Flashback: What I Saw in the Hospital Elevator

By Suzanne Leigh

I was in my third trimester waiting at my doctor’s office at the hospital where my first child would be born. The appointment was routine and unremarkable. A strong fetal heartbeat was noted, growth was apparently consistent with gestation and this mother-to-be was clearly exuberant, albeit anxious.

But, but, but … what if the baby were to be born right now. Wouldn’t there be problems with lung development? And what about that second-trimester ultrasound. Didn’t the sonographer say something about the baby’s legs being shorter than expected … what could that possibly mean?

“I’m not worried,” said my doctor looking at me so fleetingly that I wondered if I had to be expecting sextuplets to get his full attention. “The ultrasound measurements were all normal. I think you’re going to have a healthy baby soon.”

I walked out of his office flushed with pride: I was going to have a healthy baby! How did I get to be so lucky?

‘War and Peace’

We didn’t know the gender of the baby, but I couldn’t envisage myself with a son. Natasha would be her name, we had decided.  A beautiful, strong name inspired by the passionate, hard-loving Natasha Rostov from “War and Peace.” A name that was feminine, but not flowery. Unusual, but not weird. Easy to spell, impossible to mispronounce.

 Now temporarily cleared of my pregnancy concerns, I was free to ruminate about something else: my inbox that was surely overflowing with terse e-mails demanding my attention at work.  I needed to get to the office ASAP. As I scurried toward the hospital elevator that would take me to the bus-stop, I saw the doors about to snap shut. “Wait for me, please,” I squeaked.

A good Samaritan in the elevator held the doors open. How often did that happen — was it my expansive girth that prompted this act of benevolence?

The man traded my lavish grin with a polite smile and looked away abruptly. And then I noticed. His hand rested protectively on a wheelchair where an adolescent boy sat hunched to the side. “Broken leg?” I was about to quip. But before I could decide whether such a comment was appropriate, I saw the binder on the boy’s lap: “A Teen’s Guide to Coping with Cancer.”

Haunted by teen with cancer

Cancer. I snuck another look at the man who had held open the elevator doors for me (the boy’s dad, probably?). His eyes were tired and sad. During my pregnancy I had become well versed in all the potential catastrophes that lay ahead: I could suffocate my baby while I slept if we decided to co-sleep; I could unknowingly hire an evil babysitter who would ignore her while I was out of the house; I could fail to secure the car seat leaving her vulnerable to a swift and dreadful death; and she could choke on toys and household objects if I neglected to monitor everything within grabbing distance. But cancer … how did a parent prevent that from happening?

Back in the office, my coworkers were waiting for my update. My doctor says I’m going to have a healthy baby soon, I told them jubilantly. But at home later that night I kept thinking back to the cancer-stricken teen in the hospital elevator. One mother-to-be was told she would have a healthy baby, while another parent at the same hospital was learning to handle his son’s cancer diagnosis. And I thought of the boy’s expression as he huddled in his wheelchair: wearied, alone, resigned.

In eight years’ time, at the same hospital, I would witness a similar expression on the face of the daughter whose imminent birth would be joyously celebrated.


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