I rushed through the emergency room doors to the information desk. “Anabelle Stone?” I asked.
The nurse looked at her computer screen and hit a few keys. “She’s currently in surgery.” A ball of tension grew in my chest. “There is a waiting room down the hall and to the right. There are signs that lead the way, you can’t miss it.”
I rushed down the hall in a daze. I missed the waiting area and was pulled back by my sister’s voice. “Malcolm!” I turned as my elder sister, Olivia, embraced me. “I am so sorry Malcolm.” I asked her how Ana was. “They took her into surgery over two hours ago.”
I sighed. I was nervous. I hoped and prayed that she and the baby would make it out all right. I looked into the waiting area and saw Ana’s parents, John and Marie, and her younger sister, Alexandra, standing near the window. I was not looking forward to talking to them. My relationship with her parents had always been strained. I slowly walked to them and placed my hand on John’s shoulder. He looked as nervous as I felt. Marie held onto my hand and we all stood there, not saying a word. No one seemed to know what to say.
The four of us had been waiting for what seemed like an eternity when a doctor walked into the waiting area. He walked towards me, asking, “Mr. Stone?” I looked at him anxiously and squeezed Marie’s hand a little tighter. “We tried everything possible, but we just couldn’t save your wife.”
Marie’s hand went limp in my own as she burst into uncontrolled tears. I collapsed in the chair behind me, shocked and numb. Olivia knelt beside me and placed her hand on my leg. As my eyes made contact with hers, tears blurred my vision, and I felt the warm wetness of them streaming down my face.
“Mr. Stone?” the doctor asked. I stared blankly at him. “Before your wife’s heart stopped we managed to deliver your baby.” Through the tears, a smile tugged at the corners of my mouth. “You have a baby girl. She is in NICU. We are not sure if she will survive, as she is very premature. The next few weeks will be very crucial.” I nodded. “If you would like, you can say goodbye to your wife.”
Olivia and I followed the doctor to a small surgical room. He motioned towards the door and told us a nurse would be down the hall if we needed anything, telling us to take as much time as we needed. I asked Olivia to wait outside the door for me, hesitating as I grabbed the handle.
When I pushed the door open, it felt as though it weighed a ton. I took a deep breath and entered the room. She appeared to be asleep, but upon closer inspection I could tell she was not breathing. I took a slow cautious step towards the bed, having difficulty controlling the multitude of emotions that were rising. I was not sure which one would surface first. Once I reached the bed, I looked down at her and felt the hot burning in my eyes as tears fell down and splashed on her exposed arm.
She looked so unnatural. The once vibrant glow that had blessed her skin was gone. The bitterness that had plagued her face and body for the past few years had melted away. She looked peaceful and beautiful, like the woman I had married and not the demon that had resided in my house. I missed the woman she used to be. I slowly sat in the chair next to the bed and sobbed.
I sat next to Ana, never touching, nor saying a word to her. I wanted to think only of the good times, but my memory would not comply. I was having difficulty remember those first couple of years together. The only thing that surfaced was the relief I felt when I realized I would no longer have to live a life of fear. The moment I recognized the feelings of relief, a wave of grief washed over me. I wanted to leave the room and distance myself from her, but I was immobilized by fear. I was relieved when Olivia entered the room to check on me. Her presence seemed to break the spell the past had over me. The chair released me from its grips and I flew out of the seat to meet Olivia near the door.
I whispered, “Thank you for saving me.” She wore puzzled expression. “I feel trapped in this room.” I knew that in the coming days I would have to disclose all the secrets I had held back about my marriage to my siblings. I could feel the carefully structured lies I had been telling everyone begin to crumble around my feet. I would soon have to come clean and tell the truth. I was not looking forward to it, and was hoping I could maintain the façade for a bit longer.
“Come, Malcolm. Let Ana’s family say goodbye.” I took her arm as she led me out of the room.
I hugged John, Marie and Alexandra in the hallway. I could not say a word to them; in fear my voice would betray me. I was afraid that if I uttered even a sound, it would portray the relief I felt. That was the only feeling that would surface and I was ashamed of myself. I knew I should be feeling guilty for not being there, but the only guilt I felt was from my feelings of relief.
“Malcolm.” I looked up at John. “Go be with your child. You can’t do anymore for Ana.” I nodded as I turned away.
Olivia and I walked to the NICU nurses’ station and asked about my daughter. A nurse showed us to a consultation room and told us my baby’s doctor would be with us soon. Olivia sat beside me stroking my arm as I spun my wedding band in circles. I was worried. I wasn’t sure what the doctor was going to tell us. I had been on the edge of a panic attack all day and I wasn’t sure how much more I could take.
A woman in a white lab coat finally entered the room. Olivia clasped my hand. “Mr. Stone?” She extended her hand and I reached out and grasped it. “Ms…”
“This is my sister, Olivia Stone.” They shook hands.
“I am Dr. Renee Cartwright. I’m one of the many caring hands your daughter’s life has been placed in. She was born very premature. At twenty-seven weeks, there is a lot of development that just didn’t have time to occur. She was born with severe tachycardia, which is an extremely fast beating of the heart. We are working to get her heart rate down within normal parameters. Since she was born so young, we are also giving her medications to help her lungs develop properly.” I nodded as I took a deep breath. “Caring for preemies has come a long way over the years, but the next few days will be touch and go. She’s been placed in an incubator, and for now you won’t be able touch or hold her.” I hung my head. “Until we can get her heart rate under control, every touch puts her at risk for cardiac arrest, though we do encourage you to spend as much time with her as possible. A familiar voice may help.”
