Part of me didn’t want to post anything new because then that would push down the pictures of my baby cousins (best feature of this blog so far), but then the other more narcissistic part of me thought about bringing the attention back to me… and so here I am.
But I come bearing socks!So while I was in Paris a couple months ago, between locking my family out of our Airbnb and double fisting croissants, I stumbled upon a yarn store at one of the flea markets. It was actually more of a sewing shop, but in a corner they had a few trays of this yarny type of stuff that looked knittable, and as a life goal (starting today) I try to get yarn from every place I visit (though i will always have an imagiknit shaped hole in my heart), so I bought a couple skeins (or toupets?) and packed them in my bag, right next to my contraband flax seeds, which I accidentally brought home with me and started planting and by doing so probably broke about a dozen international laws (treeson).
Anyway, after thinking about what other knit forms of love I could shower onto my baby cousins, I found this pattern for baby socks on Ravelry and adapted it (anchors have been out since like, 2005) to include stripes, because stripes are slimming and I know how babies get about their breadroll-esque legs (#thighgapstruggles).Other than the colors (i know: ronald mcdonald), are these not your favorite pair of socks ever?! Mother. Fudging. Adorable. I’m almost afraid of sending these (one each, of course) to my cousins for fear of outshining their cuteness (just kidding i would never say that please forgive me, m&z).Here’s the where’s waldo version of my socks (which i also posted ON MY NEW MASCULIKNSTAGRAM! check out all my four pics @masculiknity) as well as evidence that my apartment is now overflowing with plants. Most of them are my new roommate’s (i kicked chester out when i saw him texting during jed bartlet’s 20 hours in america speech. rude.), but I personally am growing (against all odds) two Trader Joe bell peppers and the aforementioned probably invasive species of French flax. I also had a succulent, but a squirrel ate it.
Other than my burgeoning illegal flax farm, a lot of things have changed for me since we last spoke. I am a year older, a year wiser, and forty days away from having my insurance ripped out of my soul (kaiser permanente is a misnomer). I started working in the hospital and having weird medical dreams where my parents are my residents and my friends are our patients. I watched all of Harmonquest in two days. I have also been writing.
I don’t share what I write very often, since 1) I’m much more comfortable filling these posts with as many outrageous parentheticals (JESSICA CHASTAIN MARRY ME PLZ) and pithy self-realizations as I can muster and 2) I’m afraid it will turn masculiknity into an ‘I’m a medical student and here are my encounters with the modern day healthcare system’ kind of blog that people will roll their eyes at because it’s expected and clichéd (ugggh thanks a lot, atul gawande). It’s true that ever since I’ve started spending six days a week in a hospital, I’ve seen and experienced a wide variety of things–things that I struggle articulating into words. And every time I sit down to write about them, alone in my room (more accurately alone on the couch eating fig bars in my underwear), even then I’m terrified of peoples’ thoughts, what they’ll presume about me or say about me based on what I choose to put up here. But if my 3 weeks experience of being a 26 year old has taught me anything, it’s that 1) I probably never stood a chance with Jessica Chastain and 2) Atul Gawande doesn’t even read my blog.
***PRN stands for pro re nata, which, in Latin, translates to ‘as the circumstances arise’
Her name is Ruthie.
Not R. Not R.C. Ruthie. Ruthie Crowley if you want specifics. Ruthie Ann Crowley if you already know a Ruthie Crowley and are wondering if we’re talking about the same woman. She eats at the McDonalds on Cottage Grove at least once a week and she wet the bed until she was seven, but her mom made her wear diapers to bed until she was eight just to be safe. Her parents are divorced, she’s allergic to penicillin, and her first kiss was in the seventh grade on a dare with a boy named Ganner. She thinks he’s an auto mechanic out in Atlanta now, but she isn’t sure.
Ruthie has a bad heart. Literally. Maybe figuratively, too—who’s to say—but definitely at least literally. Her heart is weak, particularly during pregnancy, she was told. It can’t handle the stress of a baby. Though, when you consider childbirth and all that goes into (and comes out of) it, it’s surprising anyone has a heart that can. But anyway, so Ruthie wasn’t supposed to get pregnant. But she did. And she survived. And the baby survived. And that’s why I know Ruthie.
The first time I met Ruthie, I only knew one thing about her: she was stupid.
Well, okay, that’s not fair. Stupid wasn’t the exact word. It was something along the lines of
‘She’s not the brightest bulb.’
