Hospitals are one of the most intimidating places on Earth. Not just because they’re towering and a place of sickness, but because they are an unknown place when all you need is familiarity. They are an eerily silent place when all you need is a friendly voice. They are an empty and cold place when all you need is comfort.
I’m sure I was a sight to behold as I stood before the main entrance of the hospital, eight years old and terrified, clad in pink pajamas and crushing my plush dog against my chest. My dad, with my younger sister in his arms as she cried into his shoulder, and my older sister by his side as she tried her best to control her expression, turned back to look at me from where he stood in the reception, his eyes tired and dull. He called my name and I ran as fast as my legs would carry me, latching onto his free hand the second I crashed against his leg. And so he walked, three little girls clinging to him, toward the uncomfortable looking chairs with a TV next to them. He sat us down, one by one, fixing our hair and patting our hands gently before leaving to talk to one of the ladies in white. My eyes danced all around the room, finding it impossible to stay fixed on one point for long. From the TV to the fish tank to each colorful fish to the coffee machine to the old lady sitting not too far away from us to my younger sister whose eyes closed to my dad and the lady in white to my older sister whose eyes betrayed nothing more than mild concern.
I looked down at my lap, Clifford (my trusty plush dog) warm and comforting next to me.
‘There’s something wrong with mom’ echoed in my mind, my older sister’s voice breaking through all my other thoughts. This one was the loudest.
I had been asleep, when everything happened. To me, it felt like it had been mere minutes from the time I had gone to bed to the time my dad woke me up and told me to change. I hadn’t, of course, opting instead to rush back to my bed for Clifford before going to wait by the stairs. Seeing my dad having to help my mom walk down the stairs and into the car made me nervous, and even as my sister said ‘there’s something wrong with mom’, I still couldn’t understand what was happening, and so I took a step back and walked behind everyone else, down the stairs, through the kitchen, out the front door and into the car, simply… watching. Observing, trying to understand what was wrong.
During the car ride, on our way to the hospital, my mom’s head lolled to the side and bumped against the window before straightening in her seat. I sat behind her, so I could see it happening over and over and over and over again. I still didn’t understand.
My dad, having no patience to try to find the entrance of the hospital, simply drove straight to the ambulance entrance and threw open his door, leaving the four of us girls waiting in the car as he called for help. And as the people in white wheeled my mom away, all I could do was watch.
After parking the car, I walked slowly, dragging my feet and clutching at Clifford’s oversized paws. The hospital lights were so bright, even on the outside, that they hurt my eyes. They looked so pretty against the darkness of the sky. The sight paralyzed me, because how could something so shiny and pretty and awe-inspiring be a bad thing?
My dad called my name, and so I broke out of its spell.
Much later, after the doctor came out to tell us mom was okay, she had survived the heart attack and it was okay to go see her now, and me and my sisters rushed after him, and walked into my mom’s room, the pretty lights lost their beauty and their appeal. I finally understood, as I saw my mom looking so frail and small in her hospital bed, all the wires and machines around her, why people claimed hospitals were a bad place. Why no one else seemed to be as captivated by its lights as I was. Because they knew of the horrors that took place inside, and no amount of superficial beauty could cover them up.