1024 Words

Or Maybe a Gift

M. Stanley Bubien

It's funny that I would be so uncomfortable here, while earlier, when I really should have felt uneasy, I'd been fine. But as the technician applied the gel to my prone wife's belly, I sat off to the corner, leaning with forearms against knees, inhaling deeply through my nose.

"Your first?" the tech asked Kathleen, though I caught a knowing smirk from him in my direction.

"Yep," I answered for her.

"And no sonogram yet, either?" He reached for the probes, and when I though about that word---"probe"---I bowed further forward.

"It's not that bad," he said. "No blood!"

"My husband's not too good around doctor stuff, medicine." She frowned, half-serious, but half-humorous. "At least that's what he tells me."

"It's true!" I offered in my own defense. "My family wanted me to be a doctor, like my dad, but there was no way! I can't even watch medical shows on TV. I'm squeamish."

"You weren't earlier, though," Kathleen stated in a soft, gracious tone, smile barely visible.

"What happened earlier?" the tech asked. But instead of an answer, Kathleen and I simply looked at each other.

"Apologies," he said. "I've overstepped my bounds. Why don't I go ahead and explain the process." Kathleen nodded, and he told us how the sonogram worked, and how he'd thoroughly check our unborn baby over for problems. I could see Kathleen's smile growing as he applied the flat sensors against her and reached over to tune the computer screen.

For the first ten minutes, I simply alternated between watching the floor or the tech's motions, even over his exclamations of "there's the head," or Kathleen's "oh, look at all that moving around!" and "you can see the whole body!"

I wasn't avoiding this, and that's God's honest truth. I had made a conscious decision to be here even if I was squeamish. This was, after all, the first time we would actually see our child---and that had become so much more important today. No, I wasn't avoiding anything; I was simply trying to work up the nerve to look!

"Now I'm going to check the baby's sex. You do want me to tell you, right?"

"Honey," my wife reached toward me. "Come on. It's okay."

I exhaled hard, but pushed up from the chair and stepped over to take her hand.

"Yes," she said. "We want you to tell us."

He twisted his wrists, but I blurted, "wait!"

With two people staring at me dumbfounded, I sighed. "Show us the head again, please. Just for a moment. It seems a little weird if the first thing I see of my child is his... um... or her... uh..."

"I understand," the tech said, and my wife squeezed my hand with a giggle.

On the screen, the image looked more like a skull than a head. My legs felt a little weak, but I held onto Kathleen. "Okay," I said after one more look.

He had to twist and turn the probes quite a bit; the image distorted in various angles, but finally he announced, "it's a girl!" Quickly adding, "now, I'm not always a hundred percent accurate, but I'm fairly sure."

My wife and I smiled at each other.

"At the risk of overstepping my bounds again," the tech said, "have you picked a name?"

As Kathleen's tears welled I told him, "Stasia."

"Stasia? That's beautiful! And very unusual."

"It's... my grandmother's name," Kathleen whispered.

The tech nodded as though he understood, but, really, he had no idea.

I hesitated, but as my wife wiped her eyes, she breathed, "go ahead."

"Our grandmother died this morning," I told him. "We were with her."

Technically, she'd died last night, but after resuscitating her, the doctors errantly put her on a respirator. "No extreme measures," she had explicitly stated. But I guess when her heart stopped and the code blue went out, they were too busy to read that tiny detail on the chart.

The call came from Kathleen's mother in the wee hours, and we headed down to the hospital, arriving just before they disconnected life-support. Kathleen, her father, and especially her mother, comforted our unconscious grandmother as instruments showed the fade in her heart's beating.

Medicinal odors surrounded me, and death loomed close enough to touch, yet I alternated in the hand-holding, crying, and speaking to grandmother. Many things I said---many things we all said---but through the tears, all I remember was one repeated phrase.

"I love you."

Generally, we were unhappy with the doctors' mistake, but it had given us one last chance to speak those words---though, in the coma, it was doubtful grandmother actually heard.

But who knows?

"Is that why you decided to come today?" the tech asked me, obviously referring to my current discomfort.

"No," I admitted. "I was planning on being here anyway."

"It was just a coincidence," Kathleen sniffed.

"Or maybe a gift," I added. "We're not really sure."

And now, this time, when he nodded, it seemed he truly did understand. A moment of silence passed---not the uncomfortable kind, but the solemn kind.

Since the tech was in charge, it was inevitably his duty to break that silence. "I've printed a number of pictures. You can keep them." He grinned at me with bright white teeth. "Just in case you want to look at them---over and over again!"

I rolled my eyes, but accepted the proffered envelope.

The tech cleaned my wife's protruding belly, and when he finished, my wife remained lying as he explained how a radiologist would double-check the images. "I don't think you have anything to worry about, though. Everything looked fine."

We thanked him as he departed. My wife pushed up onto her elbows, but before she swung onto the floor to change, I hopped up and stopped her with a kiss on the lips.

"I love you," I said.

"You did great."

"Well, I guess," I shrugged. "I was thinking though..." And reaching down and touching Kathleen's now-sticky tummy, I leaned over the spot where my hand rested and said, "I love you too."

After all, who knows?

For Stasia Popowski and Torrey Stasia Bubien.

Copyright ©1999 M. Stanley Bubien. All Rights Reserved.

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Story Bytes


March, 1999
Issue #35

1024 Words