My watch says 3 AM.
But ER time is timeless time.
The lights always on full bore. The always ignored monitor alarms calling out their ceaseless beep beep beeyoups, making sleep near impossible in this place where it is so desperately needed by all.
The cots have thinned out by now, their former residents lost to beds upstairs or returned to the street beyond.
Thankfully tonight's more than full share of screamers and moaners, the deeply pained and the ecstatically crazed have been among the dispatched.
The one that really got to me: the man in the curtained berth next door, the B bed to my mother's A, groaning loudly, crying, begging for help with his pain, only to be summarily shushed by the nurses.
"Can you please keep it down?" one of them chided, like he was a wheedling child whining for a cookie.
I found myself fervently wishing his impacted gall stones could be magically transported into their bodies, see if a little empathy might suddenly develop.
I sit in my butt-numbing gray plastic chair snugged up to my mother's feet and watch her toss fitfully, sleep clasped but a few moments before being relinquished again to discomfort.
I have passed out twice, once sprawled, once slumped, keeping my less than perfect vigil as we wait for our number to come up.
Some of the staff here are familiar, faces I know from the last years of my father's life when he was a frequent flyer. We nod to each other as I walk my mother to the bathroom, one step oh so carefully placed in front of the next.
Others are new: fresh scrubbed interns, wearier residents; nurses in colorful scrubs with faces cheery or stern, your luck of the draw which you get.
I miss my children. I miss my bed and the husband waiting in it, a single spoon, un-nestled.
I miss the Mommy who tucked me in at night and banished monsters for me. She has been replaced by this sweet, increasingly frail old woman - still beautiful with her nearly unlined face, her halo of soft white curls.
Her mind and memory are growing softer by the day, soft as her hands which used to cup my face to kiss my cheek, just the way I now kiss hers, tucking her in when we finally get settled into a room at 4:15 in the morning, nearly dawn.
"Goodnight, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite..." I intone in the same singsong she once chimed to me, a thousand years ago in my pink bedroom.
"Where am I?" she asks once again, her voice quavering with exhaustion and slightly slurred from the painkillers that will allow her to finally sink into slumber.
"In the hospital, Mom. You fell, broke your rib."
She nods; reminded, remembers.
"I'm going home to get the boys ready for school, have a shower, an hour of sleep, and then I'll be back."
"What would I do without you?" she asks, patting my hand, grasping it, not quite yet willing to let go.
My mind jumps to all the lonely souls I'd witnessed in the ER tonight, suffering without an ally to stand by, bear comfort.
"I'm here" I say, "I'm here."
And then, eyes closed, breath languorous, her hand unfurls, releasing mine.
And I'm gone.
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