My friend, Tom, was waiting for my mother at the bus station. I was waiting for her at the edge of my bed. I was officially at the GOD DAMN IT ZIPPER stage. By Tom and my calculations she was suppose to have been in at 2 pm. It was 3. I had sent one or two emails and text messages to her that I was sure if she’d gotten. The messages read something to the effect of ‘Where are you?’
At 3:15 she called me. I stared at the phone dumbly for a moment before picking up.
“Liselle, I’m here.” She said. “I’m getting in a taxi and I’ll be there soon!”
“Ok Momma,” I said, “Do you see a tall, blonde kid standing at the bus station? He’s a friend and he said he would help you get to the hospital.”
“I don’t think I’m at a bus station… the woman behind me just said this was Jinju. It looks like a street corner… I’ve gotta get off the bus! I love you.”
“See you soon! I love you too.” I replied. God, I couldn’t wait for her to get her. I called up Tom and apologized profusely. I wasn’t sure where she had gotten off but it definitely wasn’t the bus station. And my mother is tall, he’d be able to spot her above all the Koreans easily if she had. He said not to worry about it (which I was) and that if I was up for it he could stop by the next day (which I would be).
I didn’t do anything while I waited. Just sat there at the end of my bed. Sometimes I’d close my eyes. Then I’d open them again afraid she’d walked by and I missed it. The phone rang again.
“Hi honey, I’m here at the front desk. What room are you in?”
“5103,” I said. I didn’t know where the front desk was. I’d never seen it. Was it close, far? How big were hospitals anyway? It seemed like the emergency room was a long way from The Ward, but I couldn’t be sure.
“I’ll be there in a minute.”
“Ok,” I replied and the phone went silent.
Now I kept my eyes wide open even though I was tired. The minutes ticked by. A nurse went by. A child. Three patients. A fat man. A tall woman with a lot of bags-
“MOMMA!” I called. She stopped and looked in. I was already up and hobbling towards the door. Then we were hugging and I was crying into her shoulder and praying that I wasn’t infectious. She kept saying to me that it’d be ok.
“I’m so glad you’re here.” I whispered.
We stood in the middle of The Ward like that for several minutes before we moved back over to my bed. I sat exhausted on the bed side when a live in came over to me.
“Oma?” She asked.
“Yes,” I said, “My Oma.”
By Tuesday I was itching for my mother to arrive. I didn’t have any visitors coming that day except her. To help with the boredom I called my mother’s younger sister, Neva. She told me a story about waiting. What she said was when you are waiting for something you want it’s like you have to go to the bathroom, but you’re stuck in the car. This is what the situation is like:
Driving home, life is good… ugh, I’ve got to use the bathroom.
Bump. I’ve got to pee. Bump. Need the bathroom. Bump. Ugh.
But then you hit traffic and it takes longer than expected to get home. Now you really have to go the bathroom. Like soon. I gotta go. I gotta go. I gotta go. I gotta go.
Finally you get on your way and as your walking in the house you realize your have to go to the bathroom now. I’VE REALLY GOTTA PEE!!!
Then your in the bathroom and you are trying to get your zipper down… GOD DAMN IT ZIPPER I’M GOING TO PEE MY PANTS!!!!
Then you get on the toilet and all is good and right in the world again.
That’s how it was waiting for my mom to arrive. Last night I was at the point where I was driving home. This morning I was on the bumpy road.
Now I was stuck in traffic. She was in Korea and on her way to Jinju, but I still had to wait.
Sorry it’s taken me so long to get this up. I’ve been bed resting and job searching at the same time. There will be a second post later today!
I had a visitor Monday morning. Sarah from the States. She had seen my message on facebook and decided to come by. We had gone out a few times. She was a vegetarian and we had shared some vegetarian friendly food. She brought Sprite and gatorade with her. I was just thrilled to have a distraction. Time with visitors seemed to make the time fly by faster. And I didn’t feel as sick. We talked until my lunch came. Sarah left as I was pulling out the spoon my neighbor had given me for breakfast.
Lunch was similar to breakfast. Rice, soup, kimchi, vegetables and some kind of meat. Again I picked at the rice and soup. I was still nauseous all the time and worried that any food in my stomach would just come up again. I was right to be worried. That afternoon I puked it all up. Again one of the live-ins noticed my green face. A black plastic bag was thrust under my face as I started retching over the bed side. As I was puking into the bag she slapped me on the back.
A weird de ja vu came over me. Same as the night before a nurse came by and bustled me out of bed and down the hall. She stood with me as I barfed into the bowl. She slapped my back again. My stomach hurt. My throat hurt. My back hurt. And I was really friggin tired of everything.
As we were walking back to the room the nurse told me no more food. She made the crossed arm ‘no’ sign to emphasis the point. I just nodded. I didn’t want to eat anything else anyway.