Yeah, that was the euphemism he used, accompanied by an ‘if you know what I mean’ eyebrow arch. He paused, giving me a moment to lower my expectations. We were outside in the hall while he gave me her history, painting the picture of the dimwit laying in the other room, a woman whose heart could barely sustain one person, let alone two. We put on our gowns and masks and recalibrated, hacking at seven syllable tongue twisters and strings of capital letters to fit into a fourth grade vocabulary. I swear we almost broke a sweat. He knocked on the jamb by the wide open door and walked in. I followed.
The first thing I noticed about Ruthie was her smile. It was wide and beaming. The kind of smile you used to see in elementary school at recess from the kids in special ed. Eccentric and directed at no one in particular. She was rail thin and her paper gown draped loosely over her frame. The neckline scooped down to reveal a bony sternum covered by brown, mottled skin pulled taut. Her hair was thick and matted from several days without washing, frazzled and picked at constantly, fingers running through it in a somnolent haze every time a nurse woke her up in the middle of the night to draw blood or hook up a new bag to her IV.
But Ruthie wasn’t mentally disabled or had any developmental delay, at least not from what I could tell. She was just quiet. And she smiled. She answered our questions in a soft but clear voice, with ‘yes’es and ‘no’s and ‘kinda’s. She was polite without being forthcoming. We examined her and listened to her body, the sounds of her shallow breathing and recovering heart. At this point it was as automatic for her as it was for us. She shook her head no when we asked if she was in pain.
Later that day I was asked if I could bring Ruthie over to the children’s hospital wing. Her baby was in the neonatal ICU, having been born at twenty five weeks. Ever since she had been well enough to leave her room, the nurses had allowed her thirty minutes each day to visit her baby. But after a week, the nurses had run out of thirty minute coffee breaks and, more obviously, were woefully overqualified to chauffer a patient across the hospital grounds. When they asked me to bring her to the nursery, I asked them if I could bring my knitting.
They laughed like I was joking.
When I entered Ruthie’s room, she was sitting at the edge of the bed with a nurse standing over her. Her gown was around her lap and the nurse was dabbing a towel against her bare chest. I quickly spun around and left the room, mumbling an apology she couldn’t hear. I washed my just-washed hands again because it was something to do. While I rubbed the white soap over my knuckles I heard talk of milk and lactation and I noted the irony. This woman, with breasts eager to nourish the life her infanticidal heart had tried so hard to destroy. She wouldn’t get to, of course. The medicine fixing her heart made her milk toxic—she was poison to her baby.
We left, and Ruthie brought her IV pole with all her medications strung on it while I pushed her wheelchair from behind. She held it between her knees and rested her bare feet on the 4 metal legs at the base that wheeled along in front of us. I went slowly. I was overly cautious, afraid that if I hit a bump too hard, her heart might fall from her chest. It must be so fragile, I thought. We maneuvered through the hospital halls in an awkward silence, the slow ticks as we rolled over the cracks between the tiles keeping us in time. From behind I looked at her hair, tied back in a quick braid. She had wiry black hair with faint tints of red from a summer or four ago. It was knotty and gave off a stale whiff. The scent of neglect, or indifference. It took us fifteen minutes to get to the nursery, with house staff and guests passing us on either side along the way. I worried Ruthie would get impatient, anxious to see her baby and look at her through the clear plastic womb that had taken the place of her own. But she never said anything.
We arrived at a small square room with four babies, one in each corner. Ruthie directed me to the one just to our right and I wheeled her close. The nurse was changing a diaper.
‘Do you have a name picked out already?’
Audrey was so tiny, and her black skin turned the deepest shade of mauve beneath the ultraviolet light. She kicked a foot in the air while the nurse rearranged the tubes feeding into her nostrils and I could see the outlines of all the miniature muscles straining in her leg. Skin pulled taut, like her mother’s. Somewhere in another room, a baby started to cry and I turned. It sounded manufactured, though, oddly resemblant of a kitchen appliance rather than an actual person. I was surprised at myself, no sense of urgency or evolutionary tugging at my lizard brain, alerting me to a life in crisis. As if premature meant pre-human, it quickly faded into nothing. Like the weight of my stethoscope hung over my shoulders.
