We were in hospital, recently. It's not the first time. It's lonely. It's surprising. It's worrying. It's as though, temporarily, you're living someone else's life.
It's all of this, and more.
It's the tipping point...
There's a line that's crossed.
One moment, my child is just a little bit ill. The next, we're on our way to hospital.
She was fine just moments ago. Or at least, that's how it seemed. She had a bit of a cough. She'd complained a little about stomach pain. I'd used distraction techniques, to take her mind off her illness.
Only, now she's not eating. In fact, she's barely eaten all day. And she's complaining more about the pain in her tummy. And I start to put the pieces together.
Her stomach pain is actually chest pain. And she's falling asleep at the table in the fast food restaurant, rather than shovelling down her fries like she usually would. And suddenly it's not a minor illness. Suddenly, it's an asthma attack, and I'm taking our tray to the bin and putting her fries back into their bag in case she gets hungry on the way to the hospital. And I'm driving, with none of our belongings, into the great unknown.
There was no dramatic change. Just persisting symptoms that started to raise my suspicion. A tipping point. A sudden realisation.
And I'm completely unprepared. This wasn't something I expected when I woke up this morning. I don't have anything except for my keys, a barely-charged phone and a bank card.
I drive the car into a multi-storey car park at the hospital, only briefly glancing at the prices. There are two-hourly time slots at different prices, right up to the maximum 24 hours. After that, a weekly rate that covers everything longer than a 24 hour stay. None of it matters as I park and climb out of the car. It'll be nothing, anyway. In and out within a few hours. I'm exaggerating. It really is just a cough, or a stomach bug. It's not an asthma attack, this time.
Only, it is. It is an asthma attack, and it wasn't expected, and she just seemed so mildly ill this morning. And now we're being transferred to another hospital by ambulance. And the car is staying in the expensive multi-storey car park. And I still only have my bank card, my keys and a phone with 24% battery.
It's the realisation that you're the parent of a 'hospital kid'...
We've been to hospital a few times. This isn't new to us, but it feels it.
Many parents go through so much more. They're in hospital constantly. They're watching their child battle, every single day. I'm just a beginner. I'm not dealing with anything even close to what they're dealing with.
And yet, I suddenly feel like the parent of a hospital kid when we're in an assessment room whilst they decide what to do, and the only other child is running around with a bandage on his arm. This could well be his first ever visit to hospital. His mum is probably confused by the medical jargon and the way things work around here.
And it dawns on me that I'm not. Not this time. I know the process. I understand what the staff are doing, and why.
I look at numbers on screens and I know exactly what they mean for my child.
The nurses recognise that they don't need the detailed explanations, because I'm talking like a parent that knows what they're doing. And I wonder exactly when this happened, because my child is usually so healthy and I can't possibly become the kind of parent that is used to hospitals and medical treatments.
So why am I watching the numbers moving up and down, following the lines on the graphs, listening to 'doctor speak' and understanding every word? How has this become my reality?
It's the place where time doesn't matter...
All of the light is artificial. Yellow and blue ceiling lights, flashing green monitors and red LEDs blinking on security cameras.
There are no windows. Daytime and nighttime barely exist, except when meals are pushed through the curtain on a rattling metal trolley.
This is a place where time doesn't seem to exist. And it's both wonderful, and some form of torture.
There is something so soothing about disappearing completely from reality, losing all sense of the outside world. We sleep in short bursts when we're tired. We eat snacks at any time. One hour blends into the next. Everything seems to take such a long time, and yet the passing of time doesn't register. We've been in for less than 24 hours and yet I feel like I no longer know the day, or even the month. It's so disorientating, but it allows you to escape and to focus on the medical treatments instead of what's going on beyond the hospital doors.
And yet, it's also a prison. It's a feeling of endlessness. It's impossible to escape. There are no set departure times. We're waiting and seeing. It's indefinite.
And I didn't bring our belongings, so we have no clean clothes or anything to wash or brush our teeth with. It's so uncomfortable. All of the vending machines require coins, but I don't keep a pocket full of change. I don't use cash.
And my mind wanders, as I sit in an uncomfortable chair next to my sleeping child. Seeing her hospital bed reminds me of when I felt trapped in hospital just a few years ago. That time, I was lying on the hospital bed with no sense of how time was passing. My baby slept beside me then, as well.
A tiny newborn in a plastic box.
It's the guilt when I fall asleep...
I'm so tired. I woke early and I'd expected to go to bed at a similar time to my daughter, but it's now nighttime and I'm still in hospital. They're monitoring her constantly, doing observations every hour, attaching her to wires and giving her inhalers, and I know that I can't stay awake. I just need sleep.
So I sit in the chair, resting my head against the wall, and I allow my eyes to close. Just as I drift off, the alarms sound and someone's standing by the bed and looking down on my daughter. Her oxygen levels are low. The alarms stop. She's recovered a little. The nurse walks away, closing the curtain. My eyes close again.
At some point, I wake to see the nurse at the bedside again. She says something about my daughter needing oxygen. I'm half-asleep and I can't process it properly, but she sounds reassuring and I smile at her and nod my head in agreement. I fall straight back to sleep.
When I wake a few hours later, I'm shocked that I've managed to sleep for four hours and have missed multiple hourly interventions. I've no doubt slept through plenty of warning alarms, as well. I turn in the darkness and there's the nurse again. She asks if I'm alright. I nod, still confused and barely awake. As she finishes her checks and walks through the curtain, I look down at my daughter. She has tubes going into her nose, taped to her cheeks, and I vaguely remember the nurse's words about my daughter needing oxygen.
As I slept, she had wires taped to her face because she couldn't cope without oxygen. I feel guilty for sleeping, and have to remind myself that it's impractical to stay awake - impossible even - and that my child has been in safe hands. I sit up, forcing myself to start a new day on such short and broken sleep.
It's the moment it's all over...
After another day of observations and treatment, we're being told that we're able to leave. Not long later, we're walking out of the door. "Thank you" just doesn't seem like enough for all of the care that my child's received, but it's not like I had flowers and chocolates in my handbag for occasions such as these.
A quick goodbye and we're outside in the open air, where the numbers on clocks mean something again and we're planning what we're having for dinner.