There was a time when I thought I'd never be able to read to my daughter. In the days, weeks, months after her birth my vision loss presented many challenges, but this idea was by far the most devastating.
It's no secret I love books. I come from a long familial line of educators, librarians, booksellers - all avid, almost compulsive readers. My love of children's books and passion for literacy drove me to a Masters degree in Reading, and I had dreams of pursuing a Ph.D. in children's literature.
And here I was, a new mom, unable to see well enough to read to her child.
The first time I uttered this pervasive fear was to a kindly surgical nurse named Karen. I was at St. Joe's in Pontiac, where I'd been since delivering my daughter. My most pressing health concern was the complications from pancreatitis. Along with a whole slew of health issues, my pancreas had leaked infectious fluid into my abdominal cavity, creating abscesses, or fluid filled pockets. In efforts to relieve my discomfort and minimize further damage to my digestive system, the doctors had determined that draining these abscesses was the best course of action.
Lying flat on my back outside the procedure room, I could hear the hustle and bustle of the hospital all around yet I was unable to see anything or anybody more than 12 inches from my face. I began to panic. I was in such tremendous physical pain and the idea that my vision might not fully return took root. Heart racing and short of breath, moments away from a full-fledged panic attack, I felt a gentle hand on my arm, quickly followed by a soothing voice, "I hear you have a baby girl. Tell me about her."
"Her name is Emeline. She is home with her father. I don't really know what she looks like, but I'm told she has my nose."
These initial words of our conversation will forever be imprinted in me. I had spent precious few minutes with my daughter and didn't really know her. Yes I was a new mom but my days were filled with hospital rooms, needles and medical procedures; very far away from my bay and the more traditional ups and downs of new motherhood. My grief and sorrow were evident. Karen, as she introduced herself, skillfully ignored them and kept talking. She was one of those glorious people that realized the best way to ease pain was through distraction. For the next 90 minutes, she engaged me in conversation. She spoke to me of her own children and asked me questions about myself, and explained every step of the procedure to ease my fear and discomfort. One of the many topics we discussed was our shared a love of children's books. Her three children had loved being read The Monster at the End of This Book. My younger brother also enjoyed this as a child and I had memories of reading it to him. It was at this point when I verbalized my fear of not being able to read to Emeline. Karen patted my head and said with conviction, "Don't worry. You will."
We talked about the days that would come, life outside hospital walls. Never for one minute did she talk about or allude to the fact that I wouldn't heal, my vision might not return, or that I wouldn't be able to be the mother that I desired to be. Aside from her comment about being able to read to Emy, she never said those things would happen either. The comfort and reassurance her presence provided was more subtle than the generic words of encouragement I'd become accustomed to receiving.
Hours later, recovering in my hospital room I immediately perked up when I heard her already familiar voice. Coming to check on the drainage tube inserted that morning, Karen also came bearing gifts. In one hand she held a cuddly brown bear - "to snuggle with until you are home and can snuggle your baby." and in the other, a copy of The Monster at the End of This Book - "to read aloud to Emeline. When you're ready."
A week or so later I had to have a similar procedure and was lucky enough to have Karen as my nurse again. Although I am not sure luck had anything to do with it, she had requested to be there once she saw my name on the schedule. This time during her post-surgical visit, she brought the sequel there’s Another Monster at the End of this Book and an adorable panda bear for me and Emy to share.
My favorite books at the ones that have stories other than the ones contained within the cover; books that evoke memories of certain moments, places, or people - the story of the book itself.
Last week, snuggled in bed with Emy, having just finished reading The Monster at the End of This Book, preparing to read the sequel, she asked me, "Where these books from Mom? The library? Is they mine?"
Why, yes my darling, they are yours, gifts from a wonderful woman named Karen.