“Doctor, I understand the underdevelopment of her lungs is probably an effect of her being born at twenty-seven weeks, but the heart issue, is that normal?”
Dr. Cartwright took a deep breath as she rubbed her lips. “It can be, but your baby is not responding to the normal treatments. We are running tests to see what the issue could be.”
I leaned over to Olivia and asked her if she could call David and give him an update. She gave me puzzled look, but didn’t ask any questions as she left the room. I rubbed my forehead. “Could her heart issues have anything to do with my wife’s medical history?”
“It is possible. We are still waiting on her doctor to release her full medical records to the hospital. Could you fill me in on some of her history, medications, and illnesses?”
“Before she got pregnant, Ana took Lithium for years to control the symptoms of bipolar disorder.”
“Do you know what dosage?” I shook my head no. “Do you know if she continued taking it after she was pregnant?”
“Based on her mood swings, I would say no, but I can’t be certain that she didn’t take it sporadically. We knew the baby had an irregular heartbeat at the last ultrasound, the obstetrician said that it was something to watch, but being this early it could repair itself.”
“Did your wife have a heart condition?”
“She had an AV node ablation done in her early twenties.”
“Do you know if the cause was illness or congenital?” I shook my head no again. “At least this gives us starting point. We are going to try our hardest to get your daughter healthy. You can go sit in her room for as long as you’d like.” She started to leave.
“Thank you, but there is one more thing.” She turned back around. I stared at the ceiling. I didn’t want to share this information, but they would find it in the tests eventually and if it could help save my daughter’s life, I felt I had to tell the doctors. “A few weeks ago, I caught my wife using cocaine.”
She sat back down. “Do you know how long or often she was using while pregnant?” I hung my head in shame as a tear rolled down my check and I told her I didn’t. She patted my back. “For the next two days we will watch your child’s heart rate and medicate. In a couple of days, we might have a better idea of how to proceed. The heart may stabilize on its own or we may have to intervene. I will keep you up to date on her condition. She is in room three, and you are welcome here twenty-four hours a day.”
I was in a daze as walked to room three, hoping that this day was just a dream. There was a nurse in the room checking all the monitors on the baby. Seeing her in the closed incubator brought reality into full focus. Ana was gone, and our poor child was hanging onto a thread of life. The nurse introduced herself, though I didn’t remember her name within minutes. She explained what she was doing and that she would be in the room every ten minutes or less if one of the alarms went off. I was also told my daughter was suffering from mild apnea, where she would stop breathing and if it didn’t correct itself soon they would either have to close the duct from her heart that bypassed the lungs in utero, or they would have to give her a forced air respirator. She went on to explain the disorder was very common in premature babies.
I sat beside my daughter and watched her little chest move up and down with her assisted breathing. She weighed less than two pounds and could have easily fit in my hands if I were able to hold her. I just watched her, noticing how the color of her skin looked abnormal, wishing she would have been able to be carried full-term. I was encouraged to talk to my daughter, but I didn’t know what to say to her. It just seemed unnatural her lying in that bed with no contact. Instead of talking, I watched her monitors. Her heart rate kept jumping up for what seemed to be no reason. The nurse came in a few times to check the monitor, adjust the IV drips, and move a wire. Even the smallest touch made her breathing and heart rate become erratic.
I was starting to wonder where Olivia had gone just as she and David appeared in the doorway. David sat down beside me and put his hand on my back. “How are you holding up?” I shrugged. He hugged my shoulder into his chest. “We are here for you… for both of you.”
My eyes were damp. “Thanks.”
I could tell he was at a loss of what to say. He looked over at the crib. “She’s so tiny.”
I felt the tears roll down my face. I was worried she wouldn’t make it. She had to become a healthy little girl, just to make what I lived through worth it. Olivia put her arm around me and I put my head onto her shoulder and sobbed. I could tell from her body language she was surprised by my sudden breakdown, but she wrapped her arms around me and held me close to her. David placed his hand on my back. I had not been overly affectionate towards my siblings since our parents passed away, but I needed some support.
Once I had started to regain my composure, Olivia asked, “Did you and Ana name her already?”
I sat upright while wiping my eyes. “We hadn’t decided on any names yet, we thought we had a while.” Olivia’s expression looked as if she were sorry she had asked the question. “She had liked Veronica or Elaine. But I didn’t care too much for those.” I sat staring at my daughter for a moment. “I think she should be named after her mother.”
David gave me an approving look. “Anabelle?”
I shook my head. I didn’t want that much memory of her mother. “I was thinking Ana’s middle name, Clarice.” I stood up so I could look down on my daughter. “Clarice Elaine. What do you think, little one?”
“I think that sounds like a beautiful name. Ana would have approved.” I looked up to find the source of the new voice.
Alexandra, Anabelle’s younger sister, was standing in the doorway. We had always gotten along well. She walked over to me and pulled me into an embrace. David and Olivia excused themselves as Ana’s parents appeared at the doorway, and I updated them on Clarice’s condition.
John and Marie left for the night at the behest of Alexandra. After they were gone, Alex started asking me questions that I unfortunately couldn’t answer. Eventually, she relented as she discovered I didn’t know much more about what had happened to Ana than she did. We sat staring at Clarice telling each other stories about Ana until she looked at her watch. “We should probably get you something to eat, unless you want to end up as a patient in this hospital too.”