Saturday 7th November 2009
Gestation: 6 weeks, 1 day
One year ago.
I wake at dawn.
Immediately I start to plan. I want an ultrasound, and I want it today. And I’m going to get it. A General in his bunker, I study the battle lines. I imagine the placement of the other dugouts, the unseen tunnels, the armamentarium of my enemy. I know my foe, and I understand the rules of engagement. So I plot. I construct my story carefully.
Today, we will get an answer.
Time passes slowly. In seconds, I believe. Finally it is 8.30am.
Suse turns over, breathing deeply.
“Hey love,” she croaks.
“At least one of us slept well,” I say.
“No, I wouldn’t go that far,” she corrects. I smile. It feels odd.
“It’s eight-thirty. Not too early to ring?” Suse looks at me with puzzlement.
“You’re the doctor, you tell me.”
“If we want an ultrasound we have to ring early. On a Saturday, the ultrasonographer will only be in there doing a few cases. If we miss her this morning, then it’s a recall. A recall is a totally different battle. That would require a watertight story. These are the rules of engagement.”
“I’d better ring now.”
I jump out of bed and return with the phone. I dial, taking a deep breath. It rings several times before it’s picked up.
“Hello, Jill speaking.”
“Hi, Jill, my name’s Mark, and my wife is a patient of Kath’s. Susan Nethercote?” The line hisses. “She’s had rising HCGs, and when we spoke to the on-call doctor last night she suggested ringing to organise an ultrasound today. In case it’s an ectopic.”
“Did you not speak to Kath about this during the day?”
“The results weren’t through until after hours.”
“Is Susan there? I’d really prefer to be talking to her directly,” she says tersely.
“I’m right here,” Suse pipes in.
“What have your levels been doing?” We scramble for the piece of paper. “It was 445 five days ago, 706 three days ago, and then 1086 yesterday.”
“And what are your dates?”
“I’m six weeks and one day today.” There is more hissing.
“If this is an intrauterine pregnancy, then we really ought to see something on ultrasound by now.” Jill sighs without even trying to hide it. “How far are you from the hospital?”
“Twenty minutes,” Suse says.
“Fifteen,” I say. “We can be there in fifteen.”
She pauses again.
“If you come right now – and I mean, right now – we should be able to do an ultrasound.”
“Okay,” we say, hanging up.
I jump out of bed.
“How the hell are we going to get there in fifteen minutes?”
“Doesn’t matter. They won’t be ready for an hour. But if she thinks there’s any chance that they’ll be waiting for us, it’s just another reason to say no. Now, they can’t. We’re in.”
The rules of engagement.
* * * * *
We make it to the hospital in thirty minutes, parking up an un-signed side street. We march towards the traffic, over the busy road and through the front doors. We catch the lethargic lift to the second floor and jog all the way to radiology. When we arrive, still puffing from exertion, we find a solitary couple in the corner, both flicking through magazines. The waiting room is otherwise empty.
We sit for a moment, settling in. After a couple of minutes, a grey-haired lady appears from around a corner, heading towards us.
“I’m Jill.” She looks fleetingly at me. “I just wanted to say ‘hello’. I’ll be in there with you when the scan is done, but it’ll be a little while yet. Just wait here.”
She turns and disappears as suddenly as she appeared. It’s like she’s vaporised.
We sit some more. As we do, I discover large shards of crusty sleep at the edges of both eyes. I become increasingly aware of my own odour; a stale-bed aroma with a fresh-sweat bouquet. I look across at Suse. She is drawn; grey lines beneath both eyes. This last week has not been kind to either of us.
Behind us, the door jerks open, and we catch a glimpse of the sonographer. The other couple is ushered through. I sit for a moment more, agitated, without even a mobile phone to distract myself.
“I’m going to get the paper,” I say eventually.
“What if they call us while you’re away?”
I sprint back down the hall to the lifts. I press the button, waiting for it to arrive. After about a minute, it does. I enter, and after a few more seconds, the doors close slowly. It begins to ascend, opening at every floor, all the way to nine, before crawling back down again. It’s a modern lift with stylish silver lining, touch buttons, and a wonderful LCD display, but it still fails in the one area you really care about. Speed.
Three minutes later, I am finally released. I run around the foyer like a six year-old on coke, searching for a shop that sells the paper. Eventually I find one, only to wait behind seven other customers; the only seven people in the entire foyer. I feel the heat rising.
