My sister and I used to fight so much when we were children that we once broke a coffee table (She started it), but when I used to call her in the middle of the night with a feverish baby (and there were many), she would arrive within minutes to babysit the rest (and there were many more!) When she is sick, I am her person. It’s a position of some ambivalence: to see someone you love in pain, weak and sometimes fearful (When Brigid reaches grumpy I know I can leave her because she is on the mend) is distressing; yet it is a huge honour to be called on to be present when your person is vulnerable.
Last week Brig was in hospital for some routine, though unpleasant, tests under anaesthetic and I spent some time sitting in the cafeteria of Netcare Blouberg Hospital, nurturing a series of coffee highs and observing other patients’ ‘persons’ coming and going, watching their harried, anxious, pensive, distracted and even bored faces from my increasingly restless perch.( It was good coffee so I had a few cups.)
The Blouberg area is Smallville so there are the inevitable sightings of people one knows. In five minutes, I spotted Michael’s neurologist – who I finally realised looks a bit like George from Seinfeld – sneaking down for his daily latte; a deacon from our parish popping upstairs to bring Communion to the sick (I was rather impressed that he took the stairs;) and a former colleague with her three month old granddaughter.
The dads arriving to visit their wives in the maternity ward with the older siblings were fun to watch. Shew, but men do parenting so amusingly different! They were nothing like the urbane and debonair Prince William, drawing up in the family Range Rover with darling Prince George in tow. We breed ‘em a little wilder in Table View:
Despite the freezing cold, one jogged in with a toddler bouncing excitedly on his shoulders, dressed more for a day at the beach than a wintry, windswept Cape Town morning. He put her down with a jolt and the minx beetled off sans shoes, but delighted to be out with Dad. I wondered whether he would be in trouble when Mom saw.
One father who would almost certainly be in the dogbox when he presented Junior to Mother was one who would have failed the fashion police test – his cherub sported a bizarre combination of clothes, none of which matched at all – I suspect they came out of the ‘only for home wear’ shelf and he would get it in the neck when he showed up, especially if it was the milk-coming-in Day Three. I hope not though, because if his wife could have seen the tender way he hugged that little mite to him, her heart would have melted, along with all disapproval.
I chuckled at the male bonding of a couple of boys and their dad and wondered when the sugar high from the lollipops that they were being bribed with would hit.
One poor man laboured under several trips of balloons and bags and flowers and baby luggage being taken to the new family member’s awaiting chariot. And then I watched with benevolent voyeurism as a midwife accompanied Madonna and her child pushing the portable, transparent crib to the car. Their spontaneous embrace was delightful. What a special moment in their history I was witnessing: going home as three. I sighed nostalgically, remembering how terrified I was to take Sean home, mortally afraid that it was up to me to keep him alive. Oh well – he has made it to 22 relatively unscathed, if you don’t count numerous stitches and manly scars.
Netcare Blouberg is built like a fancy hotel with vaulted ceilings and elegant marble. Its sweeping staircase curls up to several mezzanine-type floors from where the coffee shop is situated and so one can witness the progess of patients and visitors who eschew the elevators. From my vantage point I could see up to the third floor where an elderly man shuffled along so slowly he took several minutes to progress along the corridor. The nurse’s aide who escorted him did so with amiable patience. What a job, I thought. What dedication to care.
A young woman, clearly used to more athletic endeavours gingerly took each step at a time, while her tattooed person, slowly accompanied her, all the while texting on his phone. I expected him to stop for a selfie to post on Instagram, but he was more conciliatory of her pain than I gave him credit for, allowing her some dignity.
One or two ambulatory patients appeared in their dressing gowns and drip stands with that guilty, coy look, caught in public in a state of undress. One brawny chap (thank goodness the gown was tightly belted) kept re-appearing and glaring at me as if I had taken his personal table. But perhaps it was just that I wasn’t hiding the horror I was feeling as I hoped there were pyjamas covering his girth under the robe and not one of those hospital gowns.
Then there was the corporate type in her tailored suit, powering her way in long strides across the atrium. She certainly was not letting illness of any kind get to her. She was welcomed by the ebullient concierge who should have been manning the doors at the Dorchester. He spent hours pointing folk towards their destinations, his smile never wavering, even when Mr and Ms Paris Fashion Week,undulated towards the reception, pelvises jutting, leather gleaming, unsmiling and superior. ‘How does she keep that hat on in this wind?’ was all I could think.
Said-wind howled outside and the shadows lengthened as they do on those days of weak sunshine. I checked my watch and worried why my sister was taking so long. I hauled my laptop and keep-myself-busy paraphernalia up to the third floor to check on her, but she was still out for the count, so I went back down to watch the visiting hour arrivals, reassured that she was in good hands.
Purple hair – lots of it, but all on women under thirty: clearly I was witnessing a new trend – lavendar is the new peroxide. Now in my day (!) a blue rinse was for grannies. The real elderly visitors were many… I was distracted from pondering the reasons for these phenomena by a Whatsapp from my elder daughter asking when I would be home. ‘It sucks being you,’ she complained. ‘No one listens.’ I smiled. A teenager sulked in her parents’ presence at a table nearby, huffing in displeasure at something they had said, before burying her face in her smartphone. I smiled again.
Eventually it was time to return to the day ward, hoping that Brigid had only heard the endearing nurse call her ‘Lovie’ and not the ‘Tannie’ part. I should have warned her of my sister’s prowess at destroying furniture. I found the patient quite docile though and more lucid than when she first came around, eager to be gone, relieved to be still clear of that ailment we’d feared, but not spoken of, and grateful that her chronic pain could be treated.
We left for her to recuperate at home: She was just one of many patients staff attended to in the course of their jobs, but it was a significant time for us. I couldn’t wait for Brigid to be cranky again so I would know she was fine.