I went back to University Hospitals this morning for the first time since Will died. I was there to interview the CEO of the hospital, Donna Katen-Bahensky, for a feature story we’re doing about female leaders in our area. I could have assigned someone else to go, but forced myself to do it instead because I can’t exactly steer clear of the largest employer in the county for the rest of my life, and I needed to get back there before I fixated on it for too long and made it even more difficult.
That said, it was very difficult: same drive over there (though our photographer did the driving), same parking ramp, same part of the hospital... it felt so familiar and yet so foreign all at once. It was the same place, but yet not: Will was no longer there. I had walked by the CEOs office about 100 times during Will’s life, as it was between the pavilion which houses the NICU and the main part of the hospital where the cafeteria and, most importantly, coffee cart are located. Many days, particularly toward the end when we were practically living in Will’s room, I would walk back and forth to pick up a cup of coffee or a newspaper or a candy bar as a bit of sustenance to get through the day before heading back to check on my boy.
At one point this morning, leaving her office to go to another part of the floor where we would take her picture for the story, we walked right past Elevator I. Anyone who had the pleasure of meeting Will knows that was the one we used every day to get up to the sixth floor to see him. Instinctively, I wanted to walk over and push the button, wait forever for an elevator to finally come (though there were six there it never seemed like more than one or two was ever in service) and ride up to the NICU. Instead, I kept walking past, quickening my pace a bit and trying to initiate some conversation that would take my mind away from the physical reality of my location. Still, a big part of me wanted to take that ride, to go up and see that place again. I know Will isn’t there, but it was so much a part of our lives for so long that it feels very strange to have just turned our back on it that terrible early morning more than five weeks ago now, never to return.
I took the opportunity during the interview to tell Ms. Katen-Bahensky about Will and the tremendous care he received there during his life. People don’t often take the time to praise people who do good work, and I didn’t want the chance to pass. I started by telling her that I had a son born there in October. I didn’t pause long, however, because I could see the expected congratulatory smile start to form on her face. I told her that, despite the expert care of the NICU staff, Will didn’t make it. She asked about the circumstances, and then asked if Mary and I were getting the proper follow-up care, and I told her about how some of the nurses have kept in touch with us and that we had plenty of information about other things we can do if and when we’re ready.
And then we left. I shouldn’t be surprised how little had changed. Things that had been under construction then are still under construction now. The same people were working at the parking ramp booths as before. It was only five weeks ago, so recent, in fact, that we fully expected to be still going to the hospital every day to see Will; our big hope was that he finally would have been moved out of the part of the NICU reserved for the most critical cases and into the intermediate area. As I told Ms. Katen-Bahensky, this wasn’t the way I had envisioned my return to the hospital. Mary and I had talked about how much fun it would be to wheel a stroller into the NICU this fall to show off our baby boy, to watch as the nurses and doctors marveled at how much he had grown. No, this was not the way it was supposed to be.