I drop the cash and sprint back, to wait for the lethargic lift to return once more. I begin to castigate myself, certain that by the time I return the ultrasound will be half done.
Finally, the bell dings. The doors open apathetically. I enter it and press ‘One’. I stand. The lift stays still. It does not move. I press the button again, which causes the doors to consider closing, before bouncing back open again. It’s the most energetic thing I’ve seen it do. They remain open.
I think about the building, and the location of the stairs. Realistically, I only know one way back to radiology – via this lift. No time to get smart. The doors stay firmly open.
I press the button once more, causing them to jolt. So I do nothing. I stare at the floor like regular folk do. And I wait. Eventually, they close. Half a minute later, they open at the first floor, and here I escape, running towards the waiting room.
There I find an empty room, other than Suse. She flicks absently through a magazine.
“What took you so long?”
* * * * *
Thirty more minutes pass.
We both turn to see the sonographer, lit from behind like an angel. We happily stand, having been immersed in our own funk for most of the morning. I feel my joints creak. Our stomachs growl in conversation.
“Hi,” says Suse in her nicest voice. It’s the one she uses to sound relaxed. As if this is nothing. As if it’s a house inspection or something. Which it is, I guess. Just a very, very important one.
“Come on in, my name’s Megan.”
We walk through, and Suse hops up on the bed. I stand to the side, trying not to get in the way. I fail.
“I hear you rushed in for this?”
“Yes, we did,” Suse says. “Hence the bed hair.”
“Where have you come from?” I imagine Megan’s an expert at this. If you’re a sonographer in a women’s hospital, you’d have to be pretty well-versed in the art of distraction.
“Oh, so not that far,” Megan says, preparing the probe.
“No, it didn’t take us that long,” I add stupidly.
“Now I’m just going to insert the ultrasound probe, Susan. It might be a little uncomfortable.”
“Okay,” she says. At that moment, Jill walks in. Again, appearing from nowhere. I nod, trying to look casual. I look about as casual as you can when a perfect stranger walks in on someone sticking a probe into your wife’s vagina. I lean against a wall. I almost slip over.
“So it’s a nice day out there?”
“I see you came in by bike, Megan,” I add, picking myself up. She is still dressed in from head to foot in riding gear.
“No, this is my regular Saturday attire.” She smiles kindly. “And that’s in, Susan. Was that okay?”
“That was fine,” Suse says, still looking off in the middle distance. I stand still, off to the side, continuing to get in the way. I trip on my own feet, threatening to unplug the cord.
Jill and Megan look at the monitor, eyebrows moving as they do. There are intermittent whispers and nods as they point. It’s like watching an old married couple; each knowing the other’s thoughts without need for words.
Jill takes a breath, and then fixes on Suse.
“The ovaries and the tubes look good, Susan,” she says. “But there’s nothing in the uterus.” She stops.
“Right,” Suse says, the first to reply. I remain mute.
“And, like I said, the tubes look good. I can’t see an ectopic on the scan.” She pauses for a moment. “But equally, there is nothing to see in the uterus.”
“I get it,” says Suse, forcing a smile, “I get it.”
Megan looks at both of us in turn. “Thank you for coming in at such short notice.”
“Thank you for being available,” I mumble.
Suse redresses, and we walk out together, holding each other’s icy hands. Jill walks us out.
“I’d really like you to have one more blood test in a couple of days. Just to confirm that the levels are beginning to come down.”
“Right,” says Suse, “and where do we get the forms?”
“I can write them,” I add, in monotone, “and I’ll add Kath’s name so that she gets a copy.”
“That’s perfect,” Jill says. She touches Suse on the arm.
And then she walks away.
We stand for a moment, before Suse turns to me and I take her in my arms.
* * * * *
We walk down the front steps and onto the bustling street. I spot two prams immediately. I look across at Suse. She continues to stare at the first one.
The sun is bright. We both squint as we head towards the light. The day’s warmth feels odd against our unwashed skin. Against our empty bodies.
The traffic lights turn green, and with it the sound changes, urging us to move forward. We do so, sluggishly, willing ourselves across the road. We head towards the parked car, along a less busy route. As we walk, the quietness gradually closes in, each step louder than before.
Eventually, we make it to the car, parked in this back street.
And I realise that it’s a dead end.
It’s like bad poetry.
* * * * *