Hours of Angst

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“Does he have any allergies?”

Miles chimes in, “Not that we know of.”

The nurse laughs.

He’s making friends.

The nurse asks, “Miles, do you know what surgery you’re having?”


We’ve met nurses who explain things to Miles, then to us. We’ve talked to two anesthesiologists, they’re confident, matter-of-fact, explaining the process. We’ve met the doctor again, we confirm the procedure again, we go over the process again, we ask the same questions, get the same answers. We fill out forms, a lot of forms. Miles props himself up in his rolling hospital bed, reads Prince Caspian.

We arrived at 6:30. Time is ticking toward the 8:00 surgery slot. It’s the same feeling I used to get in the paddock for a maiden claimer – come-on-let’s-go-wait-wait-wait-come-on-let’s-go-wait-wait-wait…knowing the inevitable is coming, but the faster it comes, the faster it’s over.

Two nurses, smiling, cordial, placating, arrive and jolt the bed to life, this is it.

Annie slides into a pale yellow paper smock, hair net, one parent can go with him for the first part, can hold his hand, until the anesthesia. Miles keeps reading, the nurses laugh, ‘First grade…’ The bed slides to the edge of the curtain, which has been opened.

“Miles, I’ll see you in a minute, buddy.”

He keeps reading. I say it again. He keeps reading. Mom tells him to say goodbye to his dad, the goodbye hurts, but only to me. Miles puts down his book next to his left hip, so little on such a big bed. He says, “OK, Dad,” and smiles and is wheeled away, I see his tussle of blond hair, framed by bony knees, fade away from me, double doors open, he vanishes. Baths, breakfasts, good-night books, scraped hands, lost teeth, playgrounds, baseball games, school trips, climbing on the rocks at Glenwood Park, first words, cackles, screams, laughs, tears…the boy we’ve raised is now in someone else’s hands.

I take a deep breath.

Dr. Soutter emerges from down the hall, pleated suit pants, checked dress shirt, bow tie replaced for scrubs, clogs, hair net. Light blue, hospital blue. The man who holds my child’s health in his hands. He says something to a nurse in the center-circle station, as he bustles past, he hits the button for the automatic door, it opens and closes.

That’s it. I wait. Alone.

Annie comes out, she’s wiping away tears. I put my hand on her shoulder, Meghan, who just spoke to Miles about flavors for his mask – he chose grape – hands Annie a tissue. We walk down the hall together, fumble with a vending machine, a couple of waters and energy bars tumble down, then we open the double doors to the waiting room.

I coddle the beeper in the left pocket of my vest, knowing this will be our next communication, it won’t vibrate, it will beep and blink, I take it out of my pocket. Annie and I find two chairs, sit, CNN blunders in my ear. I read, I can concentrate, a collection of columns in Deadline Artists. Actually, I can concentrate on 800 words at a time, I read about John Lennon’s death, about a lost wife, I switch from tragedies to scandals, then I can’t concentrate on anything, I read the same sentence over and over. I give up and stare at the floor.

Annie suggest we move to get a position where the doctor can find us, I agree. I stare at Miles’ case number, 632123, on a TV screen, waiting for it to change colors. It’s gone from yellow signifying “arrived” to orange for “pre-procedure” and now it hovers, sits, stalls on green representing “procedure.” Then it changes to purple for “procedure closing.” Then it hovers, sits, stalls. We wait. My brother Joe texts Annie, offering support – light, heartfelt, just right – then he sends me a text, different wording, same message. We wait. A woman sits next to me, phone in her hand, beeper on her thigh, bag at her feet. I look at my hand, phone, my thigh, beeper and bag at my feet. Hospitals put everybody in the same boat, this same swaying, drifting boat.

I see a light blue blur for recovery replace the purple line for procedure closing. We’re living by and worrying about color lines.

The double doors swing open and I see a person. I leap to my feet from my chair in the corner on the right side of the doors. Annie’s with me. I think that’s the doctor. I think. I scurry to the center of the room, as he turns left and goes behind a column, behind a wall. I look and walk, trying to predict his route, waiting, hoping to catch his eye. He appears from behind the wall, he looks up, our eyes meet, there’s a pause. He smiles and raises his right hand, turning his thumb toward the ceiling. The thumbs up, the quintessential signal of success.

It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen.