Chapter Sixteen: Name That Tune
Christine approached the two nurses on reception. She hadn’t clearly thought through what she was going to say, she just knew it was too late to turn around now.
“Hi there,” Christine greeted the one nearest to her.
“Good afternoon,” the nurse replied. “How can I help you?”
“I’m here to see Tobey Daley. His parents are expecting me.”
“Tobey Daley?” The nurse drew a blank. She looked over to her companion, who was probably the senior of the two, as she replied Christine’s enquiry.
“Oh, you mean sleeping cu - Baby Tobey.” she quickly corrected herself. “Have you been here before?”
“Ermmm. No. Sorry…It’s the first time I’ve been here…” Christine felt a little awkward but she continued. “Robert and Kelly Dal…”
Before she finished her sentence, the security doors at the far end of the corridor issued a warning signal. Then the great metal doors slowly began to open.
A woman stepped out. Christine recognized her immediately from the papers. It was the mother of baby Tobey.
Just then, a huffing Lydia joined Christine at the helpdesk. She had rushed back from her quick jaunt to the toilets. She didn’t want to miss a thing.
“Kelly?” Christine quickly called out to the woman who was heading towards the exit. This halted her in her tracks. She looked up. “Are you Christine?” She sounded hopeful.
“Yes, I am. I spoke to your husband earlier. He asked me to come…”
Kelly immediately placed both her hands over her heart as she thanked Christine for coming.
“I really appreciate you coming here doing this. I’m so sorry. I really hope I am not inconveniencing you in any way.”
“Please don’t apologize. I - I really don’t know what it is I’ll be able to do,” she continued apologising but Kelly butted in.
“It’s alright Christine. I’m not expecting miracles. I’m just so glad that you’re here.”
“This is Lydia,” Christine quickly introduced her friend. “Is it okay if she comes with us?”
“Of course, it’s not a problem.” She smiled at Lydia. “He’s in room 412, I’ll take you to him now.”
Just as Christine thought she didn’t know what to expect. On either side of her there were white-walled rooms with babies lying in huge incubators. Some appeared to be napping under blue florescent lamps. It was so quiet, all she could hear were the machines beeping in the background and people talking in hushed voices. Then, she realized, it wasn’t the grownups who were whispering but the premature babies talking quietly to their loved ones. Their voices were low because some of the babies were so small, while others, were just too feeble to speak up. Christine tried her best not to eavesdrop; it was only fair. After all, they were talking about matters which did not involve her.
They soon arrived at baby Tobey’s room. Kelly faced the two women. “Just before we go in, I think I should prepare you…Tobey’s very small and is unable to move because of his condition. He can’t breathe, so he is on a ventilator. And the tubes you see are the ones feeding him, helping him to breathe - in short, keeping him alive,” she sighed. “Because of his fragility, he’s also highly susceptible to germs, so we usually ask first time visitors to wear a face mask. It’s not compulsory, only if you feel you might have something which could be passed onto Tobey, you know, like a cough or cold.”
She immediately produced two synthetic mouth pieces from a fixture on the wall and handed them over to Christine and Lydia. They accepted them without hesitation.
“We also ask that visitors sanitize their hands before going in, if you don’t mind.”
The two women quickly nodded their consent.
Christine was choked up with pity. She could see Kelly was beyond exhausted. Her skin was botchy and lacked lustre, but the biggest giveaway were her eyes. They were so dim, Christine had to look three times to ascertain they were blue - as she had originally thought.
Kelly again sighed but carried on talking. “Since he was born, there have only been a handful of times where Tobey’s shown some kind of response to his environment,” she smiled weakly. “On one occasion, after I sang to him, I saw him blink a few times. I know he heard me. I think he liked the song.” She looked to Christine. “It’s times like this, I get the weirdest feeling that he knows EXACTLY what’s going on. And not only that, I feel he wants to share something with me. I don’t know what - or how I know this,” she swallowed, “I just know…But the doctors say he’s getting worse - not better, he grows weaker by the day…” She broke off. Her eyes began to fill again with tears. “I saw you mentioned in the paper and… I just thought…I’d appreciate anything you do…” she said, looking levelly at Christine. “Just let me know if there is any way I can assist.”
Christine followed Kelly into the heavily sanitized living quarters. Lydia quietly trailed a few paces behind them.
The baby’s room was brightly lit. It smelt of disinfectant and was warmed slightly above room temperature.
The women dropped a further few paces back, leaving Christine to quietly approach the bed where baby Tobey lay.
There were so many wires around him he looked like a delicate rose nestled in a bed of thorns. She gripped onto the side handles around the bed. His brown hair was exceptionally shiny for a baby of his age. Every strand loving groomed by his parents, no doubt. As expected, his eyes were closed but the laboured pull of the ventilation machine made Christine uneasy. She wondered how the parents coped seeing their little boy in this way.
It was deathly quiet. Baby Tobey appeared lifeless in his special bed. She didn’t know what to do. She began to feel the familiar waves of panic rising up from the pit of her stomach. She looked back at Lydia.
“Are you okay?” Lydia mouthed.
Christine nodded. “I’m fine…I...errr…I can’t hear anything…”
“You can’t hear anything?” Lydia looked back in bemusement. “Maybe try getting a little bit closer,” she suggested. If her friend didn’t have a clue - then they didn’t have a hope!
Christine pulled up a chair and leaned in.
In spite of his critical condition Christine could see that the boy was undeniably cute. ‘If his health started to improve, and he left this place and was able to flourish under normal conditions, he will one day grow up to become quite a handsome man....’ she privately mused and then stopped herself. These were dangerous thoughts. No one dares to conjure up hope in a time like this. And besides looking at him reminded her too much of Jerry…
And still the silence remained.
The gift of hearing, Christine later found, wasn’t something she could just switch on or off like an electric kettle. Receiving signals was a bit like listening to a person conversing with someone on the phone. And then, increasingly, finding that the distant voice on the other end, had gradually become louder and louder and louder until eventually she was able to hear the voice on the receiving end just as clearly as the person taking the call. Only, in reality the speaker has no idea that the babies - the ones on the receiving end - were in fact responding to everything that had been said to them.
When a parent looks loving at their baby and tells them they love them, ninety-nine percent of the time the baby always says it back.
Nevertheless in Christine’s experience there was still like silence, and silence like death. And baby Tobey’s life was dangerously coasting towards the latter…
Christine softly said his name
“Tobey. Tobey,” she called, “can you hear me?”
She thought about waving his mother over but quickly changed her mind.
‘What if she came over and still – nothing?’ At this point Christine didn’t know who would feel worse - she, for failing so quickly or his mother, for trying so hard.
Lydia saw the perplexity on Christine’s face. She glanced over her shoulder, where Tobey’s mother was standing. Without being told, Kelly quickly rushed over to Christine’s side. “Is there anything I can do?” she asked. “Would you like to hold him?”
“Yes - that might help.” Christine made to get up from the chair and then suddenly stopped. “Hold on a minute…” She sat back down. She reached for Tobey. She lifted him up and gently turned him over, as though she was appraising an exquisite antique jar. She rolled him onto his side; just enough to allow for his tiny back to come into view. With the other hand, she began to caress his fragile back.
For all the heat in the room, it was still not enough to warm Tobey’s little body. His cheek was resting in the palm of her hand and had a waxy coolness to it; much like those who had lost their battle with fever. Nevertheless Christine kept on with the strokes. Suddenly she felt something. She didn’t know what exactly. There was a warm sensation flowing through her head. She continued to glide her hand up and down the back of his body. She began to hear a slight rustling in the air, different from the sucking sounds coming from the ventilator machine. Ever so gently, baby Tobey began to take breath. It was only audible to Christine.
Her smile widened.
“Christine…” Baby Tobey said. His voice was weak but to her it was as welcoming as birds tweeting on a sunny morning.
“Yes Tobey, it’s me sweetie…I’m here…” Her gentle strokes imparted the words from her mind. “Tobey, are you okay? How are you? How are you feeling?”
“I feel tired. So tired,” he sighed. “My body aches so much. I-I don’t like the drugs they are giving me. And they keep stabbing the back of my foot with something - something sharp, it’s so painful.”
Christine fought back tears. “I’m so sorry Tobey,” she cried. “They’re doing this to keep you alive, Tobey. Everybody wants you to live. Your parents want you to live!”
“I know,” he answered her. The corner of his mouth twitched. “I know they do. Their love has been my LIFELINE! I cannot begin to tell you just how glorious it feels! I can FEEL the love they have for me! Oh Christine,” he pleaded, “Please can you thank them for loving me. Please thank them for their love.”
“I will,” she gulped, instantly touched by the urgency in his voice. “I will Tobey.”
At that moment she remembered there were others in the room that had no idea what was going on and unfortunately could not take part.
“Tobey, hang on a minute - I’ll be right back!” She brought her strokes to an end and turned to face the others. “Kelly, Lydia!” Her open smile said it all. “I’ve made contact with baby Tobey. He can hear me - he can hear all of us!”
