That feeling of holding on to moments that resonate through nostalgic music, a smell, a picture or a place. I lived through a few of those moments tonight as we drove to and from the hospital in Oxford.
My mum was back in again; this time for a vein transplant and fistula. She was so tired, so blurry and distant. It triggered off memories of when I was younger and she had to go in for some operation – can’t remember what.
The corridors smelt of antiseptic and old age, not the kind of old age you smell in nursing homes, but the old age of regrets and failures, the smell of resignation. It lingered through each passageway that turned and twisted, left, left then two rights. We passed through a wing that reminded me of Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare. It was the local hospital for patients who couldn’t afford private care. I used to walk along those corridors and smell cancer. The children I went to entertain would lie in their beds, faces turned grey with sickness and their unsmiling parents grey with worry looking back. The smell is so familiar, even though it’s been over 17 years since I’ve set foot into a cancer ward. The smell and the old, badly decorated walls took me back and I could feel the heaviness of my heart as the memories flooded in.
The section my mum was in crossed through a newer wing and all the shiny windows, freshly painted walls and disengaging pictures hung in the hope of brightening the place contrasted dramatically with the broken windows and scoured floors we have traversed through just moments before. The hospital didn’t give the feeling of restorative care, rather a mash up of old and new mixed in a blend of silent nurses and invisible doctors. Given the time we were visiting, I know the night staff were definitely not in a smiley sort of mood, but we did feel like ghosts walking amongst them. Not one noticed us or greeted, until I touched a younger woman who jumped at the press of my cold fingers (a gift I have through all seasons!) and gave us the information we needed to locate my mum.
Thankfully we found her in good health and not too much pain. The same nurse gave us more details on the success of the operation and was kind enough to answer my questions about how the fistula works. I’m always curious about new things. The hour’s drive to the hospital was worth the fifteen minutes we got to see her and reassure her that she wasn’t alone in this cold ward, I mean world! We left her smiling and with the hope that she will return home tomorrow. I thanked the nurse again and we followed the empty, quiet corridors back through the old and new hospital wings. Two lefts and right, right.
The cars were frosted over and some men were trying to scrape their car, making more noise with their mouths in the crisp, silent evening air than removing the frosty layer from their windscreen. We left them to it and travelled the hour home. The music playing threw us back to our youth and my warm, flavoured memories of a younger, healthier mother played across my mind.
It sucks to get old sometimes!