When I got back I called Titi Yara. She asked how I was doing. I gave her the same response, not good. I told her I was really nauseous. I asked her about blood in the IV tube. Did she know why the tube occasionally clogged with blood? Because mine had been periodically clogging up. Since the disaster on Sunday night I was a little bit nervous.
She consulted my uncle who had the misfortune of being in the hospital a lot recently and told me to keep my arm as straight as possible to keep it from backing up. I said I would.
While we were talking the nurse hung a new bag on my IV pole. Anti nausea she said. I told Titi Yara they were giving me new meds for the vomiting. She said that was good.
I realized the medicine was kicking in when I said, “Titi Yara I really love the United States of America,” and then proceeded to list why I loved it so much. I was half asleep when we hung up and proceeded to drift straight into dreamland with no problems.
When I woke up that afternoon I tried to distract myself by watching a movie on my iphone. After the first forty minutes I was too tired to keep my eyes open. I listened to the video until I fell asleep.
I woke up later to see a red picture hanging from my IV pole. It had a big white cross through a pair of chopsticks and spoon. No food for me. When I looked at the tray there was also a set of ear plugs on it. Confused I picked them up. How did those get there? I had spoken to another forgien teacher on facebook (who I’d never met before) who was going to bring me earplugs. But she was going to stop by in the evening… I blinked and looked for the time. 7:30 pm. I’d missed her. I felt so bad. I’d been really looking foreword to the visit.
My second night was beginning in the hospital. I just hoped it wouldn’t be as rough as the first.
Nurses came in the next morning at 5 am. Cracking my eyes open I stared at them in disbelief. I had only just gotten to sleep a few hours earlier. They went from bed to bed checking temperature, blood pressure and pulse rate. I just laid there and just let the nurse move my body about. I could barely keep my eyes focused on her I was so tired still. She slipped away and I felt myself falling asleep again.
Loud voices woke me two hours later. People were bustling about the room with trays of food. The visitors and aids were cranking up their people’s beds so they could sit. I just stared at everyone not quite sure what to do. After a moment I slid out of bed. It took me a moment to getting steady on my feet, but then I slowly made my way over to the crank at the bottom of the bed. I slowly turned the handle until the bed was in an upright position. When I stood again I had to wipe my brow and take a deep breath. I could do this.
A nurse was bustling over to me with a tray of food. She motioned to me to get in bed so I did. From the bottom of the bed she pulled up a tray table and set the tray down on it. Bowls of different sizes covered the surface. I pulled off the lid to one and saw kimchi; another had some beef like meat in it; the smallest one had thin, stringy greens in it; another had bok choy under it. The two largest bowls had rice and bean sprout soup in them. I kept the lids closed on all of the bowls except the rice and soup. I had been puking my guts up for days. There was no way I’d be able to keep down spicy kimchi and beef.
I decided to start with the rice, but as I stared at the tray I realized there were no utensils on it. I closed the lid to my rice. I wasn’t sure what to do and I didn’t want it to get cold. I looked around the room for a minute, watching what everyone else was doing. The woman next to me was splitting a pair of wooden chopsticks and digging into her rice. The lady diagonal from me was being fed with a spoon by her helpers. They were all eating! Where did they get utensils from?
I just looked down at my rice. I guess I could use my fingers?
The woman next to me noticed my dilemma. She handed something to her visitor and he bustled over to my bedside. In his hand was a wrapped pair of wooden chopsticks and a spoon. My heart kind of stilled for a moment before smiling. You had to bring your own utensils with you and this woman gave hers to me. It made me all kinds of warm on the inside.
I picked at the rice and soup with my spoon. Even though I had gotten the chopsticks also I wasn’t up to manipulating them with an IV hanging out of my hand.
I woke barely an hour later boiling. My pajamas were soaked. I stared up at the ceiling. There was an air conditioner up there but I was positive it wasn’t on. Or if it was it was so high that it wasn’t making a difference. The heat forced me up from my bed and out of The Ward to find a cooler room to sit in. At the end of the hall was a yellow room with a television. Hard plastic chairs like you’d find in a bus station lined the sides of the room. One wooden coffee table seated beside the chairs. A man in hospital pajamas laid on three of the chairs watching the TV. The air conditioner was blowing. It must have been ten degrees cooler in the room.
I sat down and pulled up Skype. I’d been calling my parents at all hours of the day and night, but my two aunts had told me I could call them whenever also. I decided now was the time I’d be taking them up on that offer. I called my Titi Yara, my mother’s older sister. (Tia is Spanish for aunt. Titi is the familiar of the word.) It was 2 am my time which meant it was 1 pm her time.
She picked up right away. We chatted for a while about all sorts of things for a while.
“You know,” I said, “I secretly use to laugh and psha people at Thanksgiving when they said were thankful for their health. I use to think it was such a cop out answer. Now it’s all I keep thinking about!”
She laugh but agreed, “You don’t realize how important it is until you don’t have it.”
