The water poured from the faucet onto his face. Eyes closed, he let it melt away the tension he carried in his body. It’d been a long, hard day, which had transferred into a long, hard night. He’d only gotten home at about one in the morning. His wife lay asleep already, and in an effort to not wake her, he moved his pajamas to the bathroom so he could change in there after his shower. The scenes that had taken place today flashed across the closer lids of his eyes, as movies scene flash across the projection screen at the old drive in. A small baby, a boy, no older than a month. The operation he’d performed to get rid of the child’s hernia. The mother, desperate with grief, and longing for any word of the child’s wellbeing. Had the child died on his operating table, it would not have been the first death. It would also not have been the first child this mother had lost. The doctor was unsure as to which circumstance made it more tragic. The child lived however. As did the mother’s last words to him as he’d taken the baby into the O.R. “Don’t kill my baby, please, don’t kill my baby…”
He climbed into bed, careful not to wake his wife sleeping beside him. “Tough night, darling?” She was awake. “Yes, dear. Go back to sleep. I love you.” He’d always felt bad for the life his profession had caused him to lead. His children’s birthday parties were events he rarely made an appearance at, a habit that eventually resulted in his fie year old son saying, “if you didn’t want to come Dad, you should’ve just said.” A moment that both marred and moulded his intent to never be one of those absent fathers. So he worked extra hard and extra long during the week to ensure he could devote his weekends to his children. His wife and he had gotten married young, whilst they were both still studying, and as a result she’d had to suffer with him through the long days, and nights. When the children were born, afraid not to cost him the little sleep he afforded himself, she’d spend night after night with them, ready at their beck and call so that they would not wake him.
He looked over to his bedside table clock in the stillness of the early morning. It was now just past two in the morning. He shut his eyes. What a day.
The woman walked into his rooms, clutching her baby to her chest. She had the look about her of a pigeon, constantly moving her head in different directions as if hoping to pre-empt where any trouble may be lurking and thus prevent it. She was early forties, but only showed her age around her eyes. Around her eyes lay the lines, etched by the wear and tear of time. Around her eyes, lay the map of the sorrows this woman had gone through. It was as if each time her heart had been broken, the lines on her face mimicked the cracks in her heart. “My child is ill, doctor,” was all she’d said. He’d pried the child away from her and examined him. “A hernia,” he’d concluded. She looked at him as if he’d declared the child dead on the table. “It’s operable. We’ll keep the child overnight for observation, and operate early tomorrow morning. You’ll be able to take him home the day after, with some medicines that you can collect at the Pharmacy.” Still looking somewhat bewildered, the woman scooped up her baby and looked at him, as if ensuring he was still the child she’d put down ten minutes before. Thanking him, she left his rooms headed for the wards. For some reason, he could not shake the image of her face etched in its heartbroken lines from him mind for the remainder of the day.
“Your child’s post-op check up is fine. He’s running a bit of a temperature, but that’s normal for a child his age and size, after any operation. I’ll ask the nurses to make sure they give you the medicines you’ll require. Follow any and all instructions very carefully. I hope all goes well for you, Mrs. Van Zyl.”
“Miss. Van Zyl, doctor. My husband widowed me about three months back.” This poor woman, he thought to himself. This child must have felt like the last remaining piece on earth, of a husband whom she’d lost three months ago. No wonder she was so protective over him. “I’m sorry for your loss, Miss Van Zyl. Excuse me.” As he walked away, a sense of relief washed over him. To have been instrumental in this child’s recovery was one thing. To have been able to provide this woman with some form of salvation in the midst of all the mourning, was something else entirely.
The short, sharp screeches of the telephone burst into the early hours of the morning. Waking with a start, he felt as if he’d only just fallen asleep a second ago. He checked the clock beside his bed. Five in the morning. And so it begins, he thought. Grimacing at the effort it took to hoist his exhausted body up and out of bed, he finally reached out and answered the phone. “Hello…” he muffled through the crisp Winter morning and into the receiver. “Doctor, doctor! My baby! My baby is dead! Docter, you killed my child.”
Before dressing quickly, he’d called for the hospital’s paramedics to meet him at the woman’s house. Unable to explain to his wife, he’d told her he’d be home as soon as he could. Now driving in the car, he seemed to be stuck at every red robot along the way. He glanced up into the rearview mirror. He looked like death warmed up, pale and strikingly tired. He looked back down to the road ahead. He couldn’t get there quickly enough.
It had taken a sedative to calm the woman down, but still she would not release the body of the dead child. Rocking slowly back and forth on her knees, with the child held tightly to her chest, she was muttering to herself, under her breath, words that no one else could hear. When he’d arrived, she’d barely noticed his entrance into the room. “Miss Van Zyl? Miss Van Zyl, I’m going to need to ask you to hand me your child.” She didn’t even respond to his request. Uneager to inspire another hysterical outburst in the woman, he went over to talk to the paramedics. They’d not been able to do anything, other than administer the sedative. They’d gone into the child’s room and found all the medicines that the hospital had given her when she’d taken the child home. An empty syringe lay beside them, probably the syringe that’d been used to administer one of the medicines. “Do you have any idea how the child died?” “Well doctor, we’re unable to say for sure, but we’re sensing a bit of foul play. I think, sir, that this woman gave her child 10cc’s, instead on half a cc when she put the child to sleep last night.” I looked over to the woman, crying and muttering silently to herself, clutching her dead baby to her chest, as if willing it to become part of her and share her own heart beat, her own breath, her own blood.
What a day…