When Fifteen Minutes Is a Lifetime
Some parents measure their children’s lives in years, some in months, some even in weeks or days.
We measure his in increments of quarters of an hour. There are ninety six in a day. Six hundred and seventy two in a week.
A good quarter has no tears, not from him, not from me. It has no wails, no sobs, no croaks or groans. Our neighbours are silent, in the good quarters, but I cannot blame them when they are not. No squalling of alarms comes from the wall, no cables come unplugged.
I hold his hand, or stroke his hair, or watch him through glistening eyes.
When he wakes, I feed him, measuring each drop of milk he can take as I measure each second I spend holding him.
I sing him a song, though my throat is hoarse and my voice is like a corvid shriek. The songs I sang him in the womb. The songs I planned to sing him when he came home. The hymns he will never hear echo around a church or stadium reverberate from whitewashed walls.
At night, I rest my arm in his crib, his tiny hand in mine. His fist clenches around mine, and I stroke his russet palm. When I do sleep my arm becomes numb, and I jerk awake fearing he has gone.
Sometimes I do not wake when they come. An iron claw of guilt grips my heart when I realise I have missed a precious fifteen minutes of his life.
Then the light blue curtain is drawn back, and the nurse comes in to make her observations. The flicker of light in time with his pulse, the red glow of the monitor on his finger, the steady drip of fluids overhead, the gentle hiss of the blood pressure cuff.
And another quarter of an hour begins.