On the Friday night we drove twenty five miles to the hospital to visit her. It was Day 9, post surgery, and she seemed brighter when I’d talked to her on the phone. She said she felt stronger-even complained she was bored, so her vital signs were good.
Stopped at a red light in Woodquay, I wondered, out loud, if I’d be better off parking at the Cathedral and walking up University Road, instead of doing laps of the hospital car park, while I watched the clock run down the minutes to the end of visiting hours?
The teen in the passenger seat shrugged and went back to scrolling on her phone. I crossed the Salmon Weir Bridge and made straight for the hospital.
Stopped at the junction across the road from the entrance, I could see the car park was deserted, with more empty spaces than full, and no pedestrians either. At this time of the evening there’d usually be a steady procession of them across the tarmac – one that’s only halted by the slow speed of the rotating door we shuffle through.
When I parked and cut the engine the teen looked up, looked around and took stock of where she was.
“And you thought there’d be no parking?” She was laughing.
“This is not normal,” I said.
“Maybe it’s because of the storm warning?” She offered.
“Maybe.” I was unconvinced. “Let’s go.”
As we approached the building, we could see signs on either side of the rotating door that read, “restricted visiting.” The teen looked at me. I shrugged. “Let’s just see if someone stops us.”
No-one even looked at us until we were on the ward – where I had to stop and look around me. This was her third ward in as many days, and I suddenly wasn’t sure where I was going, and needed to get my bearings. A nurse stopped beside me, asked if I was okay? And I nodded, and pointed at a door at the end of the corridor, sure of where I was again, and keen to move forward for fear of questions about my daughters presence.
“Oh, good,” was all she said.
My daughter perched on the end of the bed, and I took the chair, and the visit itself was filled with laughter and gratitude and relief. What we actually talked about, I cannot remember, but I know it was the perfect antidote to the strains of the previous day.
Leaving, we stepped out of the lift on the ground floor, and into an empty corridor.
A lone security guard held the rest of the visiting public behind doors to adjoining corridors, and people pressed their noses to the glass to try and get a better look at what was going on. Two days later, we were advised not to touch our faces with our own hands.
The guard glanced my way. I waited for instruction, but got none – him being too preoccupied with something else to register the intrusion. From the far end of the corridor a voice barked a command, and the security guard jumped to open the doors to the patient lift.
“This way,” I pulled the teen along by her hand, suddenly nervous about what we might accidentally witness. We moved forward, pushing those doors back into the faces of sightseeers, and made a break for air.
On Saturday, the storm was so awful, we only spoke on the phone. She was fine. The rain made a lot of noise and she found it hard to sleep, but fine. “I don’t think they’re going to let visitors in tomorrow,”she said, “so don’t come in.”
“I’ll be in town anyway,” I said.
On Sunday morning, I checked the internet. Still, no confirmed cases of Coronavirus, but a hospital on lockdown was all I needed to know. No visitors, the ward manager told me, but yes, I could drop books or whatever she needed to the hospital reception, and a staff member would collect it from there.
Magazines were what she wanted, she hadn’t the head for reading novels, but she could flick and look at the pictures and catch up on her celebrity gossip, if I didn’t mind dropping some in?
I would have done anything to feel useful.
That bloody rotating door was locked into place this time, and a man in pyjamas smoking a cigarette explained that I’d have to speak to the security guard on the side door. “No visitors allowed,” he said. “that’s wrong” he said, tapping his foot off the sign we’d seen the other night.
The security guard was leaning out the door, holding it open and answering the questions of a half a dozen irate people who didn’t know about this, and came from Mayo and Donegal and Connemara, and could an exception be made? Just for five minutes? He looked over their heads and made eye contact with me.
“The ward manager said I could leave these,” I said, holding out a plastic bag full of Take A Break, Woman’s Own, Woman’s Way, RSVP – with her name and ward written on the outside in blue permanent marker.
“Hold on,” he said, “stand over there.” He pointed to his right, and I did as I was told, while he spoke into a mobile phone the woman behind me had put to his ear. He nodded at her, then used the radio hanging from his belt and said “One for St. Teresa’s on the way to you, Joe.”
“Now, Love,” he smiled at me, “they’ll get lost if you leave them here.”
“But..” I stuttered over whether to cry or shout about the unjust nature of what he was saying. The ward manager had said. And I didn’t want to to do either.
“I’ll let you up to the door of the ward, but don’t go past there. Not on the ward. You know where the lifts are, right?” He’d made me wait, but now we were in a hurry, I could sense it. Relieved, I started to pace-walk past the coffee shop. He called after me, “Miss? Your first name, please?”
I turned to answer him, but kept walking, backwards. “Aisling.”
He spoke to Joe again, “Aisling is on the way down to you there, Joe, just dropping to St. Gerard’s.”
I turned the corner to find Joe waiting for me. “Aisling?” he asked.
He held his hand up to stop me reaching, then leaned across and called the lift for me. As the doors slid shut, I could hear him on his radio, “Who’s on three? There’s an Aisling on the way up to drop at Ger’s.”
Inside the lift, a tired looking doctor – in a blue shirt I could tell had just come out of the packet – leaned against the wall, and he and I made some small talk about yesterday’s terrible weather, which was sort of funny in the circumstances.
When the door opened again, another guard nodded his assent, and followed me to the ward, where I interrupted a young man swiping his security card. The young man didn’t look up when I first spoke, but I kept talking anyway. “Please. Could you give these in to room 360. The name is on them, the ward manager said it was okay to drop them here.”
“Ok.” He took them from me, still without looking up, and slipped through a small gap between the wards double doors. Snubbed, and unimportant in the face of all that was going on here, I walked back to the lift, where the security guard pressed the call button, then pressed G for ground, and walked away.
I left in a daze. Drifted past Joe, and the man with the kind face on the door – put my ticket in the parking machine, and wrinkled my nose while I tried to understand why the digital display said “NO CHARGE.”
The teen in the passenger seat told me it was because the first twenty minutes are always free.
Aisling Keogh is a writer and psychotherapist, who lives in County Galway. Her short stories have been published with The Irish Independent, Crannog Magazine, Wordlegs, Ropes, Bangor Literary Journal, A New Ulster, and “Story Cities” an anthology published by Arachne Press, in June of 2019. Her first published short story, “How to Save a Life,” was shortlisted for the Hennessy Irish Literary Awards 2011. In 2018, Aisling finished writing her first novel, which she is currently submitting to agents, and in January 2019, she was shortlisted for the Doolin Writer’s Weekend Short Story Competition. In her free time Aisling likes to write and sing.