The setting is wrong. The air smells vaguely of petroleum jelly and antiseptic hand-wash. Reminders of the harsh realities of slow recovery dominate the small room: the walker in the corner – required hardware for trips of any distance; the hospital bed in the center, flanked by cold towers draped with intravenous medicines; the commode – a throne of indignity.
The feeling is wrong. Her entire body throbs, moaning imperceptibly for relief. On the floor near her chair sits a VAC pump, designed to remove fluids from her gaping surgical wounds. The side is transparent, showing a reservoir containing impossible amounts of a sickly liquid to all those who fail to look away. She longs for a hot shower, and the strength to lift her feet onto a short footstool.
The timing is wrong. Two weeks away from her family – more than three-quarters of her newborn baby’s life – have slipped away in a blur of pain and fear. She spends her days entertaining an endless sequence of hospital staff. The names and faces seem to change as often as the Boston weather. She spends her nights restless and alone.
The reality is wrong. It shouldn’t be like this. She exists as an anachronistic anomaly among a department dominated by patients more than twice her age. The doctors and nurses regard her with equal amounts of pity and praise – the latter for her ability to recover much faster than predicted. But she’s not interested in impressing anyone.
She misses her children desperately. The ache in her heart has been successfully competing for attention with her myriad discomforts, great and small. The pictures on the wall serve as a constant reminder of a life left behind without her approval.
So tonight will be different. Tonight, she will replace her medical gown with regular clothing. The VAC pump will be hidden under a coat. She will wash her face and brush her hair and attempt to smile through the pain. She will try her best to be a mother when she knows she cannot.
And it is well worth the effort.