My dad and older sister, Diane, are in town for a few days. Last night, Ed, Dad, Diane, and my nephew, Ben, and I all went out to dinner at Colonel Brooks’ Tavern here in our neighborhood. The original plan had not been to go out to eat—I had bought groceries for two nights’ worth of dinners, but ultimately didn’t feel like cooking. There are only two sit-down restaurants in the neighborhood—Colonel Brooks’ and San Antonio Bar and Grill. San Antonio, just a block up the street, was a favorite hangout for us with Hudson—I went there often with my Brookland mom-friends and all our babies. The last photo we have of Hudson was taken there at a mom-baby happy hour on the Friday before she went into the hospital. I’ve been back there only once since Hudson died, to celebrate one of our mom-friends’ birthdays—I haven’t been able to go back since, so that was not really an option. Plus, Ben had scored us a $25 gift certificate for Colonel Brooks’, so Colonel Brooks’ it was.
We walked in, told the host there were five of us, and then started to follow him around to a table at the back of the restaurant. I walked about 3 steps, looked up, and froze. There, looking right at me, at a table of about 20 people, was the PICU Fellow in charge of Hudson’s care at Children’s. He looked away, then looked back. I was stunned—it seemed like 100 thoughts went through my mind in the course of one second. I finally settled on this one: I could either look away and pretend like I hadn’t seen him or just say hi. Looking away somehow did not seem like an option—although I didn’t consciously think this at the time, I think now that it would have felt like some kind of betrayal of Hudson’s existence, much like it would feel for me to lie if asked if I have children. So I said, “Oh, hey, Dr. X, how are you?” And he nodded and said solemnly (he’s a pretty solemn guy—young, but solemn), “Hey, how are you all doing?” I think I said, “We’re good” or “Fine”—not sure which, or even if I said anything at all. We kept walking to our table.
It seemed like he was there for some sort of work-related outing—our neighborhood and the restaurant are only about five minutes from Children’s and it looked like it was probably a group of doctors. I had no idea if he knew exactly who I was—given the number of patients and patients’ families he sees on a regular basis, I figured it was entirely possible that we looked familiar to him (all five of us had spent significant time at the hospital while Hudson was sick) but only as that—some patient’s family. I didn’t know if he knew we were Hudson’s family, or if he remembered who Hudson was, or if he remembered Hudson had died. It was a bizarre feeling, because of course, we will never forget his face. Ever.
We sat down and all of us started to talk about how strange it was to see him there. I think I was in shock. Just yesterday morning, I had been reading Heather Spohr’s blog about the first time she saw one of the doctors after her 17-month-old daughter died in the hospital from an infection. So I had just been thinking about how I would feel if I ran into Dr. X somewhere, but I don’t really know what I thought I would feel. I guess I figured it would trigger some kind of PTSD-like reaction where I would relive all those terrible days again, but unfortunately, I’ve been doing a pretty good job of that on my own without any help. Whatever I expected, I actually felt OK to have seen him.
The main thing I thought about was that at some point soon, the hospital is supposed to invite us in for a consultation of some sort, literally a post-mortem, I think, where they would talk with us again about what happened, and we could ask any questions that had come up since Hudson died that we’d been unable to conceive of under extreme duress. I’ve been both looking forward to and dreading this, because the only question I want an answer to is a question I am pretty sure they won’t answer: whether she would still be alive if we’d brought her in to the ER 12 hours earlier. And really, I only want an answer if the answer is “No.” I so want someone in charge to clear me, to tell me that even if we had done that, it still would not have made any difference, either because the infection had already progressed too far by that point, or because Hudson’s symptoms at that time would not have warranted suspicions of meningitis and they’d have sent us home. I am pretty sure no one at the hospital would speculate like that, regardless of what direction the speculation would lean. But I am desperate for absolution.
As our dinner was winding down, I could tell Dr. X and his group had not yet left and I was hesitant to pass back by their table. And then, all of a sudden, he was passing by ours on his way to the bathroom. I don’t even know what made him stop but he did. We all said hello again and he said, “I didn’t expect to run into you all at a bar.” And I smiled and agreed that it was an odd experience, and told him about my thought earlier that I could either ignore him or say hi, and ignoring him seemed not quite right. He said he remembered us and Hudson well. Dad mentioned that we were glad about all the donations coming into Hudson’s fund for the PICU. Dr. X said, “You know, it’s always really nice when something good like that can come out of something terrible.” And we agreed. And then he continued, “But it doesn’t change the fact that it is really fucking terrible.” Indeed.
Overnight, I dreamed about Hudson for the fourth time since she died. The details of the dream are mostly fuzzy, but the general gist of it was that I was supposed to be watching her and wasn’t doing a very good job. I remember one scene where I was up on some kind of balcony above the room where she was—I looked down and saw her sitting on top of a glass coffee table, crawling toward the edge, where she would surely fall off. The only other scene I remember was holding her in my lap, trying to pry chewing gum, a silver chewing gum wrapper, and some other small pieces of trash out of her mouth—she had picked all of this off the floor and tried to eat it while I wasn’t watching her. I said to someone (I have no idea who it was), “I’m such a terrible mother.” I don’t need a dream interpreter to tell me what that one was about.
I haven’t yet figured out the reason why, but I feel like we were supposed to run into Dr. X last night. It was all too weird—I had just been thinking about him that morning, our plan to go out to eat was very last-minute, we had this coupon for Colonel Brooks’, all five of us were together, and it triggered a dream about Hudson. Despite my shock and despite the seemingly negative thoughts and dreams that ensued, I’m glad we saw him. Really glad, actually. Maybe it’s simply knowing that I can survive an encounter that, in my imagination, seemed like it might be pretty scary. Maybe it was just satisfying an intense but unexplained need I’ve been feeling off and on to see someone connected to that experience. Maybe it’s that he understood Hudson’s One Good Thing without us even telling him about it.
Maybe I’ll just take it as a totally incomprehensible blessing of some sort and hope that understanding comes later.