Kelly rushed over to the bed. “What did he say?” she gushed. “Is he alright? Can he hear me now?” She laughed as tears of joy streamed down her face.
Lydia looked relieved.
“This might be an odd request,” Christine said looking to Lydia and then over to Kelly, “But, would I be able to have a few moments alone with him?” She continued. “Please, don’t take it the wrong way, I’m just thinking there’s probably no need for the both of you to be hanging around watching me, looking at Tobey in relative silence, so to speak. And as much as I appreciate the company,” she said focusing her attention back on Lydia, “I feel I’ve already taken up too much of your time. And I know how busy you are, Lydia. But I also know you’re too considerate to remind me,” she said with a grateful smile.
Lydia responded with a short laugh. “Very true,” she said slinging her bag over her shoulder. “But Christine, dear, please don’t hesitate to call me if you need anything okay? Just send me a text or something. I’ll be over like a rocket” She was about to add. ’And tell me everything he says to you,’ but realized it might not be the best thing to say in front of the baby’s mother, especially, considering it was also, quite frankly, none of her business.
She looked over at Kelly “Although it was brief it was nice meeting you.”
Kelly nodded her appreciation. Lydia continued. “I can’t tell you not to worry, if it were me, I don’t think I could be as strong as you and your husband have been. However, I will say your son is in very good hands. Christine is great with babies. Just great - I’m not,” she said putting her hands up in protest. “But she is. She loves them and they love her!” She sighed sympathetically. “I just hope going forward you’ll get the answers you’re looking for.”
Immediately following Lydia’s departure, Kelly’s phone began to ring. “It’s Robert,” she whispered. “I’m going to pop out and tell him the good news,” she quickly put on her cardigan. “We’ve also got some hospital matters to discuss, so I might be a while…Can I get you some tea? or coffee?”
“No. I’m fine thanks. Just take your time. I’ll see you when you get back.”
Kelly shut the door behind her.
All was quiet again.
Christine sat back down. She stretched out her hand and resumed stroking Tobey’s delicate little body.
“Tobey, can you hear me sweetie?” She called out. “You can talk to me now…I’m here…”
The warm sensation permeated through her head again. And just like before she could hear him straining to breathe. And then he did something amazing. He opened his eyes. Not too wide, but enough to take Christine aback. She thought of calling out to his mother; she didn’t know if he’d done this before.
“Hello Christine. You came back,” he said through laboured breaths. She could hear the smile in his voice but then his tone quickly changed. “Christine, I have something to tell you - it’s so awful! I don’t know how to begin or how to explain it….”
“I’m listening,” she quickly replied, she drew him closer to herself.
“There’s something going on in this hospital. Someone is doing something they shouldn’t. The babies…They disappear.”
Just then the door swung opened. One nurse and two male assistants came bustling into the room. “Oh. Hello there,” the only female one amongst them voiced a greeting. “You’re not Mrs. Daley,” she said pointedly.
“No. I’m not. I’m a visitor. I came to see baby Tobey.” Christine wasn’t sure whether she should get up or stay put.
“Well, it’s time for the baby to be suctioned,” the nurse said looking around her. “His mother’s usually around for this procedure.”
“Yes. Ermmm. I believe she’s on an important call. She might not be able to make it back in time - can it wait?”
“Wait!” the nurse said indignantly. “Most certainly not! Left any longer, he could choke to death on his saliva. This needs to be carried out on the hour - every hour. Mrs. Daley is well aware of this fact.” Her obvious alarm did not particularly strike Christine as genuine concern, but she was ready to accept whatever the nurse had to say.
“Very well.” She moved out of their way. “I’ll stay here with him,” she muttered. The nurse shot her a wry look. “Are you sure about this?” she hesitated. “Some people might find the whole thing a little uncomfortable to watch.”
“I’m sure it is,” Christine replied swallowing her growing annoyance at the nurse. “As I’m sure it’s very uncomfortable for Tobey too.” She looked over at the baby then back at the nurse. “So, if it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll stay.”
Before leaving his side she reached out to stroke him again. “Would you like me to sing to you?” she quickly asked not knowing why she did so.
“Yes. Please do.” His voice was shaky with tears. “Can you sing: The wheels on the bus go round and round…Do you know it?”
“Yes I do,” she smiled, recalling Jerry’s laughter as she sang it to him.
“Is this the song your mum sings to you?”
“It is,” Tobey replied. “It’s my favourite tune.”
“Okay, I will do…I’ll be right back…”
Christine was forced to make way as the attendants went to work. Throughout the whole procedure Tobey laid lifeless in the nurses’ hands. He didn’t utter a single sound. Well, not one anyone could hear that is…