Monday, November 18, 2013

Scanning the Grey

It's been more than 7 years since Elise Broadbent barreled into the recently re-named bar The Wright Place, where I was working the remaining months until I would leave for law school.  She must have been about 23 years old at the time, which means her son Bailey must have been about 2.  She was a single mother, unexpectedly raising a child on her own, barely more than 5 feet tall, with dyed black hair with purple streaks in it.  She'd recently lost her job at the Rockin' Rodeo, which closed after a fatal shooting outside of the nightclub.  She was vibrant, outgoing, and annoying as shit.

Elise was at The Wright Place for an interview, and when she was hired I figured she'd come and go like most bartenders do, but she stuck around for the three years that I was away at school, and for another three years after I returned.  I went back to work at the bar, reluctant to commit to full-time practice, just as Elise was beginning classes at the junior college, determined to build a career for herself after years of bartending and scraping by to take care of her son.  Semester after semester she produced exemplary grades, and toyed with the idea of getting a degree in psychology, until some inspiration struck her and led her in the direction of ultrasound technician.  She began researching programs and figuring out what she needed to do to get into such a program.

Early in the Spring 2011 semester, when was just beginning a medical terminology course, she asked me in the office at the Wright Place what was wrong.  I told her that my unborn child had been diagnosed with anencephaly.  She broke down the word and quickly realized what the problem was.

I had, by that point, learned to tolerate Elise, but going forward we became true friends.  She kept my secret until I was ready to publicly disclose Gabriel's condition.  She put her hands on my belly and felt him move, as vibrant and alive as she was the day I met her.  The day Gabriel was born she came to the hospital to meet him, one of a short list of people invited to meet Gabriel face-to-face.  She was the first to ask if she could remove his cap to look at his exposed defect - She looked even before I did.  On his fifth day of life she brought her then 8 year old son to my home to see Gabriel, unexpectedly holding on days longer than we ever dreamed, to see him again.  She held him, and her son stroked his face lovingly, with Gabriel wearing no cap and his oddity exposed for them both to see.

As my marriage crumbled, as my life crumbled, as I crumbled, Elise was there to nurture me with kindness and cocktails.  She was the conduit for establishing the friendship I now share with Blake and Lindsey, and the three of them are the best things I got from my divorce.  New, real, and meaningful friendships were the last things I expected at this point in my life.  A friendship was the last thing I expected the day I met Elise Broadbent, mistress of colored hair and karaoke.

The day Gabriel was diagnosed with anencephaly, an ultraound tech first detected the defect.  She alerted me that something was wrong, and that the doctor would be in to explain.  My doctor was not in the office, and so her partner broke the news that my child would not survive after birth.  She said to me, "We see this maybe once every five years in our practice."

Months later, my doctor was again out of the office during one of my routine prenatal visits, and the same doctor that had shattered my world saw me instead.  She didn't remember me.  In fact, even when I mentioned that my child had anencephaly, her memory was not triggered.  Instead she said, "You know, most of the time when that is diagnosed the child is just fine."  I stared at her wonderously.  "Hydrocephaly?  Right?" she asked.

"No. ANENcephaly."

"Oh," she said quietly.  "Yes.  Anencephaly is fatal.  I'm sorry."  I couldn't believe that just a few months ago, this woman had brought my world to pieces with a diagnosis that she admitted was rare and infrequently seen even in her business of delivering babies.  I couldn't believe that she shared a moment with me that was so intimate, and so life-changing, and so fucking uncommon, and yet there I was, just another patient.

But in another room of that same clinic, I bet an ultrasound tech remembered me.  If she is like Elise, who will complete her ultrasound program next month and begin her career very shortly, she went home and cried and privately mourned for the patient that she didn't even know.  I know this, because when Elise made her first diagnosis of anencephaly, she cried.

I frequently think that Elise and I are so close because we've each experienced severe trauma, probably more severe than the average person.  No one could blame either of us for just shutting down one day.  But we each pick ourselves up, and push ourselves along, and when we can't do it anymore, the other one does.

It's hard to believe sometimes that for all of its scars, Elise still has one of the biggest, most giving hearts of anyone I know.

Happy birthday, Elise.  You're 31, you're almost done, but the rest of your life has just begun.  And it's only going to get better from here.  These moments are your rainbow.  I love you.  And I'm so proud of you.

And you'd better not cry like a big, old diaper baby. 

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