Once inside the emergency doors with Shayleen and our pile of luggage, and car seat, I felt a little off balance. I kept thinking that it could not be anything too serious, she just seemed like she was getting better. It had to be something related to the withdrawal, and they would help us and send us back to Fort McMurray.
We were moved into a cubicle before too long, but then the wait began. It was almost 4a.m. before we were brought upstairs to the fourth floor of the stollery, and put in a room which was a bunch of beds filled with tiny little sick bodies in one room. I had no idea how familiar the sounds of the alarms would become as I tried to close my tired eyes for a few minutes once out of the harsh, bright lights of the emergency room. But there was no way I could sleep, as I looked around the room at the other tired looking parents perched in chairs beside their children. They all looked so tired, but no one slept. Nurses bustled around and the sliding glass door to the room seemed to be in constant motion. It felt like some kind of portal to a whole new universe that I was completely unsure of.
The line of residents seemed to circle the room within a few short hours, and the telling of what I knew started, and would be repeated about 10 times that first day and a half. I called Tim with little information, except that I already felt exhausted and we were waiting to see doctors. By the middle of the afternoon we were moved into a room with a young teenage boy who had a head injury from a crash on his motorbike while not wearing a helmet. He was going to be fine, but was being kept for a few days observation. The little bugger is lucky I did not kill him myself during the next two nights. As Shayleen's pain grew, we would have to walk and sit and contort my body in a recliner chair to try to keep her comfortable. When I would find a comfortable position and she would settle I would freeze like that, scared that if I moved a muscle it would cause her more pain and we would start all over again. The shitty little teenager would be pleasant enough when his mother was around, but once she left he would constantly be yelling over Shayleen, telling me to "shut that kid up" and when I would quiet her, he would yell profanities such as, "It's about fucking time", which of course woke her up again. It was during the second night that a nurse was in the room and heard him...she did not hesitate, she wheeled him out into the hallway all the while scolding him that this poor baby was in terrible pain and that his behavior was unacceptable. He was none too pleased to be resting in the brightly light, bustling hallway for the rest of the night. Thankfully the next day we were put into our own room, and I remember it was actually a few hours before I even realized that we were in isolation, and people had to "gown up" to come in. I don't think it was until the doctors came in that day and started talking about precautions that I finally clued in. They still could not say definitely what was wrong with Shayleen, but she had been put into isolation in case others were carrying any germs that could make her even more sick.
It was late that afternoon when a tall, slender dark haired doctor entered the room, and informed me that he was the liver specialist, and within a sentence or two totally pissed me off. He was the first person at the hospital to ask me to explain my relationship to Shayleen. And asked several questions which made me wonder if he had even looked at her file at all. I answered honestly and said that she was our foster child, he immediately changed his demeanor and spoke very abruptly and with no compassion, feeling or respect. He went on to say that "this Indian foster baby" would more than likely need a liver transplant and it was more than likely because of all the alcohol her mother drank. He seemed so cold and I followed him to the hallway as he left. He had said he would be rotating with another doctor, so either I would be seeing him or the other doctor about the liver issues. When I followed him to the hallway, I think he thought I had another question. I don't know where I got my nerve that day, but he had made me so angry. I closed the door behind me and I told him to never come back in that room and address Shayleen as a "foster child", she had a name, and he could use it. I then went on to say that I wanted him to read her file, and try not to be a complete insensitive jerk when dealing with our little girl. To which he said, "I thought you were just the foster mom?" I wanted to kick him so bad.
It was the next day that it felt like the intense tests began. Shayleen had been undergoing the regular stuff, bloodwork, some x-rays and things like that. But then all of a sudden it seemed like they became more desperate to figure out what was wrong with our little girl. They did something called a long bone test, where they more or less strapped her down and extended her limbs as much as they could for a different type of x-ray. It was after that test that a social worker made a visit. Shayleen had so much inflammation in her joints that it looked like her arms and legs were broken. Naturally, since we were foster parents, the abuse questions began. I had always thought I would mind being questioned about a child in our care and whether or not we were abusing them, but I don't think I even completely clued in, at that point there were so many coming and going and asking questions that it did not register that this person was not trying to figure out what was wrong with her, but perhaps what we had done wrong.
And then that tiny little almost six week old baby had to go for a spinal test. The doctor came in to explain what would be done, but I knew already, having endured a few myself, and some bone marrow biopsies as well. I knew it would not be pleasant, and the doctor was surprised when I said that I would be accompanying Shayleen. She already was calming down at times by just hearing my voice, and I was not sending her off for such a horrible test by herself.
There were probably 8-10 people in the room at the end of the hall, just down from her room. It was like a mini-operating room and sterile in feeling. They took Shayleen and laid her on the big table, and she immediately looked even tinier. They began preparing trays and sterile kits around her, and she began to cry. A nurse put an arm around my shoulders and assured me that they would do it as quickly as possible and I could wait outside. I moved closer to the table, and a doctor said I could help by holding her head still when they got her in position. Four and a half years later, as I sit here writing this the tears still come, and there have been times that I think maybe I should have left the room...but that would have only made it easier for me, not for her. I can close my eyes and be there in that room, with the smell of alcohol, iodine, rubber gloves and cleanness. I can close my eyes and picture the way that curved that little baby into almost a horseshoe position so that her tiny little bum and lower back was exposed as much as possible to the doctor who then inserted the needle into her spine...over and over. They could not get a good draw, and the time seemed to go in slow motion as this little girl lay on the table screaming like nothing I had ever heard before. There were six adults with their hands on her tiny body, and still she fought back. I started crying, and the tears burned down my cheeks as my throat felt like it was being tightened with a vice. Finally they said they would not continue, but they did not think they had enough for a successful test. They would have to try again tomorrow.
Shayleen and I went back to her room and sat crying in the rocking chair for a while, her in pain, and I in pain for what she was having to endure. And yet I still could not imagine what was to come.