I agreed and we moved on to other topics. Finally I began to get drowsy and told her that I was going to head back and attempt to sleep. She said that was a good idea, rest was really important and we said our good byes.
As I was passing the nurses station on the way back the nurse who’d helped me with the bathroom waved a thermometer at me and I nodded. Instead of putting it under my tongue like I expected she slipped her hand under my shirt and stuck it under my armpit. She pushed my arm down to hold it in place and waited. A minute later it started beeping frantically and I looked down at it as she was pulling it away, 38.9 Celsius so that was like 101 or 102 Fahrenheit. I wasn’t surprised, but I couldn’t wait for the time when I didn’t run a fever every day.
The nurse ushered me back to bed. As we got closer to the room I could feel the heat radiating out from the doorway. I didn’t want to go in. The nurse touched my back and gently herded me back inside. I trudged over to my bed and sat down.
“Do you have a towel?” She asked in very good English. If she could speak English so well why hadn’t she been able to figure out the word bathroom earlier? I just don’t understand Koreans sometimes.
I shook my head no. She left so I laid down again. The bed was hard. The pillow was made of leather and was equally hard. I bunched up my heavy blue blanket and used it as a pillow. I’d hoped the nurse would give me something for the fever. Sighing I closed my eyes. A moment later I heard footsteps and a cold wet thing was pressed to my forehead. Opening my eyes the nurse was standing over me pressing it to my forehead.
“Thanks,” I said before falling into a fitful half-sleep.
I was half awake the whole night turning the towel and trying to get cooler. Some time later the nurse came back over to me. The towel was hanging from the metal bar.
“It got hot,” I said. When I noticed her looking at it. The nurse stuck the thermometer under my arm and picked up the towel. I closed my eyes. Beeping started. The nurse came back over and laid the cool towel across my forehead. I didn’t see the thermometer result that time. She left and I closed my eyes again. Plastic rustled above me. I looked up to see the nurse hanging a fourth bag from my IV pole.
“Fever reducer,” she said. I nodded. My last thought before falling into sleep was that this night couldn’t end fast enough.
After my bathroom trip I called my mom on Skype. I needed to hear a familiar voice. I was tired and scared. I wasn’t sure how Skype was working on my phone. I didn’t have wireless or anything, but the calls kept going through so I didn’t think too much about it. The low ring only sounded once before my mother was picking up. I squeezed out a, “Hi Momma.”
She asked me how I was doing and I struggle not to cry. I didn’t want to worry her anymore that I already was. I took a deep breath before I began talking. I told her I was having a hard time keeping it all together, but that I had people helping me. I told her about Amanda’s awesomeness for staying with me for so long and that she was going to bring me some stuff from home. I’d given her my apartment key and she was stopping by again the next day. I told her that Luke had come to visit me. He had brought me toiletries.
I told her stories about The Ward. I explained to her that there were people that lived in the hospital even though they weren’t patients. That these live-in aid/visitors had been helping me out too. I told her that they slept next to the visitors on little cot things.
I didn’t tell her I wanted her to come.
She tried distracting me with stories of home, but halfway through I felt sick again. I told her I had to go and hung up. Then I was retching over the bed side. One of the other patient’s visitors noticed my green face and ran me a plastic bag as I started retching over my bed side. As I was puking into the bag she slapped me on the back. I think she was trying to be soothing. A nurse ran in soon after. She tried to get me to move down the hallway and into the bathroom. It took me a while but I made it.
I left my IV pole outside the stall again and hurled back up all the rice and soup I’d eaten earlier in the day. Tears were dripping into the bowl and mixing with the vomit. The nurse slapped my back over and over. Now I realized that it was meant to be soothing. I just wanted my mother to rub my back or hold my hair. I didn’t need to be slapped when I was already feeling so bad.
When I was finally able to stand without vomiting. The nurse guided me over to the bathroom sink. The blood vessels under my eyes had burst. I wiped my eyes and tried not to look at the red flecks.
The nurse helped me back into bed and I closed my eyes. I was so tired. I pulled out my phone and called my mom back.
“Hey Momma,” I rasped out. I don’t remember what we talked about at first because half way through the conversation that obliterated everything else.
“I’m coming to Korea,” she said. She sounded resolved. It was the same resolve she had when her parents were sick, when Mrs. Lee was sick and when Master Lee got sick. It was a resolve that did not tire or fail. It was a resolve that did not accept doubt or impossibilities. Come hell or high water my mother was coming to Korea. The weight of having to manage this illness alone was lifted from my chest. I wouldn’t be alone anymore.
“You father got me onto a flight tonight leaving at midnight.” She continued on, “But I can’t talk for long your father and I have a lot of planning still to do.”
“Okay,” I agreed, “okay,” and just as I was about to hang up I whispered to her, “I’m so glad your coming Momma.”
I could be brave for a little longer.