The images of what lead up to me being there are fuzzy now.
I remember the feel of my mother’s shoulder pressed into my cheek as she carried me into the doctor’s office. It was a family practice and he was my doctor as well as my brother’s, my mother and father’s, my grandmother’s and grandfather’s. We knew the nurse by her first name and she gave me prizes on our visits there.
But this time was different.
I had a high fever and had become very sleepy and hard to keep awake. Malaise—the word that medical references on the internet say to be aware of, but there was no internet back then. There was only a glass thermometer and my mother’s gut feeling that this was no ordinary fever.
I remember the crunch of the paper as my legs touched the examining table. The doctor called my name and I really wanted to respond but I was so tired. It was like someone was pulling me into a deep sleep, and if I could just close my eyes for only a little bit then I would feel better soon. Except my doctor was asking me to open my eyes—but it was so hard.
The next memory I have is waking up in a hospital bed that was covered with a plastic dome. The nurses told me it was a bubble and I remember thinking it was kind of cool and felt like a spaceship. I saw you, about my age, in the bed next to me and you had one too. We didn’t talk to each other but I wondered if you thought it was like a spaceship too.
When we felt a little better I blew my hot breath on the plastic that covered my bed and drew pictures in the steam. This made you laugh and I laughed too. We both had many visitors and your grandpa made me a puzzle carved from wood. It was a landscape with mountains and when all of the pieces were taken off my name was left glued on the board. As I replaced the pieces, it camouflaged into the picture and this delighted me to see it appear and disappear.
My grandma tried to coax me into eating applesauce but I wasn’t hungry. She held up one of my dolls and pretended to feed her and you laughed and so I laughed too.
I remember our families were worried about us and I wondered if we would stay friends.
To this day I don’t remember which one of us recovered first—you or me—but I eventually left and went back home to being a regular girl in a regular bed without a spaceship bubble over top of it. But some days those images pop up in my mind and I wonder if you remember them too.
I wonder how soon you went back to school and if your skin peeled like mine did. I wonder about your grandpa and if he made other puzzles like the one he made me. I wonder if you ever had kids and if you did if they ever got high fevers. I wonder if when you see the word malaise, you think of being in a hospital with a girl that drew pictures in the steamed up bubbles and had a grandma feeding her plastic doll applesauce.
Most of all, I wish I could say thank you for being my quiet friend, dear boy in the hospital bed next to mine.
The girl in the hospital bed next to yours.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo Credit: Flickr/Boston Public Library