I’m not very comfortable around hospitals. I’m not too fond of uniforms either. A military hospital is the last place I want to be. Actually, I’m uncomfortable around anything to do with the military. It’s amazing I lasted three years teaching classes to U.S. soldiers when I lived in Germany, though I enjoyed it in the end. I feel profoundly ambivalent about all things military. It’s not that I have no personal connection to the military. My father served in the army and navy, then reserves, a choice he made mostly because it was a way out of economic hardship and towards a college education. Two of my brothers and one of my nephews have also served. My nephew even served two years in two different Middle Eastern countries before he could legally drink. I do acknowledge that a strong military can be important for many reasons, but the military establishment generally holds very different views on political and social issues that I care about, so . . . I remain ambivalent.
After passing thorough an ID check point and landing a parking space in the vast lot, we head to the hospital entrance of the Brooke Army Medical Center. There are uniformed men and women everywhere, and just before I enter the building, I see a sign that amuses me for some reason: This is a no hat, no salute zone. I see the practicality of that. If all the uniformed people were constantly saluting, nothing would ever get done. It just strikes me as odd that such a sign exists. Eventually we are escorted to our son’s section, where we are given paper gowns and latex gloves to put on. Everything is kept as sterile as possible in this area. I can see him in the next room, stretched out on a narrow bed, still attached to IVs and other wires for monitoring, but without the ventilator or the tube down his windpipe.
Jacob is just starting to come out of the effects of the sedation, and as he sees us, he begins to cry quietly. His tears create strange mustard yellow trails down his cheeks, the bright artificial-looking yellow of cheap mustard, not the pricey stuff. The color is from the solution that was put into his eyes the night before after his contacts were removed and eyes checked. He whispers hoarsely – gas leak, dogs, and house gone? I try to comfort him, telling him we know the cause of the fire, that the dogs are safe, and the house is not gone. He doesn’t believe me. Tell me the worst – did the house burn down? No, sweetie, just the inside. From the outside, it looks completely normal. He seems skeptical, but it hurts to talk further. The worst physical after-effect of this ordeal will be the pain from having a tube down his throat. It will take two weeks before the pain goes completely away.
A nurse calls me out to complete pages and pages of forms. My ex comes out and says the boy is asking for me. Jacob is starting to become more alert and tells his dad with a bit of a smirk that having a catheter removed is NO FUN. We take this observation as a good sign that Jacob is coming back to himself, but he’ll have to remain there overnight for observation. The nurse comes in for some final questions that he must answer for himself. “Do you ever get depressed?” Sometimes. “Do you ever think about harming yourself?” He shakes his head ‘no’ and I breathe a sigh of relief because that is my biggest fear when he is feeling particularly depressed. They tell him if he can walk, he can go to a regular room with a TV. It takes two sturdy staff members to help him get to the room. My tall, thin son looks like a young sapling swaying in the wind. “He’s a tall drink of water,” one of the men says. Jacob settles into his new room and then the true sign of consciousness – Was my cell phone saved? Yes, I have it in my purse. Can I have it now? I give it to him and he almost caresses it before placing it on the nightstand. He’s sleepy, so we leave him to rest. Tomorrow, if all goes well, we’ll pick him up to take home. Then I remember I have no home.