When I was a little boy, I got very sick. I had to stay in the hospital for a time, because there was uncertainty whether I would survive the illness or not.
Hospital stays were sort of frequent for me as a little boy. They always looked so much alike, those stays.
There were oxygen tents and IVs and shots. I remember nurses who brought medicines and checked drip rates. I remember the scents of the hospital – the antiseptic, acrid smell of chemical cleaning agents and disinfectants, the plasticine odor of the oxygen tent, dextrose water bags, and tubes which ran every which way. I remember the sharp, piercing bite of the IV needle as it punctured then-smooth skin, tender and soft. I remember trying not to move, not to flinch, not to cry. I would only make it worse if i jerked or tensed.
There were other smells too. The hard tile floor, and the gentle hum of the distant waxer as the janitor polished them clean again. I remember the clatter of stoneware plates as the orderlies came with meals under plastic domes with a finger hole in the top so they could be lifted off. I remember the fresh, hot food, not microwaved at that time but actually cooked, in a real kitchen, and delivered with real napkins and silverware, not plastic forks and knives.
There was always a window, a large window which overlooked what seemed like a sea of houses and buildings stretching off into the rolling hills. The bright splash of sunshine seemed different in the hospital somehow. I don’t remember much else about the weather, only the large panes of thick glass holding it out.
The hospital. It came with such mixed emotions. Far from home, alone for long stretches of time, fear, but also welcomed relief. I’d feel better. They’d take care of me. They’d make sure I was better. Then I would finally get to go home when Dr. Young said it was okay.
But my wife put up a post today which made me recall a particular time, when the hospital embraced me again, and my grandmother came to visit me. She lived much closer to the hospital than we did. It took more than an hour for us to go see her when we visited. So she came to be with me, and she sat at my bedside and would talk with me or comfort me. Sometimes I’d drift off to sleep, exhausted from the illness and the strain of just breathing. And when I was asleep, she could rest too.
She brought me things to play with sometimes, and other times she’d bring drawing paper and pencils, or books for me to read or color in. Sometimes, she brought books to read to me, and that is when I first encountered Dr. Seuss.
She’d sit and read, in her heavy accent which I didn’t notice, and didn’t mind. I never understood why so many didn’t seem to understand her. I always did.
I remember my grandmother reading to me in hushed tones, so as not to disturb the other patients. I remember her gentle voice, her warmth, her love for me. I don’t think I ever fully appreciated just how much she loved me. Maybe I still don’t. But I remember the books she brought to read to me, and I remember how much I loved her. Even in the hospital. And to this day.
Even now, one of my favorite books of all time remains One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Theodor Seuss Geisel.
It will, for the rest of my life, remind me of my grandmother. And it will, for the rest of my life, bring a tear to my eye.