Hospitals are one of the most intimidating places on earth. Not just because they’re huge and a place of sickness, but because it is an unknown place when all you need is familiarity. It is an eerily silent place when all you need is friendly voices. It is an empty and cold place when all you need is comfort.
I remember my dad waking me up one night, after what felt like just minutes since I had gone to bed.
“Change out of your pajamas. Quick!” that was all he said before moving on to wake my little sister.
I got out of bed and looked around, confused. Was it time for school already?
I looked out the window and saw the dark sky before turning to face Karla, my six year old sister, who just shrugged. I put on my tennis shoes and walked to the hall, where I could see my older sister gazing at something down the hall.
“What is it?” I asked her. “Why did dad wake us up?”
Monica shook her head.
“There’s something wrong with mom.”
“What do you mean? Is she okay?”
“I don’t know. She feels really bad and told daddy that she can’t wait for the ambulance to get here.”
I felt like I had ice running through my veins as my eight year old mind tried to grasp what was happening.
“So we’re going to the hospital?” Before my sister had a chance to answer, my dad came barreling out of his room, my mom leaning against him.
I wanted so bad to ask her if she was okay, even though I could clearly tell she wasn’t, but I knew that was the last thing my dad needed right then.
I turned back and walked into my room, grabbed Karla’s hand, and pulled her down the stairs after me, making sure to give my parents plenty of space.
We all crammed into the car and my dad drove away as fast as he dared. I was sitting on the window seat, right behind my mom, and I remember seeing her head lolling to the side, thumping against the window a few times before she straightened. And then after a few seconds, she slumped back on her seat.
“We’re almost there. We’re almost there,” my dad repeated over and over, trying to comfort not only us girls, but also himself.
“Slow down,” my mom kept on telling my dad, but he wouldn’t listen.
The drive took far less time than it should’ve, and next thing I knew, my dad had driven straight for the ambulance entrance, barely parking the car before he was already outside, screaming for help. A couple of nurses had seen us and rushed to help, helping my mom into a wheelchair and wheeling her away.
My dad walked me and my sisters inside and told us to wait for him in the nearest waiting room while he moved the car, so that’s what we did.
Monica was crying and Karla was trembling. Me? I was numb. I could see it all happening before me, could see the terrified looks in my sisters’ eyes, but I couldn’t feel anything. I didn’t know it then, but that was a good thing. I took one look at my older sister and decided to take charge, herding them towards the reception area. After asking the nurse where the nearest waiting room was, I took my sisters by the hand and led them there, making sure they were all settled before going to stand outside and wait for my dad, to make sure he saw me and wouldn’t walk past us. After a few minutes I looked back inside and saw my sisters huddled together, petrified with fear. I wanted so bad to squeeze myself between them and be scared together, but I knew I couldn’t. Someone had to make sure they were alright, and someone had to help my dad. It was so hard to hold my head up high, to put on a brave mask and pretend everything was okay when I knew that it wasn’t, but it was what I had to do. It was what was needed of me, so it was what I did.
The second I saw my dad jogging down the hall, looking around wildly, I bolted from my spot under the doorway. I ran towards him and hugged him tight, burying my face on his jacket, trying to calm down my nerves. I felt his fingers brushing my hair and sniffed when he dropped a kiss on the top of my head.
I led him to my sisters and asked him if he needed anything. He shot me a wan smile before asking me to get a doctor.
I nodded enthusiastically, glad to have something else to think about, and dashed outside to look for a doctor. I found one soon enough, and I took hold of his sleeve and dragged him into the waiting room after me, without an explanation.
My dad explained the situation and the doctor shot me a sympathetic smile, patting me on the head. I shrank away. I didn’t want his sympathy; I wanted my mom.
The doctor asked around to see where my mom was and what was going on, and explained the situation to my dad once he had all the information. I hung onto every word he said, leaning forward in order to hear better, and gasping whenever he said something I thought was bad. I mean, a heart attack sounded pretty darn bad to me. And no matter how much the doctor emphasized that she would be okay, that she was going to make it, it still worried me out of my mind.
My dad caught on to this and decided he wanted to talk to the doctor privately. Both my sisters were still in the waiting room, not paying attention to anything or anyone, so my dad dropped his hand on my shoulder and asked me to get him some coffee. I nodded avidly and darted out of the waiting room, following the arrows on the signs and found the cafeteria soon enough.
Grabbing an empty cup, I filled it to the brink before putting the lid on and heading back the way I came. Until I realized I had no idea where that was.
I couldn’t remember. Was it left or right?
I groaned and closed my eyes, spinning in a tight circle, my finger pointing to the spot right in front of me.
I opened my eyes and found myself facing the right. Well, the finger has spoken. To the right it is.
Tightening my grip on the cup, I stood straighter and soldiered on, heading into the unknown.