Six Hours in Shanghai

The Taxi Pulled up in front of a dark building.
“Is this the hospital?”
“Looks like it”
Michael paid the driver and got out.
He was on the phone with our guide, Hui-Zhong, trying to find out
where my grandmother was.
“On the left? Fifth floor down the hall? OK.”

I was proud of him, surprised at how he’d stepped up in a crisis.
Usually, the only thing I heard out of him were complaints about food and boredom; this was a new side to him.
“This one?” called Dave from around the corner. We all rushed to the entrance.
“No, This building only has three floors.”
“Where is it?”
“She said on the left, the fifth floor.”
“Here, this?”
“Maybe. No.”
“Wait! Here, five floors.”

We were rushing around with that sense of urgency that impotence brings; as though our efficacy was somehow related to the speed at which we moved. Cramming into an elevator that smelled like piss, we rode up.

Out into the hall and we were lost again. None of us could read any of the signs. Michael started walking down a long corridor, trying to get Hui-Zhong on the phone again. If we were keeping our feet moving at least we were doing something.
“Here! ICU!”
“Is that where she is?” I asked. Upon my arrival we’d simply rushed to the hospital to; I didn’t know any of the details.

We hurried down another hall, past a sign that – judging by the
stack of shoes by the door – asked us to put on slippers, and into a
large room where we were met by a group of confused looking doctors in
plastic sandals.

“Doris Duncan” my mom said. “Doris Duncan, we’re looking for Doris Duncan.”

The doctors exchanged confused glances followed by disgusted looks at
our feet. I could tell they had no idea what we were saying but figured there was only one person we were here to see.

“Wait-uh herle” one of the doctors said.
She disappeared down the hall for a moment and came back holding a lab coat and booties and handed them to us. My mom put them on and a nurse led her away while we tried to explain that we wanted to go in too.

We followed the doctor into another room where she told us to wait.
There were several metal desk crammed into one corner that had probably been there since 1966 and the tile on the walls was a sea foam green that looked to be about the same vintage. Overhead, classical music crackled out of a broken speaker.

They could only find enough gowns for two of us so Michael and I went in first. Her hair is thinner than I remember, her eyes sunken. She has this look of defeated exhaustion on her face. Thank god for the face mask, I only hope she couldn’t read it in my eyes. I steel myself with my biggest smile and pull down my mask.
“Hi Pau Pau”
Her face lights up at the sight of me. “Kevin!” She stretches out her arms. I lean in and kiss her on the forehead. She’s clammy.

The three of us struggle to find words until I ask the question you always ask someone in the hospital and never should.
“How are you feeling?” I say.
“Oh,” she says, she sounds like she’s in another room behind that
oxygen mask, “I’ve been better.”
“You look better” my mom offers.

She is lying.

It is obvious.

I remind myself again to control my eyebrows. I reach down and pinch my grandmothers toe, trying to lighten the mood. She smiles then turns to my mom
“How am I ever going to walk out of here?”
We trip over ourselves trying to answer her.
“You can use a wheel chair.” I offer.
“There’ll be people to help you out.” My brother.
“I’m sure you’ll be fine.” Mom.
“I’m glad I got to see you,” I say. I’m trying to change the subject
but quickly realize how this sounds, “though… different
circumstances…” I trail off.

I can tell by the look on my mother’s face and by the way she’s clutching the side of the bed that she needs an arm around her shoulder. I sort of balance on my toes for a minute, shift my weight towards her, then stop. It’s been a while since my mother and I have been on the best of terms. I’ve not been that arm for some time.
“I’ll go see what happened to Dave” I say. I give my grandmother a hug, turn, and leave.

Dave is waiting in the room crammed with desks. He still doesn’t
have a gown and the doctor is nowhere in sight. “Here” I say, handing him my gown.
“Are you sure?” he says.
“No, it’s ok. My Mom.”
He takes the gown and face mask from me and heads down the hall.

A Chinese opera is now playing overhead. I imagine I am in a film by Wong Kar-Wai. The camera dollies backwards, down the hall, the white door-jam framing me sitting in the sea foam room. I stare seriously into the distance, smoke from my cigarette moodily dancing upwards in slow motion.

Six hours in Shanghai and I’m wondering if my grandmother will die here.

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