I looked back at Ruthie and she was standing, the back of her gown curtaining open to reveal an Africa stain of shit dried onto her white underwear. Her hands gripped the armrests of the wheelchair as she teetered on atrophied legs and I thought of helping her but she seemed to be doing fine, so I stayed where I was. She was smiling, too. But different from when we first met—the delight of seeing your daughter, I guess—truer, in a way. The kind of smile you used to see in elementary school from parents watching their children march through those double doors, lunch in tow. The light above Audrey’s incubator illuminated Ruthie’s face, too, so she was beaming. Literally. A bright, bright blue. The nurse reached into thick plastic gloves built into the side of the incubator and held Audrey up to give her mother a better view. Audrey swung her arms clumsily, her eyes covered by tiny blindfolds and a new diaper hugging her almost immeasurable waist. She gave out a cry. A salad spinner, furiously whipping a handful of mixed greens.
Also in the room were Kevin, Darrel, and Sydney. I knew because there were cards above their cribs, names written in large bubble print font, decorated in crayon with cartoon animal flourishes. They were all hovering between awake and sleep, a silent grimace here, a tiny fist protruding there. I explored the room cautiously and walked over to Sydney. A bee buzzed circuitously beneath the ‘y’ and over the ‘n’ on the cardstock taped above her crib. Below she was pink and restless with her eyes shut tight. She let out a soft squeal.
‘You wake her, you take her.’
I turned around to see a nurse looking at me over the rims of her glasses, chuckling. I returned a polite smile and made my way over to Ruthie, who was sitting back down again, holding her phone up to Audrey. On her phone I made out a young boy—maybe eight or nine—looking out from a dark room. The picture skipped a bit but I could see his pixelated image break into excitement as he pointed to something, and then his movements got lost in a blur. A larger man entered the frame. I recognized what this was and looked down at the floor, blaming my feet for stepping into such a private moment.
I admit I’ve lost sleep over Ruthie. I’ve spent nights wondering what she thinks of me, what she thinks of us. I’ve wondered if she saw through my smiles and touches of sympathy, wondered if she laughed at being called ‘miss’ for the first time since marrying her husband five years ago, or asked how she survived with all that blood I took from her. Probably enough to make a whole new Ruthie. Whatever it is, I’ll never know. And part of that kills me. The other part, quite frankly, terrifies me. It was like encountering an unknowable universe, those four days we spent together, entire galaxies wrapped beneath her paper gown. Miracles of life buzzing right at my fingertips, yet all I get to hear is a heartbeat.
Does she like me? That’s the middle school question I can’t seem to shake. Because if she doesn’t like me, then she most certainly hates me. She must. And with a disgusting hatred, one that consumes her when she thinks about it for too long. Because she owes me her life, she knows that. And she knows that I know that, and somewhere deep inside her, far enough away from any real sense but close enough to her cut-rate heart, I bet she thinks that I planned it all from the beginning. Her heart. Her pregnancy. Audrey. The thirty minutes we spent in the NICU. What an elaborate trick, she thinks, what a sick thing to do. She falls ill and I sweep in like a white coated knight and now she owes me everything. Rumpelstiltskin, MD. There’s nothing I can’t ask for. Nothing is off limits.
Yes, she probably hates me.
Or maybe not. Maybe she neither likes me nor hates me. Maybe she nothings me. Maybe she loses sleep, too, but unlike me, she’s awake at night rocking Audrey in her arms, reading from the telephone book because she’s run out of things to say to stop her crying. And the few times I pass through her mind, she blinks and I’m gone, and I don’t even have a face because all I am to her is one of them. ‘Them’. One of them with a question, a euphemism, another goddamn lecture. Another person to smile at from afar.
It was seven in the evening by the time we left. I offered to stay longer, but she declined. We saw visitors leaving, hand in hand. I rolled Ruthie through the back corridors in silence, nodding to the security guards we had passed on our way in. The hospital was sleeping, and it was like at camp after sneaking out and now we were trying to get back to our bunks by just the light of the moon. The entire time I tried to think of something to say, the perfect thing to say, but what is there to say to a woman who only has thirty minutes to spend with her newborn daughter? So we were quiet as I wheeled her into the elevator. As we exited, her IV pole got caught in the crack between the elevator and the landing and it took me a couple of minutes to get her loose. I may have tried to make a joke, but I honestly can’t remember.
I opened the door to her room and her dinner was waiting. I asked her if she wanted help getting into bed and she asked if I could help her to the bathroom instead. While she was peeing, I set her dinner tray by her bed and cleared off her chair in case she wanted to sit. After giving the room a final scan, I rolled the empty wheelchair out and closed the door.
Three days later, Ruthie left. The following day, I met a man with a bad heart.
His name is Deshon.