bell, she called out, “Are we ready for Mum & Dad?” As we approached the crowd around Sammy, I saw the bags on the floor. Clear plastic, the size of bin bags filled with black stained gauze. A space cleared and we saw him. His eyes were glassy, his eyelids partly opened but not seeing.

He had a blanket over him but one of his arms and both his legs were sticking out. They were bare. A woman was holding his feet and rubbing them, her mask still hanging from her ear. There was a machine like an antique Hoover at the bottom of his bed. It was blowing air through a nozzle. “It’s to keep him warm,” she said. “We have to keep the temperature quite cool in theatre, so…” her voice drifted into a half-smile. “We’re just waiting for his core temperature to go up a bit. Then we can let him go.” We stood, stunned, silent. The machines beeped their dissonant messages, codes meant only for trained ears. “He did really well,” she said.

Someone else started telling us what to expect when Sammy woke up, but I couldn’t hear him. I wanted to ask how many people had been in here, keeping Sammy alive. I wanted to know what each of their tasks had been, and why no one had told us – that it would be so cold, that so many people, so many hands would be working on him. I wanted to say that I could have brought socks.

The old Hoover was taken away and more blankets were piled on top of him. I wanted to ask if he had a nappy on, but of course they would have thought of that. The woman who’d been rubbing his feet was now tucking his arm and toes in under the white blankets. Jo received her instructions and we retraced our steps through the hospital bowels, this time with Sammy on the oversized bed rattling between us. I wanted to touch him but the bed kept moving, as if with the force of its own momentum.

Tammy Hanna writes when she manages to outwit her toddler away from the computer. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen as often as it should.

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